Saturday, October 11, 2008

Size Matters

When I was at my book group the other night, we were supposed to be discussing The Master and Margarita (well, we did for a while), but we ended up talking about the economy and other current events that are on every one's mind.
One of the women attending is from Manhattan and we were all marveling at the fact that she, her husband, their three (with one more on the way) children all live in an 800 square foot, one bedroom apartment. Their one bedroom is divided with a (reportedly very beautiful) curtain so they has some of their own space. We wondered how they did it. But this woman had a very interesting response. She asked "When did houses get so big?" Driving around our community with it's crazy McMansions you would think they were a necessary part of modern living (along with a Hummer). But she pointed out that if you go to neighborhoods that are maybe only 30 years old the houses are dramatically smaller, and people all grew up together. My friend Trish told us that in Ireland the house that she grew up in was only 900 square feet and seven people lived there. So, we discussed the idea of how houses have gotten so big that we all have our own private museums, parks and theaters and we never leave the house. This sounded a little too familiar to me, so I started to think about what space means to us as a culture and why we place so much value on it.
Because we are building a new home, these things were already on my mind. We feel that the size of our new house is exactly what we need, but its going to be more than three times the size of the home Trish grew up in. And there's four of us. Do we need the space? I still haven't come up with an answer, but I have been thinking a lot about it.
Strangely enough, the first thing that struck me is how little garbage we are producing these days. We are living in a condo half the size of our last house temporarily until the new house is built. I noticed pretty quickly that our garbage cans were half full at the most when trash day came around, and at our old house they were always full. The cans were the same size, so what was up? I figured we just had a slow week. And then it happened again, and again, and again. I came to the realization that the more space you have, the more stuff you use in it. I bought more at Costco because I had a bigger fridge and more cupboard space. I bought more for my kids because they had a big toy closet and lots of space to store clothes. I pretty much bought more of everything. Just because I had the space. Is that crazy or what?
And these thoughts led me to think back to when Steve and I were living in London in a 350 sq. ft. studio apartment. When I first saw it I cried, then for a month tried to figure how we could afford a bigger place. Then a friend invited us over for dinner one night and we saw his apartment was even smaller, and he shared the bathroom with six other people. All of a sudden, my place felt like a palace. And then I started to notice other things, like I was just a couple of blocks away from Hyde Park. Like how close I lived to three major Underground lines and could get anywhere in the city in about a half hour. Like I was living in London, and I was crying about my stupid studio apartment? How lame.
So, I guess my point is, I want to build our new house responsibly. I want it to be Our Ibiza, but maybe more a place to take a rest before going out into the world, and not a retreat from all it has to offer. And I want to keep my garbage cans half full.