Toddlers boost household junk by 30%

messy kid's roomWe know that kids bring a whole lot of crap in their wake, but still this tidbit from the new book Life at Home in the Twenty-first Century startled me:

Each new child in a household leads to a 30 percent increase in a family’s inventory of possessions during the preschool years alone.

Elizabeth Kolbert discusses the book in her latest piece in The New Yorker, about spoiled American kids:

Lavishly illustrated with photographs (by Enzo Ragazzini) of the families’ houses and yards, the book [Life at Home] offers an intimate glimpse into the crap-strewn core of American culture.

“After a few short years,” the text notes, many families amass more objects “than their houses can hold.” The result is garages given over to old furniture and unused sports equipment, home offices given over to boxes of stuff that haven’t yet been stuck in the garage, and, in one particularly jam-packed house, a shower stall given over to storing dirty laundry.

Children, according to “Life at Home,” are disproportionate generators of clutter … Many of the kids’ rooms pictured are so crowded with clothes and toys, so many of which have been tossed on the floor, that there is no path to the bed. (One little girl’s room contains, by the authors’ count, two hundred and forty-eight dolls, including a hundred and sixty-five Beanie Babies.) The kids’ possessions, not to mention their dioramas and their T-ball trophies, spill out into other rooms, giving the houses what the authors call “a very child-centered look.”

Kolbert adds a bit of her own color:

With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world. … they’ve been given unprecedented amounts of stuff—clothes, toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods. (The market for Burberry Baby and other forms of kiddie “couture” has reportedly been growing by ten per cent a year.)

Yet another reminder of the myriad ways in which childfree living is lighter on the environment — not to mention cheaper, cleaner, and so much more aesthetically pleasing.

A legacy more lasting than children

Rod Espinosa, comic book artist and writer, shared these thoughts via the GINK Facebook page:

I believe human beings are special not because we can reproduce — all animals do that. Human beings are special because we can propagate not just our genes, but our very thoughts and philosophies. We can leave a piece of ourselves behind in the form of our ideas. Our children are the books we write, the organizations we found, and the buildings we put up.

Passing on genes is one thing, but leaving a legacy behind is entirely another. We can leave a definite stamp in human history that far exceeds that of mere reproduction. After all, nobody will remember you three generations removed. But if you were Jane Austen, you’d be remembered for eternity. Tom, Dick, and Harry’s progeny mean nothing to me, but the ideas of Homer, the achievements of Catherine the Great, the monuments of Ramses II, the speeches of Lincoln — those shape not just my thoughts, but the thoughts of millions.

So do I choose to make a difference in three lives or 3 million? I choose to leave a lasting legacy behind.

Forget whether you can have it all. Do you really even want it all?

Atlantic cover: "Why Women Still Can't Have It All"Everyone’s talking about the latest Atlantic cover story: “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Anne-Marie Slaughter confesses that it’s really damn hard to have both kids and a demanding career. After two years in her “foreign-policy dream job” at the State Department, she gave it up to spend more time with her family (she really meant it!) and return to a less dreamy but more flexible job as a professor.

She writes at length about what needs to change in American society to make it more possible for women to sanely combine work and child-rearing. More power to her: I fully support the kinds of changes she advocates. Women have gotten the shaft for far too long.

But despite all the chatter about this article, no one’s discussing or even noticing the huge assumption underlying it: that most women want both kids and a fulfilling career.

Over the past half-century, women have made tremendous inroads into the world of work, excelling in every field and earning opportunities our foremothers could only have dreamed of. Not only can a woman be dean of Princeton’s international-affairs school and director of policy planning at the State Department — two positions Slaughter has held — but that woman’s bosses can be women too — in her case, Princeton President Shirley Tilghman and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But while our career options have expanded dramatically, our family options can seem as constrained as ever. The Pill has been available in the U.S. for more than 50 years now, but despite the sexual revolution it brought about, expectations for women in the reproductive realm have changed little: We’re still expected to have kids, or at the very least to want kids and feel inadequate if we don’t have them.

How is it that one major aspect of our lives has become so much more free and open while another is still so narrow and stifled?

Slaughter’s article is aimed in large part at twenty- and thirtysomething women who are currently facing critical decisions about careers and families — and if you’re one such woman who has kids or knows she wants them, Slaughter’s got some good advice.

But for women who aren’t convinced that motherhood must be a part of their future, I have some different advice: Instead of just asking, “Can I have it all?,” start by asking, “Do I actually even want it all?” And step it back even further: “What does ‘it all’ mean for me?”

In my own case, having it all, having what I most want in life, means, among other things, having a satisfying career and not having kids.

I’m certainly not alone: There’s a small but burgeoning childfree contingent. And if we as a society talked openly about childfree life as a potential positive choice, our ranks might swell dramatically. But too many people still don’t even consider it as a serious option. Isn’t it time for women to feel free to choose any reproductive path, just as we’re free to pursue any career path?

Before consigning yourself to a series of tough choices about how to balance career goals and child-rearing (not to mention a romantic partnership, finances, elder-care responsibilities, friendships, health, exercise, sleep …), think hard about whether you really want kids. You might find that the answer is no, and that will make your life a whole lot easier.

Why going childfree is an ethical choice

"Why Have Children?" book coverI’ve been looking forward to reading Why Have Children?: The Ethical Debate, a recent book by philosophy professor Christine Overall. In the meantime, she’s got a provocative opinion piece on the New York Times website: “Think Before You Breed.”

“Choosing whether or not to have children is … the most significant ethical debate of most people’s lives,” she writes, arguing that people ought to have good reasons for procreating. Here are some choice excerpts (emphasis mine):

[P]eople are still expected to provide reasons not to have children, but no reasons are required to have them. It’s assumed that if individuals do not have children it is because they are infertile, too selfish or have just not yet gotten around to it. In any case, they owe their interlocutor an explanation. On the other hand, no one says to the proud parents of a newborn, Why did you choose to have that child? What are your reasons? The choice to procreate is not regarded as needing any thought or justification. …

The decision to have children surely deserves at least as much thought as people devote to leasing a car or buying a house. Procreation decisions are about whether or not to assume complete responsibility, over a period of at least 18 years, for a new life or new lives. Because deciding whether to procreate has ethical dimensions, the reasons people give for their procreative choices deserve examination. …

The burden of proof — or at least the burden of justification — should therefore rest primarily on those who choose to have children, not on those who choose to be childless. The choice to have children calls for more careful justification and thought than the choice not to have children because procreation creates a dependent, needy, and vulnerable human being whose future may be at risk. The individual who chooses childlessness takes the ethically less risky path. After all, nonexistent people can’t suffer from not being created. They do not have an entitlement to come into existence, and we do not owe it to them to bring them into existence. But once children do exist, we incur serious responsibilities to them.

Christine Overall is not childfree herself — after much consideration, she and her spouse chose to have two kids, she tells us. But in one key way, she’s more like the childfree than like other parents: she thought long and hard about her decision. Too many people just fall into parenthood without giving it the real deliberation it deserves, while people who consciously decide not to have kids tend to have clear, well-thought-through motives.

So, on top of all the other good reasons for skipping parenting, Overall provides us with a strong ethical case. Now I’m looking forward to her book more than ever.

(Read a bit more about Overall’s book in this recent post.)

Condoms used as instruments make a catchy tune

Love this — the PSA that should have been. This music video with a “use condoms” message was made for Swedish sexual-health group RFSU but not actually used. The song’s so infectious! How could they resist?

Put a stop to child porn! Or: Get those kids out of my shelter mags

shelter porn: n. Images and text that glorify or fetishize high-end architecture, home furnishings, and interior design

Why do modern shelter-porn mags (ahem, Dwell, ahem) have so many damn kids in their pages? It’s like every hipster couple undertaking a tin-and-plywood remodel of their brownstone has at least two urchins underfoot.

Keep the trikes off those burnished concrete floors. Spare me the Marimekko-inspired prints. For god’s sake, no more cleverly constructed bunk beds. I’ll take my stark interiors straight up, please, no kids sloshing about inside.

Dwell, kids biking in house

Dwell, kids playing

Dwell, kids in bath

Dwell, kids on floating bed

Dwell, girl in chair

Dwell, kids outside

Dwell, girl on bed

Dwell, kids and bunk bed

Republicans, get in my vagina!

The latest from Funny or Die: Kate Beckinsale, Judy Greer, and Andrea Savage “spread” the message that the one thing women really want in their vaginas is the government.

If you weren’t happy enough already to be childfree …

… this cover would push you over the edge. Not only do we get to sit out parenthood and breastfeeding; we also get to sit out the “Mommy Wars.”

Time magazine cover of mom breastfeeding large boy

Happy Non-Mother’s Day!

Enjoy doing whatever you damn well please today, safe in the knowledge that no one will assault you with hideous handmade cards that you have to pretend to love. Instead, I send this card out to all the childfree ladies:

"Why You Don't Want to Be a Mother" card

Love it? Buy it!

GINK celeb alert: Zooey Deschanel comes out as childfree

Zooey Deschanel: blue eyes, green inclinations, no kids. (Photo by Edgar Barrera.)

Indie “it” girl Zooey Deschanel tells Marie Claire that she’s not so into the whole kids thing.

That’s never been my focus. My sister [Emily] was always very motherly, babysitting and stuff. I like kids, and I like being around kids — but it was never an ambition, something, like, I need … I like working. That’s what I like doing. I like to work.

Add a dollop of greenness and we’ve got a GINK (green inclinations, no kids). From a Mother Nature Network post last year:

“I drive a hybrid, a Prius. I try not to be wasteful. I’m not a major environmentalist, I’m not Ed Begley, Jr., but I think there are little things you can do,” says Zooey Deschanel. “I think the things that we all do every day add up, like recycling, reusing.” On the set of “New Girl,” her new Fox sitcom, “they got everybody reusable water bottles, so everybody has their own bottle. Those things can make a big difference.”

As Grist reported in 2009, “Zooey appeared in the environmental-disaster-themed but critically panned flick The Happening and helped kick off a national T-shirt recycling program last year.” Like the woman said, she’s no Ed Begley, Jr. But she does also like critters. She’s been involved with the nonprofit Mercy for Animals, a few months ago signing onto the group’s letter that called for McDonald’s to stop abusing its chickens.

Alright, so she’s not getting herself arrested to protest a pipeline or testifying before Congress about global warming. Still, Zooey’s greenish and childfree and adorkable. We’ll take her.

Zooey, welcome to the club! Cameron Diaz, Vincent Kartheiser, and the indomitable Betty White are members too, to name just a few.