This past week I read two things that struck me concerning how we view the homes and space where we live. The first was a review of House Lust, a book earning a fair amount of press for its examination of our nation’s obsession with the size and status of our homes:
Add to this a newly overwhelming lust for space. In 1950, the average American home measured just 938 square feet. By 2005, the average had grown to 2,434 square feet. The size of the putative American dream house expanded even more.
At a convention of the nation’s home builders in 1984, an ideal “New American Home” on display encompassed 1,500 square feet and cost less than $100,000. In 2006, the ideal house was 10,023 square feet, and was priced at more than $10 million. In the interim, Bill Gates of Microsoft built a 66,000-square-foot home near Seattle at an estimated cost of $100 million.
I am quick to say that one of the hard things for me about our life here is the impossibility of purchasing a home here in L.A. And while I sit at a distance through the many conversations my peers have about this and that remodel, this period restoration goal, this great refinancing opportunity, etc., I secretly wish I was in their club (though I certainly don’t envy the many headaches, the total displacement of families during remodel projects, lead and asbestos abatement, etc). I have a friend who has a very crass way of describing the way my generation has sold our soul to Home Depot, and while her words make me laugh I see how much acquiring and restoring homes can consume my peers.
The second piece that caught my eye was written for an internal newsletter for Servant Partners, and it dealt with the ways that crowding is a great stressor for those who live in urban centers, and in particular the slum communities where our staff members make their homes. The author quotes Danielle Speakman (Nothing But a Thief) who writes:
“Imagine your immediate family, who they are, what they are like, how many of you there are. Take all of you, add in your grandparents, and perhaps an aunt and her children. Now move into your bedroom. You all live there. All your possessions are there, you cook there, you sit there, you sleep there. Together…”
It is amazing, the juxtaposition from one world to another; worlds within one world; worlds that offend each other to the core.
The House Lust reviewer continues, quoting the book’s author:
“Unlike the robber baron-era mansions, modern-day megahomes don’t feature dozens of bedrooms or entirely new kinds of rooms — they mostly just take the rooms you’d find in a normal house and make them really, really big.” The challenge of filling up those rooms, he adds, is being met by outsize furnishings like the “extreme ultra king bed” that is 12 feet long and 10 feet wide.
Today was my first day back at work post-maternity leave, and I count it a grace to be in partnership with folks all over the world who have chosen those one room homes over giant rooms and oversized beds. They tell me a truth about life with Christ that is unpopular here in the land of house lust. They remind me of my own material abundance and they challenge me to consider ways to let go of some of that comfort and risk living with less.