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…
- …that the average number of items in an American household is in the 300,000s?
- …that the average number of items in a Western European household/owned by the average Western European is in the 10,000s?