McMansions are too costly in terms of money and relationships

In another article about McMansions in Australia (and I have been seeing more and more of these  – perhaps due to the recent news that the country has the largest new homes on average), one writer suggests McMansions cost too much and have a negative impact on relationships:

Australians live in the world’s biggest homes but new research shows our trend to upsize our living space is reversing. The average size of new houses being built in this country is getting smaller as people start to realise that living in a McMansion does not make sense. While the financial implications of owning a large home have surely been considered, there are other costs that are not as obvious…

The reasons are obvious- it costs too much. Far from being energy efficient, the financial burden that comes with a bigger pad can weigh too heavily on a household already struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living. There are bigger gas and power bills and mortgage repayments not to mention the hassle of having to spend time and money maintaining and keeping the whole thing clean … no wonder we are thinking again.

Another problem of the larger, have-it-all home is that we have less need to leave it to meet our daily needs. Social interaction is being replaced by home-based activity for our convenience. It is easier to get on the treadmill, ‘chat’ to someone on Facebook, play tennis on the wii and shop online instead of getting out into our communities.

There is no substitute for real communication and the lack of it can affect our sense of well-being. Mental health issues such as depression and the feeling of isolation that many people experience is the reason some programs are being developed, specifically aiming to get people out of the house, talking to others and active in their communities. ‘The Shed’ for men and ‘R U OK’ Day are a couple of examples.

The financial costs of McMansions are clear, particularly if you include costs beyond the price of the home and consider the impact on other areas like cars, roads, infrastructure, and filling/furnishing a larger home.

The relational impact of McMansions has also been covered by others, particularly since they seem to encourage more private lives. But, my mind jumped to the next step in the argument illustrated in this article: how small would houses need to be in order to encourage interaction even among family members? If a McMansion is roughly 3,000-6,000 square feet, it seems like it would be fairly easy for family members to avoid each other. But, if a home is 2,000 square feet, would families necessarily interact more? Perhaps if we went back to the era of Levittown sized homes, around 900 square feet, this could induce some interaction.

But even in smaller homes, there are other factors at work. At the end of the article, the writer suggests that perhaps the real problem isn’t the size of the home:

I am conscious of creating an environment where communication is encouraged and valued so we know what’s going on in each other’s lives. There are no computers, TVs or other electronic entertainment in the bedrooms. Our living space is used for meals, games, entertainment, homework and handstands. It’s a bit cluttered but it’s homely and there’s always someone to talk to.

Technology could play a role as could cultural ideas about the need for “time alone.”

In the end, a smaller home probably increases the number of times people have to run into each other but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will have deeper, more meaningful relationships. There are larger issues at work here beyond the number of square feet a home has or whether the home has a porch close to the street.

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