Ever feel like your house is too small? Too cheap? Not made from the right kinds of materials? Not enough for the expectations of the people around you? Dreading your high school reunion and the inevitable questions about where you’re living, followed by requests to see pictures of “the house”? Wondering if you should substitute some clippings from Architectural Digest for your actual abode to deflect the inevitable raised eyebrow? You’re not alone. When having the right kind of house is the ultimate sign of keeping up with the Joneses, it’s easy to feel ashamed of where you live—and it’s easy for other people to use that against you.
Many of us have encountered snobby attitudes about housing in our lives. If you live in a trailer or prefabricated house, for example, you’ve probably been told your house is cheap, with the implication that you’re cheap too. Such homes are common targets for shaming because of their size in a country where the bigger a house is, the better it’s deemed to be, and their building materials are also held against them, as though concrete counter tops and wood are the be-all and end-all of housing. Small apartments in buildings without sufficiently exotic or interesting architecture are common targets for house shaming too; it’s okay to have a small studio in a 1920s building with “charm,” but not a one-bedroom in a set of 1980s block apartments.
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Starting to sound familiar?
We all like to watch each other, and with watching often comes judgments about the kinds of lives we lead. You’ve probably noticed that advertising inundates us with messages to eat certain foods, participate in particular activities, and buy specific products. That’s targeted at getting you to buy into larger ideas about lifestyles and how you can show that you’re living well, but it also contributes to judgmental attitudes. Because the more people see an ad informing them that a big house is a sign of wealth, well-being, and happiness, the harder it can be to live in a small one—and the easier it can be to judge people who have smaller homes without extra features.
But let’s face it. A lot of factors go into the kind of housing you choose, and sometimes, it’s not necessarily a choice. Most of us would probably say we’d prefer not to live in cramped quarters with moldy carpets or creaking appliances, but sometimes it’s all we can afford, especially if we’re supporting a family, trying to pay for college, or handling other big expenses in our lives. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of, no matter how much people try to use house shaming to make you feel bad for the choices you’ve been forced to make when it comes to your home.
While your house might not be as big as that of friends and family members, or those girls in high school who were snobby then and equally snobby now, it’s your home. It might not have a dishwasher and a guest room, a perfect deck and an immaculate garden, and you might be interested in moving, but you can still hold your head up high when you walk out the door every morning!
House shaming is designed to make you feel bad, but it doesn’t have to. After all, you might be making a sound financial choice to avoid overextending yourself by taking on more house than you can afford, or choosing not to rent a big place while you’re only living somewhere for a few months on a contract job. The money you’re saving on housing could be going to things you’re passionate about, like travel, funding charities, and more, and you don’t need to justify that to anyone.
Remember the housing crisis of 2008? One of the reasons it was so explosive was because of real estate speculation and the loans taken out by people across the country to finance big, fancy, newly-built houses that they thought would keep their value forever. One by one, those mortgages collapsed, while people with more manageable mortgages and more equity in their homes were able to stick it out, despite the sometimes rough waters. For instance, some cities saw a boom in home building, Miami for example, but most of that new development is worth less now than it was when it was built. Something to think about the next time someone hassles you because your house isn’t pretty enough, or large enough, or situated in the right location!
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By s.e. smith, Networx