Thursday, October 06, 2005

Conspicuous Consumption ...

I love days like this. Overcast, cool, slightly windy. The perfect day to stay in bed and read, warmed under the covers with the chilled breeze on my face.

But I didn't stay in bed. I donned my favorite new workout pants and a waffle-weave henley and my old New Balance and pulled my hair into a ponytail and grabbed my CD Walkman (no, I don't have an iPod yet, and I'm glad, because the Nano has my name all over it) and my house key and headed out for my morning walk.

I can easily get into a walking rut, taking the same routes day after day. Today, I decided, I would walk through a nearby subdivision, home of many McMansions.

Part of the land where the houses now stand used to be cornfields, so as with many new subdivisions, the trees are still babies. But the other part of the land where the houses now stand was heavily wooded, so with the leaves beginning to turn, it's pretty.

As subdivisions go, this one is well-done. Ponds. (Or are they lakes? When does a body of water cease to be a pond and become a lake? How big does it have to be?) Stone bridges. Gazebo. Lush landscaping. Hills. Not slight inclines. Hills. Which makes for a better workout, and makes me really appreciate flat land when I reach it.

There's one house in this subdivision that's been featured in a local paper talking about this development. It's huge. I mean, there are big houses, and then there's this place. It's three sprawling stories. I suspect it's actually two stories with a walk-out basement, but from the back, and that's what everyone sees, it's three stories. And it's really wide. We're not talking canal-front row houses in Amsterdam. We're talking a house much wider than it is tall, and it's really tall.

I seriously hope a family of 20 or so lives in that place.

Now, granted, I own my home and live alone, so some would argue that I have too much space, though my house is very modest. But it's still a lot of space, as you can only be in one room at a time. I managed to get by very nicely in a studio apartment for three years. Still, it's nice to have room for guests – when I have guests.

One of my favorite housey books is "The Not So Big House" by Sarah Susanka. (Yes, Not So Big should be hyphenated - and it bugs me that it's not - but that's the way the author or the editor or the publisher wants it.) She's an architect, and her whole life has become about championing the idea of better, not bigger. She advocates that homes be built to be functional, that dollars be spent on craftsmanship and materials, not soaring two-story living rooms that are never lived in. She is not necessarily against big homes; she's against big homes that are big solely for the sake of being big, but lack a soul.

The cost of gasoline is being cited for the recent drop-off in the sales of large SUVs. I wonder if this winter's looming huge heating bills will have similar effect on the sales of large homes.

Whenever I see a Hummer, I laugh. How insecure or stupid do you have to be to drive a vehicle that costs $60,000 and gets 10 miles a gallon? Our planet is suffering. We need to take care of it before it's really too late. Because there's nowhere else to go.

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