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There is a trope that can be found in many articles discussing topics such as consumerism or minimalism: the average number of items that can be found in an average household. The number that is usually cited for the average American household is 300,000 items, and 10,000 for the average European household. Unfortunately, these articles don't provide any reliable source for their numbers (the LA Times article quoted below is sometimes named as a source, but that article itself just names a "professional organizer" as their reference).

Here is a small selection of the many websites claiming the 300,000 items in the average American household:

Consider these statistics cited by professional organizer Regina Lark: The average U.S. household has 300,000 things, from paper clips to ironing boards. (LA Times, March 21, 2014)

The average household has 300,000 items. Yes, you probably have around 300,000 items in your home, maybe even more. (makingsenseofcents.com, Nov 10, 2017)

MJ Rosenthal, a professional organizer based in Newton, says the average American home contains 300,000 items, from sofas to salad forks. (Boston Globe, May 18, 2017)

And a selection of articles quoting the 10.000 items in the average European household (click here for a Google Search for '10000 dinge OR gegenstände haushalt durchschnitt', i.e. "10000 things OR items household average"):

There are 10,000 items in the average European home—and we'll bet you can find at least one that’s currently broken or deserving of a better life. (iFixit Europe via Facebook, April 12, 2020)

Es war nur eine Zahl, die sie irgendwo aufgeschnappt hatte, aber sie sorgte dafür, dass Judith Gebbe begann, sich zu hinterfragen: ihre Art zu leben - und ihre Art zu kaufen. 10.000 Dinge, sagt die Statistik, habe der Durchschnittseuropäer in seinem Besitz. (my translation: "It was just a number that she came across somewhere, but it was the starting point for Judith Gebbe to start questioning herself: her way of living, and her way of buying. 10,000 items, according to statistics, are owned by the average European.") (Spiegel Online, March 28, 2017)

Kein Mensch muss 10.000 Dinge besitzen. Aber im Schnitt hat jeder von uns genau so viel angesammelt. (my translation: "Nobody has to own 10,000 items. But that's exactly how much each of us has gathered on average.") (Zeit Campus, May 20, 2020 – paywalled)

Rund 10 000 Gegenstände besitzt ein erwachsener Westeuropäer im Durchschnitt – Menschen mit ausgeprägter Sammelleidenschaft oder auch nur einer halbwegs gut sortierten Bibliothek sind es deutlich mehr. (my translation: "An adult Western European owns about 10,000 items on average – people with a passion for collecting or even a reasonably well-stocked library own considerably more.") (Hannoversche Allgemeine, Feb 26, 2016)

I'm not really bothered that some of the article use the numbers to refer to households, while some of them talk about the possession of individuals. The numbers reported for American and Europe differ by an order of magnitude so that this ambiguous wording doesn't really matter much. The fact remains that if these numbers were to be believed, the average American household would own 30 times as many items as the average (Western) European household. I'm just not willing to accept this conclusion given the lack of trustworthy references.

So, is it true…

  1. …that the average number of items in an American household is in the 300,000s?
  2. …that the average number of items in a Western European household/owned by the average Western European is in the 10,000s?
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    Photos of households and all their stuff: smile.amazon.com/dp/0871564300. – bishop Jan 4 at 19:53
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    Paper, pasta, sugar, flour, bread, grass, tissue paper, and salt are all substances, contrasted with items. Water and milk are also substances, but we aren't questioning whether any hypothetical counters tallied the individual molecules, are we? Why then the obtuse comments about counting bits of other substances? Seriously, the question is about disparity between two societies, not plainly the exact numbers. If some research be found, determining consistency is for answers to resolve. As such, further comments discussing this will be considered pseudo answer noise and then deleted. – fredsbend Jan 5 at 3:41
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    @fredsbend: The question about counting, or at least my question, is because I have lived in and visited parts of Europe, been in both European and US homes, and did not see any such great disparity. – jamesqf Jan 5 at 5:43
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    For contrast on the 'sniff test' of the 300,000 number, obviously 'counting methods may vary' but this guys house was literally filled with stuff (so much so that he couldn't physically fit in any more) and the reported count was 60,000 items mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/… – JeffUK Jan 5 at 19:40
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    While american homes may be bigger, the difference for sure is not 30-fold – Manziel Jan 7 at 14:36
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The sources quote Regina Lark who in turn quotes unnamed sources. The specialist in organizing and productivity writes:

Are there 300,000 Things in a Home?

One thing I remember reading impressed the hell out of me: The average household contains about 300,000 things.

In order to grow my company, I needed clients, which I found by speaking to numerous groups and organizations about clutter, and where I often referenced “300,000 things.”

[... much speculation about what they could be...]

I’ve often wondered if I had it in me to conduct a study about the average number of items the average household contained. If 300,000 things is where we land, it would be nice to finally put the query to bed. And I will never be out of work again.

Clearly the author cites that figure to clients without any firm basis, and then they repeat it, and round it goes.

This is mentioned by Jason Maynard in

You Can’t Have Too Many Books

You see, that 300,000 stat infuriates me a bit. Everyone who uses it quotes the L.A. Times, as that is where it appeared. Of course, if you go to the original article in the Times, you find this: “Consider these statistics cited by professional organizer Regina Lark: The average U.S. household has 300,000 things, from paper clips to ironing boards.”

Who the hell is Regina Lark? Where does she get her stats from? Doesn’t matter to all the minimalism supporters touting the statistic. They just state that the L.A. Times says …. And oh by the way, I’d say more than half of those minimalism folks are also pushing their new book on decluttering or living the minimalist lifestyle. Consumerism irony for the win!


A possible source of the claim:

I've been looking for an original source for the 300,000 items figure. I found a book called Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors about a survey done by UCLA of 32 family homes.

There is a supporting video about the survey and the book: A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance. It explains why there is so much stuff, but does not mention 300,000 items.

I don't have the book, perhaps it does say, but all the reports look like a clear case of having "read it on the internet and repeat it as if true", and the trope feeds itself.


More on the UCLA study of 32 households by the Center on Everyday Lives of Families. The UCLA's own newsroom has a feature on this study here: Clutter Culture.

It shows that the study was interested in how many items there are in the home:

The typical Life at Home refrigerator front panel holds 52 objects.
...
As they moved deeper into their study, the researchers noticed a correlation between the number of objects families put on their refrigerators and the rest of the stuff in their homes.

and they have a fascination with with numbers:

The project generated almost 20,000 photographs, 47 hours of family-narrated video home tours and 1,540 hours of videotaped family interactions and interviews. But Life at Home is not just a scholarly catalog; it also delves deep into the psychological and social meanings of our possession obsession.

Yet for all the interest there is no mention (in the article) of what might be the most interesting number of all: the total count of all their stuff.

The need for a counting rule is obvious: let's say a box of 3 ink cartridges is 3 items; a tub of 100 paper clips is 100 items, a jar of lentils is ... how many items? Suppose then you try to set down some rules for counting, and you have

Rule-22: if something was priced and bought by the packet, that is one item.

So a packet of 1" nails is one item; but 6" nails are several items. Then you find two 1" nails loose in a drawer. Were they from the packet in the garage, or were they from a different packet that was all used up? Every small item is subject to this uncertainty even if it can be identified as a distinct item.

Then we come to the lounge suite: there are obviously 3 items? No! The suite cost $2000 as a complete item. They were not available seperately and Rule-22 says they are 1 item.


Google Books has the text of the book Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors, and a search for the book title and "refrigerator" brings up this page image at the top of the search results

enter image description here

Yet when searching for the book title and either "300000" or "300,000" the book does not even appear in the first page of results.

Moreover, the page image shown above talks about "visible objects" and mentions

1,448 visible objects in the main rooms

Whether that refers to a single main room, or all the main rooms, 1,448 does not scale up to a total of 300,000 objects in the home.

So the only potential and credible source I can find to support the figure of 300,000 does not bear it out.


I suggest that is impossible to come up with an exact number in any household with a significant amount of possessions. Different study groups on different continents may have very different counting rules, and the 300,000 / 10,000 disparity is remarkable as a piece of trivia.

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    Oh, the good ol' citogenesis. – Eric Duminil Jan 5 at 5:40
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    This fits into the category of - "That's what google says, so it must be true. You can google yourself if you dont belive me." – Ganesh Bhosle Jan 5 at 9:04
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    Regarding your last paragraph: or you could as well - still counting correctly - arrive at 10.000 items AND at 300.000 items in the same exact household – Hobbamok Jan 5 at 10:14
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    Are physical objects you own but did not purchase count (perhaps they were gifts)? What about all the junk I get in the mail and haven't thrown out yet? I didn't purchase them but they are clearly "items". To say nothing of virtual items - if an "item" is some individual unit I purchased, would that definition not also include software and data files? Is every song you purchased and keep on your phone an "item"? Are apps? If so, what about the free apps? Why would that make a difference? – Darrel Hoffman Jan 5 at 15:55
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    "Rice is great if you're really hungry and want to eat two thousand of something." - Mitch Hedberg – JimmyJames Jan 5 at 17:09

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