Every twice in a while when I am a little bored, I sometimes watch an episode or two of the HGTV show “House Hunters”. It can be almost addictive, watching couples and families with their list of must haves in a new house — the house must have a kitchen with granite counters and stainless steel appliances. There must be a large “master suite” with an equally large master bathroom. And even the bathroom must have updated fixtures. Even more surprising was the amount of space these people felt they needed. Even couples without children and not planning to have any often wanted four or five bedrooms and 3000+ sq. ft. 

I am hoping to offer a workshop on What is Home? next spring, which has taken me back to a favorite book of mine House As a Mirror of Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home,  by Claire Cooper Marcus. Growing up as I did as an Army kid, the houses I lived in were provided by the Army and we had little to no freedom of choice in the appearance or style of the houses. Due to my history of home, I like to think about houses and what they say about us.

So what does it mean that people want huge kitchens, designed not so much for cooking convenience, as many of these huge kitchens require many steps in order to prepare food simply because they are so large, but as exemplars of luxury and being up-to-date? I am not speaking here of really high end houses — most of what I saw were for middle to upper middle class people who would not have others preparing food or cleaning for them. And what is it that makes relatively new but white appliances not acceptable? What makes stainless steel so important? What does it mean? What are these people wanting their kitchens to show about them? Is it only about prosperity and success? And today as we see into the homes of many news people and pundits who often speak from their kitchens, I am impressed by the elegant and very large kitchens.

Now the whole concept of the huge master suite rather amuses me. I use my bedroom for sleep and related activities. It needs only to be large enough to comfortably accommodate the bed, a couple of bureaus and allow us room to move around a bit. My bedroom is 13′ x 14.5′ and it is plenty for us. But these master suites were often larger than some apartments I have lived in in the past. In a family with children, what does it mean to have so much space set apart for adults only? And why must it be so much larger than an ordinary bedroom?

I live with my husband in a 1000 sq. ft. house. It is plenty big enough for both of us; in fact we could easily and comfortably live in a smaller place. So I try to imagine what it would be like for us to be in 3000 or more sq. ft., just us and the three cats. What would that be about? 

In my town there is a shortage of affordable houses, or what is sometimes called “workforce housing”. Were the discussions not often acrimonious it might be amusing that for many people this term, “workforce housing” connotes subsidized housing for low income people. And in the discussions a deep suspicion and antipathy for renters leaks in, renters being almost lesser beings than home owners. What does this mean about our notions of “home”?

On the other end of the scale are “tiny houses”. The typical small or tiny house by definition is a home with square footage between 100 and 400 square feet. The house may be mounted on wheels and thus also be movable. Many look to this movement as a desire to downsize. And predictably there are shows on tiny houses too.

I have some ideas forming about these extremes in housing and what they mean about what home is today.. But I am interested in what you think. What does it mean that expectations are for so much or so little.

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  1. I have always been aware of the deep connection between our houses and gardens and our psychology, and am surprised that most do not see it. Pity, because this craving for big houses, much bigger than necessary, could tell us so much about our social values and social consciousness as well as personal, insights that we need to help us recognise our underpinning beliefs. But most people aren’t interested in understanding themselves or their society, or why our societies are the way they are. Most seem only interested in looking good in others’ eyes, in competing with and impressing those around them. Sad. However, I also see signs of change as more start to question the nature of their societies and their values. Therein lies hope.

  2. When my daughter was about 6 or so, she was invited to a birthday party for a friend. She came home and raved about how their house was SO BIG and asked why we couldn’t live in a bigger house.

    I was stunned, our house is a 2-storey, 4 bedroom, 2 & 1/2 bathroom with a finished basement apartment and a good sized backyard. All I could tell her it’s that our house is big enough for our needs, and more than most people around the world have. I’ve never complained that it’s too small. So how did she come to believe bigger is better?

  3. To me a lot of “what is home” is symbolic of what makes us feel safe and grounded and may not relate to what we need. I always love older homes that remind me of my grandmother and her furniture (19th century to 1930’s styles) and I love gardens and things that are connected to gardens, trellis, gazebo, a red wheel-barrow for the same reason. A home doesn’t feel like a home without a sewing machine and the kitchen is important, not so much because I love to cook or love to sew but helping my grandmother in the kitchen and learning to sew from her was when I first felt like a useful and contributing human being. She NEEDED me to help make the sausages or hem tea towels. I have also known people that had a dislike of certain styles of home because they reminded them of a trauma.

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