The first house I remember living in, where I have many happy memories that took place before I was in third grade, was in a large neighborhood of post-war houses, a little like Levittown.
They were smallish houses with boxy rooms. Most had one bathroom and a low-slope roof called a flat top, covered with white rocks. They were nothing fancy. But the first owners, those returning soldiers and their brides, must have felt happy and fortunate to move their few belongings into those little rooms. Home ownership was an honor, especially for those who had come of age during the Great Depression. There was a severe housing shortage after World War II, and these unassuming houses were the response to that problem. They were usually affordable on one income, and many of those young couples were content to grow old together in those homes, never moving again.
The real estate shows on HGTV portray the exact opposite of that mindset of gratitude and contentment. (For those of you who don't live in the US, that's Home and Garden Television, an American pay channel.) I'm especially annoyed by the shows that display the shocking entitlement that Americans feel when looking at homes and property in Europe or other parts of the world. The reactions are always, "Oh, I wanted hardwood floors, an open concept, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, at least two bathrooms, bigger bedrooms, a private backyard with a pool, a great view, close to where I work, and all for $600 a month!"
Of course, the shows exist to make you dissatisfied with your own home. They're like infomercials, pretending to tell you a story or give you information while selling you something. And some of them are addictive. I'll admit, I can sit and watch reruns of Fixer Upper, even though I know that after all of the over-dramatized snags in the renovation, the final reveal will be another variation on Joanna Gaines' signature farmhouse style.
But these shows plant seeds of doubt about my own simple home and the way we live in it. They're very good at doing exactly what they're designed to do, which is to get viewers to start making long mental lists of home improvements they "need."
Now I'm not saying we should never paint, or replace a floor, or buy a house that's been neglected and do the repairs and renovations that are necessary to make it a comfortable home. I'm certainly not averse to beauty or craftsmanship or putting some of your own personality into your living space.
But HGTV intends to make you unhappy with what you have so you will go out and buy buy buy. Home styles are like clothing styles, and change almost as quickly. It's fast fashion all over again, only what we're constantly discarding and replacing in our homes entails far greater volume and expense than a few jeans and tee shirts.
So I'm turning off HGTV. I don't need the temptation toward discontent or the invitation to take on debt. When the young client on one show lamented that she and her husband wanted to move out of their 2500 square foot house because she was having a baby and they "needed more room," I wanted to shout at the television, "Have you ever seen a baby? They don't take much space!"
Most of us don't need more room; we need less stuff.
We need to pay attention to what we already have. We need to take care of it and be grateful for it so we can be happier and more contented every day. And when we do make a repair or an upgrade, it needs to be for a reason greater than, "I saw it on HGTV," or "No one who's anyone has Formica anymore," or "Jonathan Scott on Property Brothers says it's the next big thing."
And remember: Even an older, little, boxy, flat top house can be the scene of a happy life.
Photo part of the public record (40398 Condon Street)