The Tyranny of More

Since I got my real estate agent license, I have been paying more attention to houses around me. This Sunday I went for a run and saw these two houses side by side. One on the left is probably 5 bedrooms with 6 bathrooms, a two-car garage, and a pool in the back, while the one on the right is probably a 2 bedroom 1 bath with no garage. (After researching, I actually found the one on the left was built after tearing down two houses and combine two regular lots into one.)

It seems that we all have agreed that more is better, without further consideration.

The real estate market has risen to a new record high in 2021. Many people changing their minds to buy new construction instead of existing houses. Who doesn’t like everything new, new paint, custom cabinets, a fresh coat of paint, and spotless countertops? People would go $100,000 or more in debt to buy a new construction than to fix up an older home that’s smaller.

Newly constructed houses are getting bigger and grander. A nuclear family of 4 suddenly needs 5 bedrooms (one for each person, a couple of guest bedrooms, and a library), preferably with a pool, two-car garages, and 6 bathrooms. This need for more space also became more exacerbated post-COVID-19 lockdown. People seem to want designated space in their homes for offices as well.

US-wide, homes built in the last 6 years are 74% larger than those built in the 1910s, an increase of a little over 1,000 square feet. The average new home in America, be it a condo or house, now spreads over 2,430 square feet. It is also important to note that households have been getting smaller over the same period parallel to the rise in living space. In 2015, the average number of people in a household is 2.58, compared to 4.54 in 1910. This means that today the average individual living in a newly built home in the US enjoy 211% more living space than their grandparents did, 957 square feet in total.

“More” is preventing us to have a close community.

Since the pandemic, a large portion of my friends started working from home. Many of them felt lonely. I volunteer at Crisis Textline and “isolation,” “relationship,” and “loneliness” have increased noticeably since 2020, no doubt largely influenced by the lockdown and restrictions. Despite human’s desire and biological needs to be together as a community, our desire for “more” is stopping us from having a true community.

Having a bigger house and more possessions makes us more isolated than ever. When was the last time you asked to borrow something from your neighbor? If you were missing something at home, is your first thought going to the store to purchase it or to borrow it from friends? Mine is the former. Having financial independence, not relying on people is taught to me as great traits of survival. Yet, we humans are designed to want to be needed, and be in a community, supporting each other. 

Since COVID, I have met friends who also have greyhounds and we now swap dog-sitting when one of us is out of town. Not only does it save so much money, but we started doing other things together like having game nights, and going to play pickleball together. I have never had friends who are in the “love to hang out” category (my friend types are usually either “we wear the same pants” or “I don’t want to hang out with you after work”). Not having a lot actually made me a better friend because I can ask for favors and return favors when my friends need me. Should I have had everything, and not needing anyone or any help, it would’ve been a much lonelier existence. 

In Mark Manson’s article “1,273 People Share Their Best Life Lessons from 2020,” he mentioned that the #1 lesson was “You Only Really Know Who You Are When Everything Is Taken From You.” Really, life is too short and we spend a lot of time worrying about getting “more” stuff: bigger houses, better cars, more clothes, more money, more friends, more success, more power. We never stopped to ask, do we actually need all those things? If those were taken away from us, what would we do? 

If you are considering buying a bigger house, perhaps reconsider; buy a smaller size house and use that extra money to do something else. 

What should we do with having “more” things?

  1. consider what is “enough” for you, in all aspects of life. Do I really need that new pair of running shoes, a new candle, a new iPad, a new GoPro, and a new fancy environmentally-friendly ziplock bag? Do I need to move to a more crowded city for a higher paying job but end up saving less? Do I need more money, status, power, and satisfaction?
  2. challenge yourself to have less, owning less, wanting less, and see what you can do. For example: what would happen if you didn’t have electricity for a night? What would happen if you lived out of one room of the house for a day? 
  3. redefine what is “enough.” Maybe it’s a smaller house, maybe it’s an apartment, maybe it’s a 4 bedroom instead of 5, maybe it’s to move back with your folks for a while and that’s totally ok! Actually, I miss having my mom do my laundry… a lot…, and my dad’s cooking.
  4. be surprised by the result! and understand what is truly essential to you. Free yourself from the so-called “must-haves.”

You will find that you can live with a lot less, consume a lot less, and be calm and content. And if you decided not to, at least it is a well-thought-out decision instead of a mind-numbing, knee-jerking reaction to the gigantic swinging capitalistic hammer.

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