American overconsumption can be illustrated in many ways, but one very telling way is by looking at how the size of new homes has increased over the past several decades. Consider this:
The average size of a new home in the U.S.:
1950: 983 sq. ft.
1970: 1500 sq. ft.
1990: 2080 sq. ft
2010: 2438 sq. ft.
This has occurred despite the fact that the size of the families living in those houses has decreased during that time.
This growth in the size of our homes has contributed significantly to the fact that American families now have to rely on two incomes, rather than one, to make ends meet.
And, in case anyone is wondering, I point this out as someone who lives in an oversized glass house. We built our house a few years ago, and it is somewhat larger than the national average. I would offer, as a feeble defense, that our house is much smaller than the average size of houses our economic peers were building. But the truth of the matter is that we overdid it, and if we had it to do again our home would be smaller.
So is it really necessary that we have 2400 square foot homes? Of course not. And one doesn’t have to look at the third world to realize that.
Consider that in the U.K the average size of a new home in 2010 was 818 square feet.
The obsession with oversized houses is an American phenomenon, which is reflected, sadly, in almost everthing else we consume as well.
I’ve blogged frequently about the cost to society from our overconsumption. The chances are good that no one reading this blog needs to be reminded of that.
But last weekend at the Wild Goose Festival we attended a talk by Mike Myhrom which used this data about home sizes to help make a point about the price we pay individually for our overconsumption. We end up trading our lives for stuff we don’t need and can’t afford. (Mike and his wife Siri blog on these subjects HERE.)
For us, we’re stuck with our oversized house. But as we go forward in life, we’re determined to try to lead lives of voluntary simplicity. It is encouraging to know that folks like Mike are out there bringing the message to those of us who need it.