Tuesday, January 08, 2008

What is normal?

My last post I said that advertising has had a normative effect on our aspirations, in that they have made our aspirations very similar. And that similar aspiration has been focused on house and home. Home ownership is the American dream and not just any home, but these days a big home. In fact if you have a small home people wonder about your success, because all around us we have large homes. The statistics bear this out, "according to the National Association of Home Builders and the U.S. Census Bureau, the average new home size has climbed from 2,080 square feet in 1990 to 2,324 square feet in 2001" And doing a quick search, the Boston Globe reports that in Wellsley homes of 4000 sq. ft. are now the norm. Now not everyone can live in Wellsley, Massachusetts but people would like large homes since they feel that's normal, and they buy where they can, usually far away but "accessible" via car.

Once they get there they realize the following:

1) more rooms means more furniture (more forests logged to furnish homes)
2) more rooms means more volume, which means more heating bills (more CO2 emissions)
3) more space, can only be built further away so that means more driving (more CO2 emissions)
4) more rooms means more carpet, which means more vacuuming.

You get the picture, having a big home and leaving all other parameters open means that you consume more not just in the house but in everything else.

So who made McMansions normal. It's our aspirations.

Aspire differently, and with less pollution we'll probably respire differently too.


At 11:40 AM , Blogger arduous said...

I completely agree. I used to have the dream of a big house with a yard. Now I dream of having a family in a two bedroom apartment in a city (so I can be car free.)

At 2:04 PM , Anonymous CindyW said...

"In fact if you have a small home people wonder about your success" - You hit the nail on the head. We have a very singular way of defining success - more stuff (house, cars and what they contain in them) is equivalent to more successful. I can only speak from the perspective of a "professional" who has found that equation increasingly inane. I used to work as a management consultant - international travels, high-pay, working with VPs and the likes. From an external perspective, I was successful. But deprived of a work-family balance and loss of personal time, I was exceedingly unhappy. Now I work part-time, spend quality time with my family and do stuff that is personal satisfying. But associated with the voluntary change, we cannot afford a McMansion and other unnecessary luxury. So I am no longer "successful". I have come to a place that I don't care what other people think, but I suspect many people do care.

Is that really the fault of the media or is it a part of human nature? Even in ancient tribal times, did people not compete on the number of stumps they have in their respective sheds? But even if that was the case, hopefully we have evolved somewhat over the last 2000 years.

Is it high-time for us to define a new set of criteria for success? And will it catch on?


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