Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sunday Afternoon Tea

My ponderings this week started when my husband and I were driving on a road between two subdivisions on our way home from "Downtown". The subdivision on one side is having trouble selling homes even though it had only recently been "the address" to have in our area.

The new subdivision on our other side is full of McMansions... grand, big, and beautiful... huge homes standing where only a couple of years ago...corn grew.

We talked about what used to be normal in housing compared to what the average homeowner now expects. I continued this conversation with my daughter when she called later... alone in her van so she could talk and drive. She worked in kitchen design when we had our two story house "in town" up for sale before moving to Detroit.

It took such a long time to sell, even though it was a beautiful home and in a nice neighborhood. Problem was... that neighborhood was "the address" to have way back in the 70s and early 80s and not in the year 2000. Also, people wanted a brand new house instead of a nice, older colonial style.

We now live in another 1960s home, a 1400 sq. ft. ranch house. Did you know that was the average size of a 1960's family home? Yes... 1400 sq. ft. Kinda' hard to get a big screen TV in it, well... impossible unless one wants to sit four or five feet from the TV. In our bigger house, if we got a little miffed with each other there was plenty of space to get away. Now we have to forgive and forget quickly because we rub shoulders more often.

We chatted about an article I had read many years ago regarding the houses one would see on the old 1950s and 1960s TV shows. I mean, Donna Reed was married to a doctor but the house they lived in was very modest. Same for engineer Steve and his three sons. Danny Thomas and Lucy Ricardo both lived in small apartments until Lucy moved to the country (and that place was small!). Most of the TV shows back then portraying middle class and upper middle class families will show very modest houses. Only shows portraying the rich had opulent homes, including the guy who shot a hole in the ground and up came bubbling crude... oil that is (don't you wish it was that easy to find NOW?).

So... as you sip some tea and break a piece off your scone... think about it. What changed our perspectives about houses, belongings, and how much the world owes us? Not to say it is bad to have a big home. I love to visit big, beautiful homes of friends who can afford them. There are days I do miss mine (although not when I'm cleaning). Big homes can be wonderful and I'd be tarred and feathered for being a hypocrite if I told people not to shop for such beautiful things as china... and books... and fabric... and... well, you get my point.

It's not about buying what we can afford... it is about expectations and contentment and what it takes (debt, not spending time with family, stress, etc.) to keep up such a lifestyle. Of course, mankind has always wanted more than they have... ask Adam and Eve. However, I think a lot of what we are experiencing now started way back when Madison Avenue first discovered they could make people think they weren't happy unless they bought their particular food, clothing, house, car, etc. It was in full bloom by the 1980s.

As I've said, I'm a recovering Yuppie. I worked with a lot of other Yuppies. We were taught that you deserved the very best life had to offer. Post WWII children (aka: Baby Boomers) were brought up being told we deserved more than our parents had when they were young. We now know what they had was the gold standard.

Donna Reed had it right my friends and today's world scoffs at her and those like her. No wonder people watch the Waltons, the Little House shows, Leave It to Beaver, Andy Griffith, and the other shows depicting life when it was more sane.

I am finding each day to joy of looking for contentment in the important stuff of life. I have truly learned to be content in the small house... in the country... at the edge of the forest... with the cutest deck and inherited landscape. I adore how my inexpensive flower arrangements on the deck brighten up my world, not to mention the quintessential country front porch.

I wish I had learned this contentment long ago. It has taken a lifetime of living to find one can reach for the golden ring, grab it, and find it not gold but tarnished brass. As I watch the evening news and read the papers... I think the world will soon be knocking on the doors of those who have learned to live simply... to live on less... and do it gracefully, graciously, and with a thankful heart for what we have been given.


Linds said...

Brenda, I can so identify with what you are saying today. Expectations have changed so much over the years.
Here in the UK, life is a little different.... space and costs have prevented people from having huge homes, and still today, the new ones are small in terms of size, but oh so different in terms of what is regarded as basic and essential. Perspective.
When did our children's generation learn to expect the best right from the outset of their adult lives? When did the "make do and save up" era end? Thankfully, my own children have not fallen into the debt trap, but I see so many about who are in all sorts of trouble because they believed they were entitled to it all. I teach children who see life's riches as their "right". I despair at times.

Like your sister, I am having to learn how to live as a widow, with a very different future ahead of me than I had anticipated. And I work with people who have yet to realise that life is so much more than the ladder to success. Sigh.

I love popping over for tea. I feel as though I am curlng up with a good friend. Thank you!

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

Sometimes I miss my big home, too, but not for the cleaning of it either. ;>

I love how you describe that you must forgive and forget more quickly in a smaller true. In the large home, there was always a place to retreat to and there were back and front stairs so one could literally slip around in the house without seeing anyone.

Yes, the gals of earlier generations did have it right. We are sunk in our time having become dependant on two incomes and having our children cared for so much of the time by others. Also, the sense of community that has been lost saddens me a great deal. So many of us don't even know our neighbors! Housewives used to hold their communities together. Sigh. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why bloggers enjoy Blogdom...a re-creating of something lost.

It's always great to sip a cup of tea with you, Brenda. Have a wonderful Sunday.

Jenny said...

I am a baby boomer who never once thought she had to have it all. I was raised by depression era parents who never got over the depression. I think that is remiss of you to say we grew up expecting everything for us. I have never stopped learning to be thankful for what I have and not overcrowd my home with things I do not need.
I personally believe television was the start of all this nonsense. Maybe that is what you are trying to say. But I still believe if we are taught properly we will not expect handouts and more then we can comfortably afford. Big homes do not equal excess if you don't buy it.

flmom said...

I was just thinking about this last night. Our home is 1530sq. feet under air. We are fortunate to have a very large back porch that we have enclosed and screened in (although it's not finished). Our home was built in 1981. We're surrounded by much newer, fancier, and larger homes (ours was one of the first homes built out in our rural area). Our home is not considered "desirable", even though we've done some remodeling/updating inside (that could rival any of the new homes) by most people here because of its size. They want the 2500+ sq. ft. homes that look grand from the outside as well (ours is a basic ranch style). I'm happy with my little home though. Some days I do wish we had a bit more room, or rather I should say an extra room (since we homeschool), but this is most definitely where the Lord placed us. I'll take my big yard any day over one of the McMansions in the deed restricted communities.

Hummingbird Chats said...

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~~smiles~~ Katie

Anonymous said...

I must belong in one of those eras you mentioned. I've simply never wanted a big home or all the extras that come with it. We live in about 900 sq. ft. - without an attic, no basement and one bathroom. It's all we really need.

Gratefulness is in my heart these days, for every little thing we are blessed with. Even with increasing prices (just found out our electric which also heats the home was approved for a raise of 21%, crazy, yes). I know like yourself, we will make do. There are so many reasons these days (as in homes/cars) that bigger is not always better, nor even wiser.

Anonymous said...

If I may add, I think if people would be content with less and living in smaller spaces and such, many would not be in the trouble they are in these days.

It may not apply to everyone, but I think it does to many. There are times for us it is very tight living on a smaller budget. However, living within our simpler means gives us a lot of peace. We're not sitting up late at night worrying due to poor choices or because we desired more, bigger, or better.

Maggie Ann said...

I like that...McMansions..and there certainly are lots of them going up around us. However do people afford such grandeur? I, like you..would prefer NOT to have all the extra space to dust, mop and so on. Just think Brenda, if I had a bigger home, I'd fill it up with Good Will finds and magazines and more crafts....giggle. No wondor once in a while, someone will 'rat' on an elderly person who has a path through a living room of newspapers stacked to their hips. Yes, I really read of a case similar to that..grin.

Carrot Top said...

Wonderful post, Brenda!! You really hit the nail on the head. Contentment is one of the things that we have been trying to teach the children, and one that I need to be reminded of myself!

Firefly Nights said...

I think I enjoyed this more than any other post you've ever written. I agree with you almost word for word.

I don't think there's any reason other than greed or trying to show off or thinking they're entitled to it for people who can't afford it to buy a house beyond their means, or even anywhere near close to it. Or a home far bigger than they need. The bigger homes cost more to heat and cool, need more furniture, etc.

To carry your theme a little farther is the issue of young people not progressing through the traditional housing chain: rent an apartment or small house, purchase a modest starter home, live there a few years and then sell it for one a little nicer, and then gradually work their way up to their dream home where they raise kids and live on into retirement. It seems like today young couples are skipping the starter homes and buying the bigger ones whether they can afford it or not.

I love older homes in established neighborhoods, even the ones that need to be updated. They are SO much nicer than the new homes. But, people like me are becoming rare.

We talked about this at the dinner table when we were visiting with friends in Michigan on our last trip there. One of the husbands (now retirement age) suggested that it's because his generation gave too much to their children and the children learned that they should expect to have it all so that's what they want. They don't really know what hardship and saving really is.

There are a lot of people in this country who need to be "re-calibrated" as to what their needs really are. It's stupid to go out and buy a big-screen TV if you can barely afford to put gas in the car or food on the table. Granite is pretty but there are some lovely Formica countertops that cost far less and look almost as nice in a kitchen. Money saved during a kitchen makeover works better in the bank than on the countertop.

Don't get me wrong. I love beautiful things and big houses but people need to be sure they can afford all those things before they get them. Getting them at the expense of other, more important things, is just silly. Like the list you keep, they need to prioritize.

I still watch The Waltons and some of the recent issues I've seen concerned the family being so poor that the electricty was turned off and the need for John Boy to buy a new pair of pants for a dance because his only other good pair was now threadbare. He didn't care about designer labels. He just needed a new pair of pants because he NEEDED a new pair of pants. Imagine that. Buying something because it was needed, not just because it was there and available.

I've gone on too long but the contentment you speak of is very important. Perhaps it's just something that comes with age and wisdom, or, scary thought, perhaps it's something that the current generation will never come to understand.

And, regarding the comment from Jenny, I was also raised by older, depression era parents who tried to balance giving me more than what they'd grown up with and the lessons they learned in the depression era. But, the farther away from the depression era one is in the family chain, the more they seem to want and the more entitled they seem to feel. Of course, there are exceptions to this who actually learned good values and a sense of savings, but they seem to be in the minority.

Rather than taking issue with what you've said, Jenny needs to realize how very fortunate she was to be raised by parents who instilled better values in her than many of the children growing up in the 70s and later decades. Perhaps she never felt a sense of entitlement or thought that she should expect "everything" but she has her head buried in the sand if she doesn't realize that many people who are today's parents and grandparents did.

dreamsbookstea said...

I like this posting. It talks to me at my current point in life. I had bought a bigger 106 year old Victorian home because it was always my dream to have one. I love this house, but the cleaning takes up all of my time! It's driving me crazy. I've learned that the parts of the home I love can be better found in a quaint 3 bedroom cottage style house. So I'm currently working on repairs and I'll be selling to move to a home that allows me to have more restful peace. I truly cannot wait until that day comes! Every night I go to bed and picture just what that little house is going to look like and off I go to sweet dreams.

~~Deby said...

It really is a matter of the heart, isn't it...and asking the Lord to help us when we covet..sometimes, easier said than done.

Sandy said...

In the area where I live there is no difference in the 'McMansions' and the smaller homes the commenters here are referring to. We looked for a smaller home when we moved here. As far as I can tell, gone are the days when you could spend less by buying a smaller, more modest home. We would have gone into no less debt to buy a smaller home because there was no smaller home to buy. I would have loved an older home that we could have fixed up and made our own. The large homes of 'grandeur' were our only choices. That's what the builders are building. Maybe it's because that's what the buyers are looking for, or maybe it's because the builders can make more profit with the large homes, I don't know. I do know that looks can be deceiving. These large homes are poorly built with the cheapest of materials, in neighborhoods with a thousand rules that separate people from their neighbors and cost untold dollars in never-ending repair and remodeling costs. Please don't think that everyone who buys these large homes is doing so because they think they 'deserve' a large beautiful house at the expense of their families. (I know that is not what you meant in your post. I am not at all offended, I'm just trying to explain my experience.) I live in a 2500 sq foot house on a patch of land not big enough for a football game in the backyard. My neighborhood was also 'the address' when we moved here. I couldn't have cared less and don't know whether we're still 'the address' or not. I just bought the best house I could find for the money. I grew up in Army housing- trust me, we did not have any illusions of 'deserving' anything! :) And for those who think all of us in large homes are sacrificing our families to pay for them- I stay home and homeschool our kids. My husband works many, many hours, outdoors, in all weather, so that I may have that privilege. My children are not neglected and neither is my home. And if someone wants to know why my husband has to work so much, it's not because we bought a house we couldn't afford. It's because about half of what we make goes to pay taxes. Again, we would have purchased a smaller home if one had been available. Apparently, they have gone out of style. I have had a hard time 'accepting' this house as God's provision for us right now. I felt a little akward showing it to friends and family, knowing that their houses weren't as 'nice' (that being a relative statement given the contstant need of repair). I was afraid they would thing I was bragging or being prideful or something. I was afraid they would think of me as your commenters seem to think of all people who live in large homes in popular neighborhoods. Finally, God showed me that I was being ungrateful for what He had provided. As we learn to be content with little, I wonder if we are able to be content with much if that is what God chooses to give us? If the thought of God giving us much makes us squirm, it's a good sign we've only learned to adapt to our situation, rather than having learned true contentment.

Sandy said...

I am so sorry my last comment was so long. I'm on a blogging break. Apparently, I let all my writing overflow here. :) Sorry.