McMansions as objects of desire

One Miami columnist wonders why she yearns for a McMansion even though it is out of reach:

Excepting a Powerball win or an unexpected string of bestsellers, my chances of residing in some Mediterranean-style mansion grow dimmer every year. I don’t mean to imply that the odds were ever stellar, but for a couple of decades the possibility existed. Dreams are more fanciful when you’re young…

So why do magazines and cable TV programs about McMansions put me in a certain mindset? Why is it that, on occasion, I think that if I were only smarter, a better writer with a more distinguished wardrobe, I might be putting my feet up on a coffee table carved from a rare tree harvested from an exotic forest?

A friend, one of those people who seem perfectly content with life, claims that humans are programmed to want what we don’t have. We are forever comparing ourselves to others and as a result feel a little inadequate and a whole lot ugly. She’s right.

From here on out I vow to stop using material things as a measure of success. I vow to toss out those magazines and not think twice about what I don’t have and likely never will. Instead I will focus on what makes me happy. Good writing. My grandchildren. The purple orchid in my front yard. Sitting on my beat-up couch in my perfectly ordinary house. Feet propped on a table with no pedigree but pocked with wonderful memories.

This is both a common portrayal of McMansions and response: people buy them because they want to project a certain image and better people resist these impulses and focus on what is really important in life. However, two parts of this strike me as too easy:

  1. Do the majority of McMansion owners purchase out of envy or wanting to keep up with the Joneses or out of a desire to consume? Or, do they purchase McMansions because they want a lot of space, they like the neighborhood, and they get a lot for the money? We might even suggest that the second set of reasons is what the owners say even as the first set of reasons underlies everything.
  2. Even as some will insist they would rather have experiences or focus on the finer things in life, can Americans truly escape the system of consumerism? How morally superior is consuming experiences versus consuming a home? Choosing whether to buy a McMansion is only part of the consumerist mindset – though it may be a big and important one – but it could as easily apply to vehicles, smartphones, clothing, vacations and so on.

Someone should do more research on why Americans buy McMansions when they are so maligned…

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