We know that one of the reasons home sizes have increased is linked simply to the desire to own more. Home buyers, in many cases, simply want larger houses just like car buyers seem to want bigger cars and fast food buyers seem to want bigger meals. However, based on the conversation surrounding my last post, there seems to be at least a subset of people interested in smaller homes (and perhaps smaller cars and meals to go with them).
So why aren’t these smaller homes built? What other factors have pushed us toward more square footage per person rather than less? Is the inflation of the American home simply a result of our tendency toward conspicuous consumption or are there other causes behind our bigger, bigger, bigger mentality?
Topic 1: The Home has a New Role (or Three)
The way we live has changed significantly in the last 50 years. I would argue that the American nuclear family has become increasingly isolated and insular. This has benefited the economy (I’m told) by creating a more mobile, flexible workforce, but it has drastically changed the way we form communities and maintain family connections. It has also changed our idea of the home and expanded the role a house must play.
The modern house is not simply a home. It is a hotel for visiting relatives who no longer live close enough to return to their own homes after a visit. It is an entertainment center for people isolated 10-20 miles from the nearest movie theater (or even 1 mile without a serviceable sidewalk). It is food storage for cooks who live 15 irritating minutes from fresh produce. It is a gym, an office, a pool, a spa, a bar, etc. . . .
Many of those amenities that were once mainly available in public, shared space have been moved into the family home. This is both a reflection of our country’s (now questionable) affluence and our movement toward less attachment. The car is often seen as a key element in the creation of suburbia, in moving people away from the places where they work, shop, learn and play. I would argue that houses and their features are equally significant causes. Huge refrigerators and the kitchens to house them have increased the distance from which we can live from our food supply. Televisions, and more recently home theaters, have decreased our need to seek public entertainment, and houses, as they have become both our private and public space, have grown to reflect our increasing reliance.
Now, I am not arguing for some reversion to past times. I am not advocating throwing out your TV or making your parents sleep in the yard when they come visit. I am simply saying that smaller homes are aided by a certain idea of community that may have been stronger (out of necessity) in the past. I am suggesting that smaller homes must come with a certain amount of community planning that hasn’t taken place during this era of the McMansion.
So what do you think? Is the growth of the American home linked to our move away from public space? If so, is a move back toward more shared amenities a necessity for smaller living? Do I need to go to the local pub to play pool rather than down to my basement? Do I have to walk to the butcher rather than to the chest freezer in my garage? Lay it on me in the comments.
Next time: Topic 2 – Show Me the Money: How the Market Demands Big