Something has been bugging me for a while. There has been a fleet of dust-stompin', door-slammin', trucks-everywhere-parkin' construction dudes at my house now for literally months. We're "finishing" our basement into a playroom and home office(s), and it's a huge job, as the basement spans the entire house. Essentially we are adding an entire floor.
Now, the constant dirt and noise has made me a haggard shrew, and let's not even talk about the expense, because I shiver awake in the wee hours with fear about that. What bothers me is, with all my talk about small is beautiful, and conserving resources and energy, and the obscenity that is the McMansion, did we even need to do this? What a hypocrite I am.
Let's break it down by square footage. We had about 1,800 from the get-go, with three bedrooms, and an eat-in-kitchen, and a big living room for play, and closets, and an attic. From the perspective of my city friends, it's plenty of room. Former city dwellers ourselves, we lived compactly, barely using the third bedroom and leaving nothing at all in the attic or basement; owning only one t.v., and so forth. (My position has long been: if you have to store it out of sight, you don't need it.) The basement re-do adds another 650 square feet of usable space. And a full bath, which is completely unnecessary, but which my husband and dad insist is a must for resale value.
See, out here, everybody has a huge family room or basement play room or big yard (with swing sets that look like small Oompa Loompa cities) for their kids. After all, the average American house now stands at 2,349 square feet, according to NPR. I hear again and again, "You'll be so glad to have the space!" "You need that, you really do." My kids asked again and again for a playroom; and frankly, tiring of the stomping of little feet during endless and messy playdates,I caved.
But do we need the space? Sure, my husband and I are both freelancers and work from home, but our bedroom can accommodate our two small desks. We could have used the eat-in kitchen as an office, too. The kids each have their own bedroom, which is an amazing luxury compared to other kids in the world. We could have bunked them together and made that extra room the playroom, like my thrifty Japanese neighbors. And sure, my parents have recently downsized their home, and have moved their excess "stuff" into -- where else? -- my previously pristine attic and closets. But we had the space.
Thing is, we got used to the idea of needing more. So have we all. In the 1950s, the average home was about half the size of what it is today. We need space to accommodate all the other things we have to have, like big-screen t.v.'s and 20 pairs of jeans and a fully equipped miniature kitchen for Junior. Even oh-so-green New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who has written eloquently about what other countries have done to conserve energy and water, lives in a new 11,400-square-foot home (he tore down the house that used to sit on his seven acres). His exuse? It's energy-efficient, and displaced what could have been a multi-family development.
Uh, that's the point, Tom. Many families could have occupied the space, sharing resources, in which you have parked your big a...I mean, your big ego. (Friedman has been hilariously called on his house on HuffPost, among other places - check it out.) And I could fit a couple of Beijing families into my basement.
The Verdict: A waste. But I need it.