Wednesday, October 05, 2005

M: extreme consumption: home edition

Do you guys read Mother Jones? You should. They had a small piece entitled "Extreme Consumption: Home Edition" a little while back that really got me thinking. It's simply a series of bulleted facts (in the magazine it was laid out real nice in a pretty two-page spread with drawings and such) regarding the excessiveness of the American home in the burbs. Here are a few choice stats, in no particular order:

  • Since 1950, the average new house has increased by 1,247 sq. ft. Meanwhile, the average household has shrunk by 1 person.
  • 88% of American commuters drive to work. 76% of those drivers commute alone.
  • The number of Americans with commutes of longer than 90 minutes each way has increased 95% since 1990.
  • In 1950, 1 in 100 homes had 2.5 baths or more. Today, 1 in 2 do.
  • 14 million households own 4 or more TVs.
  • Americans spend more to power home audio and video equipment that is “off” but still plugged in than they do to power such devices while actually in use. Such “energy vampires” consume 5% of the nation’s electricity.
  • The average cost of a luxury kitchen remodel is $57,000. That’s $10,000 more than it costs to build a typical Habitat for Humanity home.
  • Suburban and urban kids use illegal drugs, have sex, fight, and steal at the same rates, but suburban kids are more likely to drink and smoke.
  • People who live in cities use half as much energy as suburbanites.
  • 1/3 of a home’s heating oil is used for hot water. Multiple-head shower systems can drain a 40-gallon tank in less than 4 minutes.
  • Suburban white men weigh 10 pounds more than men in cities.
  • Only 2.7% of San Francisco’s teachers, 5.7% of its cops, and 4.2% of its nurses can afford to buy a home there.

I know. It's a lot to digest. And it's a bit conflicting too. As a homeowner, I understand the idea that bigger can be better. We've got a lot of stuff! It would be nice if we had another full bathroom. Or an extra room, or a bigger garage, etc... But therin lies the conflict. I like to try to be socially responsible. How can I use a multiple-head shower system (which I absolutely adore) while wasting water and electricity? Do I really need all that? No. Where does this end though? There is a fine line to be drawn between what is right, and what I think I deserve. I've worked hard. I went through college and now sit in a cube all day for a reason - and that is to be able to live comfortably and do (and buy) what I want (that, along with having a family, paying for college educations, saving for retirement, etc). Where should the line be drawn? When does my comfort level become too much, too excessive? When does the need for the greater social good override my desire for the multiple-head shower?


susan said...

Yeah, I've been thinking about this a lot recently. (Probably a combination of the contrast of Katrina-evacuees's possessions with mine, gas prices, looking at the outrageous houses in my neighborhood while walking to the bus, etc.) It's funny how much I use recycling everything as an excuse not to feel guilty about the rest of it. I feel like more is needed, but you also don't see me unplugging my fishtanks...

Bodie said...

I just had to put it out there based on the post title.

Can people comment and and tell us why extreme makeover home edition is such a popular show? We don't get it.