“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”
— American author James Baldwin (1924-1987)
“Size is not grandeur, and territory does not make a nation.”
— British biologist Thomas Huxley (1825-1895)
For many Canadians, home is synonymous with living large — literally. And that appears to be a chronic and irrevocable condition, all right.
What am I on about now? At the end of February, Royal LePage released a report that’s distinctively counter-intuitive. It suggests the majority of baby boomers are not ready to forgo the territory to which we apparently feel entitled. That is to say, we aren’t prepared to give up the big houses we acquired, as we were moving up the ranks, in favour of a more compact dwelling to see us through our dotage. A Leger Marketing poll conducted for the study found that nearly 60 per cent of our cohort plan to remain in our current homes. And of the 40 per cent who are prepared to move, almost half intend to buy another property of equal, or — get this — even bigger size.
“This … clearly indicates that contrary to popular belief, most boomers do not intend to downsize any time soon,” said Royal LePage Real Estate CEO Phil Soper. “They love their garages and their yards.”
Not to mention our guest rooms, rec rooms and mud rooms. Statistics released by the CMHC show that as we entered the 21st century, the average Canadian home had 6.3 rooms, up from 5.3 in 1961. What’s more, that figure doesn’t include bathrooms, hallways and rooms used for home businesses. The increase in actual size was even more telling. New single-family units built in the 1990s, when boomers were buying in droves, were on average almost 50 per cent larger than those built between 1946 and 1960. Meanwhile, average household size dropped to 2.6 people in 2001 from 3.9 people in 1961. In fact, a British housing market analyst reported in 2002 that Canadians lived in houses with more rooms than anywhere else in the world.
Space. The final frontier. And we have been hoovering it up.
True, our obsession with rooms that can carry an echo has levelled off since 2007. The Canadian Home Builders’ Association said in its most recent survey that the average new-home size had dropped to a relatively modest 1,900 square feet. That’s considerably smaller than the peak of 2,300 square feet, but still wildly excessive compared with the rest of the world.
For a time, in my recent single years, I lived in half a heritage house. It was a one-bedroom unit with absolutely no closet space. The shock to the system was significant, but this was my third attempt to conduct my life in an ever-smaller area. In the process, I divested myself of a lot of extraneous belongings — dented silver teapots tarnished beyond recognition, musty 1940s novels that belonged to my parents, avocado-hued food processors that hadn’t worked since the 1980s. The term shipshape took on a new significance for me. I revelled in my new sense of personal compression. I felt efficient and clever. I did have to work from home out of my bedroom (No, not that kind of work), but I managed this existence for nearly six years without feeling deprived.
Now that I’m sharing my dwelling with another — and I am most happy to be doing so — my new ship sometimes feels vastly out of shape. We refer to our garage as the horrible room, laden as it is with stuff we can’t hope to find when we need it. Still, I’m certain I could never go back. We sprawl out comfortably in our 2,000-square-foot rental. I have the luxury of an office. The upper deck offers a spectacular view.
I can’t help wondering, all the same, about our collective need to expand our living-space footprint to sasquatch proportions.
What’s the force driving us to make our presence felt in such a carelessly ostentatious manner? What primitive urge encourages us to want to stake an ever-larger claim?
Size, said Mr. Huxley, is not grandeur. But we crave it nonetheless. No doubt another intellectual, Sigmund Freud, would have some theories to offer.
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