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.