Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal features a story with a curious headline: “Goodbye Bathtub and Living Room. America’s Homes are Shrinking.”
Just how much shrinkage depends on location. New houses in Seattle are 18% smaller than they were five years ago, while Charlotte, N.C. new builds are 14% reduced in size.
“Smaller” is relative, of course. According to the most recent statistics, the average new house these days in 2,420 square feet.
The article goes on to discuss the fallout of smaller footprints – the loss of formal dining and living rooms, even stall showers instead of bathtubs. Furniture manufacturers are also feeling the pinch since fewer rooms require fewer couches, tables, chairs, and other goods to fill them.
For perspective, the average American home in 1950 was just 983 square feet. That grew to 1,200 in 1960, 1,500 in 1970, 1,740 in 1980, 2,080 in 1990, 2,266 in 2000, and 2,392 in 2010.
The great irony of the trend has been that as houses have gotten bigger, families have grown smaller. In 1960, which represented the height of the baby boom, the average family had between three and four children. In recent days, that’s dropped to less than two.
In recent years, “Tiny Homes” have been in the news – small dwellings typically between 100 and 400 square feet. It’s as much a social phenomenon as it is an architectural one.
Despite their seeming newness on the scene, “Tiny Homes” are an outgrowth of the “simple living” movement that dates back hundreds of years – sometimes out of necessity and other times by choice. Readers of Henry David Thoreau became enamored with his 150 square foot cabin near Walden Pond in the mid 1800s. Many of today’s fans of these small abodes highlight how ecologically and environmentally friendly living on a little can be, as well as being extremely cost efficient.
Scripture is relatively silent when it comes to where we might live or in what type of accommodation.
Even Jesus’ admonition to build our house on rock (Matt. 7:24) is metaphorical. God is far more concerned with the spiritual condition of our lives and families than our physical setting. “By wisdom, a house is built,” said Solomon. “And through understanding, it is established; through knowledge, its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures” (Proverbs 24:3-4).
Yet, we do have to wonder how many of us invest far more energy and resources into our material home than into our spiritual ones.
I enjoy following several Facebook pages that highlight old memories and photographs of my hometown on Long Island, as well as my current city of Colorado Springs. Individuals regularly post snapshots of childhood homes, and they’re almost all simple and small – and yet the descriptions resemble palaces fit for kings and queens.
Distance, as they say, lends enchantment to the view.
Most of us would gladly trade away extra space for a happier home life. We’d love to go back to the small kitchen of our youth if we could find our mom there toiling away inside it. Many men today may pine for a larger garage – but would trade away every tool they own to spend another day with their father inside his old workshop.
Nostalgia has been called the vice of the aged, but maybe looking back to yesterday can be put to good use if it compels us to live differently today. We all know intuitively that it’s not the size of the home that matters – it’s the love and family inside of it that matters most of all.
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