The guilt of over living in a McMansion

While it is clear that a number of people think that owning a McMansion is a negative thing, I haven’t seen as much reaction from the people who actually live in the homes that others would derisively call McMansions. Amidst a farewell to an “environmental pioneer” who recently passed away, here is one person’s experience of owning a McMansion:

Linda tried to live sustainably long before it was chic and was always health conscious. More than a decade ago, she was reading food labels to avoid eating anything with high fructose corn syrup. She was the first person we knew to drive a Prius.

When Alex and I bought a McMansion nine years ago in McLean, Va., after living in a small bungalow, I felt self-conscious inviting her over, as if we had somehow let her down.

Linda became an informal adviser after we sold what Alex called our BAH (big a– house) in December 2009 and embarked on building an energy-efficient home half the size in the neighboring, walkable town of Falls Church. She, John and their son, Eli, were the first friends we had for dinner in June once the house was habitable. We had talked so much about the project that I knew she’d share my enthusiasm. Besides, she’d understand our green house better than I do.

When she saw the spray foam insulation in the unfinished storage room, she lamented that she didn’t have any in her house, which she had retrofitted as best she could. Yes, she had spray foam envy!

While this is just one story, I wonder if it hints at a broader explanation. Are tastes for or against a McMansion be primarily dictated by one’s reference group? Once you are in a McMansion subdivision (not the teardown variety where there could be other home sizes), presumably there is less judgment about the other houses. But if your friends and family don’t approve of such homes, there would be some dissonance.

The key moments for understanding who does or does not buy McMansion would come at two points:

1. When moving into a new house. While it ultimately is a decision made by the future homeowners, all sort of other people include family members, real estate people, and friends have input.
2. When hosting people from outside the neighborhood in the house. This could get particularly interesting if the homeowners and visitors have differing views about suburbs and home styles.

I think we need some research into this topic: what is the lived experience of McMansion owners and what happens when they encounter criticism for their choice in homes?

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