Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Basic Questions

by Skald

When deciding where to live, I think its important to ask some very basic questions. The most basic of all is.. what, exactly, is the purpose of a house or apartment? As Thoreau noted, we seem to have forgotten.

The most practical answer is that an apartment provides shelter from harsh elements. It keeps us warm and dry. Another purpose is to provide safety and security. Locked doors keep away those who might hassle us while we sleep, swipe our food, etc. I suppose a shelter also provides security for our "stuff"... our clothes and other possessions.

From a practical standpoint, that's about it. To these practical considerations, some might add aesthetic ones.. .such as a place to feel warm, safe, comfortable, and at peace... a gathering place for friends and family.

Whats clear from this list is that all of these requirements can be met by a very modest shelter indeed! My van, in fact, met most of these requirements. It kept me warm and safe and dry. It gave me a decent amount of security and provided a place to keep my "stuff". It was too small for socializing, but I found it easy to use other spaces for that (coffee shops, parks, etc.).

For those not wanting to go that simple, why not just a small one room efficiency? Thats what Im living in now. I live in a one room apartment in downtown San Francisco.. that has a shared bath. It has advantages over the van... Ive got nearby showers, a sink, hot water. Ive got a stove and fridge. I even have a desk, closet, and internet connection. In other words, Ive got all the necessities met and a great deal of comfort and luxury too.

Beyond this kind of arrangement, housing becomes ridiculous. I think of my father, for example. He and his wife live in a GIANT suburban house. Its got three bedrooms. Its got a living room, dining room, huge kitchen (with a dining table), a huge basement (far bigger than my apartment), a "bonus room" and a finished attic.

I dont mean to pick on my Dad... lots of suburbanites live in these sorts of dwellings. The question is, why? Doesnt luxury reach a point of diminishing returns? Just how many rooms does one need? Just how many appliances?

When I judge these houses, I do so not from a sense of puritanical zeal, but from a perspective of selfish practicality. After all, that gargantuan space comes with a gargantuan price tag. People mortgage their lives away to live in luxurious mansion that really dont add much to their lives. Would they really suffer by living in a place half the size? One quarter? I dont think so.

In fact, not only would they not suffer.. they would thrive. Theyd find they had a lot more money to enjoy... money for travel, money for savings, money for golf, money for books, money for whatever. The drastically lower costs of a smaller place would also buy them TIME. They could afford to work less. They could retire earlier. They could take a lower paying job that was far more satisfying.

In other words, they could trade all that extra space for a drastic increase in FREEDOM.

To my mind, that is a very profitable trade.


alyceclover said...

I suppose they aren't interested in freedom. I seldom spent much time indoors, so an efficiency suited me fine. The only thing missing was privacy, the neighbors knocking on the door, or opening theirs as soon as I put the key in the lock. 10 years ago, 1/2 block from the beach, rent was $395. The price has more than tripled, after the electrical outages in California a few years back. Most of these spaces included utilities, the landlord needing to pay hire rates, won't renew leases, (and wrongfully evicted people) in order to raise rates to pay for the rising electrical costs.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy living in my newly purchased house. It's not a big one, but it's perfect for the time in my life right now - no children, 1 cat, and 1 husband. I get enjoyment out of working on the house, planting the garden, painting walls, decorating with pictures, plants, etc. I would not be happy in a 1 room effeciency. I would feel cramped and trapped. My monthly mortgage is a tad over the monthly rent in the city where I live. The difference is, is that I'm not giving away my money to a landlord, but I am investing in my future.

Perhaps the large house that your Father lives in is excessive, but if it makes him happy, then so be it. People make there own choices. Just as you don't want to be judged for living in an effciency, don't judge others who chose a different living arrangement.

Skald said...

Big Houses

Re: Doing whatever makes you happy. I agree. But this site is for people who generally want more time, freedom, and other important intangibles in their life.

Another point, while the big house may or may not make my Dad happy... he also complains a great deal about hating his job, wanting to retire earlier (but needs more money), lack of free time, etc.

The point is, you gotta make choices and decide on priorities. Im not saying everyone must or will choose the same thing.

But sadly, I think many people fail to think about these issues deeply. They often do what they think is "normal", or expected, or encouraged by the mass media... without a thought to the intangible costs (freedom, autonomy, flexibility, less time with friends/family, more dependent on a job they dislike) that they incur by acquiring unnecessary luxuries.

For those with money to burn, of course, its not an issue at all. But few of us are in that position. The question isnt whether a huge place is comfortable.. and nicer than a small apartment. Of course it is. The question is, is that extra comfort worth the price of financial freedom, time flexibility, etc.... Everyone must answer that question on their own. But its a question most would be wise to consider deeply.

Anonymous said...

Spot on mate. I live with my girlfriend in a shared house with 2 other roommates. It's dirt cheap and never boring. Living in a studio by myself I would indeed feel trapped, but this big house is excellent and there is always somebody in the kitchen if you are bored or lonely.

Living in London and not being insanely rich dictates we live this way, but I wouldn't have it any other way. More room for what? More stuff? I have all the stuff I need, thank you very much. Nobody needs more than a computer, a sound system, and a bookshelf. And by the standards I've been living by in the past (ie. out of a backpack) even that seems excessive to me on some days.

The next project might involve selling the desktop for another subnotebook, swapping the speakers for headphones, and rather than living out of a backpack live out of motorcycle side cases. Hell yeah!

Until then... keep it simple, people..