The Desire for Stuff. Or, the Excess of Living Rooms

My inner feisty-child is punching at the bricks today. Please excuse me while I release her for another rampage, this time regarding living rooms. And dining rooms.


No, you read me right. Whenever I think about the idea of living rooms — the kind that take space in a home as an addition to a regular family room — I’m like, what the . . . ?

Far as I can tell, it’s mainly an American “need” to have a formal room that shows off fancier furniture that children aren’t allowed to touch unless there is company visiting. And how is that supposed to make for a hospitable visit, anyway, sitting guests straight-backed on the barely-touched formal floral sofa in a room that says, “Speak quietly because for some inexplicable reason this room is special?”

I think the message of that kind of room is supposed to be that the guest is special. But I’d rather my friends consider me their family.

The same goes for those houses that have spacious dining areas in or near the kitchen, plus a separate formal dining room to top it off. This extra room’s purpose is to host a handful of meals a year. Christmas, Thanksgiving. Sometimes Easter and New Year’s Eve. Maybe even a non-holiday meal or two with visitors, where, once again, the guests get to be special as they eat in the subdued and polite atmosphere of the special room.

I like hosting festive holiday meals, but I don’t need a separate room that exists only for that very occasional purpose. While we’re seeing it less with the current economy acting up (or down, rather), it’s interesting how prevalent these extra rooms are in the houses our builders design.

I have a lot of friends who transformed their formal living rooms into fun, casual party spots, filling the space with pool tables. I’m all for that. But if I’m going to buy a home with a space for periodic pool-playing parties, I want that room to be somewhere other than the area opposite my front door.

We’re so used to these extra rooms that few people question the need for them. I don’t blame homeowners. It’s a cultural practice that was handed to us as a common and unconscious display of excess. And there’s just something about the need to display excess that makes me want to barf all over it.

Okay, I have to reveal a little hypocrisy here and admit that I am not totally immune from the temptation for a bit of excess. I have a slightly excessive amount of super cute Victoria’s Secret panties. They do get regular use though. How many formal living rooms can say they get as much wear?

I’m just thinking about the extra costs for a barely used room: the land to make space for it, the resources to build it, the energy to heat and cool it, the furniture to fill it, the time to clean it. Y to the U to the C to the K. I prefer a cozy little house I’ve paid off, instead. The extra time and money could send me off-road cycling or out with my guy for some south Indian dosas. Maybe some of the extra can help fund the education of third world children or the entrepreneuralism of their parents whose living rooms, family rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms are one all-inclusive 5×5 foot space.

6 thoughts on “The Desire for Stuff. Or, the Excess of Living Rooms”

  1. When we moved into this house, 2100 sqft, we only had one table and one sofa. Still do. The “formal” living and dining quickly converted to a play area for the 3 kids, then to the current computer/Xbox360 room, and my own ‘craft/scrapbooking’ room.

  2. Some people here have either a big kitchen to eat in or a small room to use as family room; they keep a nice, clean & fancy living/dinning room to use it just 2-3 times a year.

    That’s something I had clear in my mind: just a family/living/dinning room in my own home! No eating in the kitchen. Everyone is welcome to my living room; if something gets damaged, dirty, whatever! it’s OK 🙂

  3. I know what you’re talking about. I think it was my second or third year living in the USA when I was in an upper-middle class home. Everything was so perfect. It was no like no one lived there. I was never sure if I sat on the right couch or whether or not I did the right thing by holding a picture they showed me.

    Basically, I felt I had visited a museum with lots of nice things and eaten at a really fancy restaurant. But it certainly didn’t feel like I had visited someones home.

    Certainly a cultural experience for me!

  4. When we bought our house in 2001, it had a nice sized den, a VERY small kitchen, formal dining room and formal living room. We remodeled taking down walls and doors and now have a lovely family room that opens into a nice size eat-in kitchen with a big family table that seats all our kids and their spouses. That opens in to a great, fun game room which includes a pool table. All of these are used regularly. No stuffy furniture. No off-limits rooms. We love it now that we’ve made the changes that fit our family life with grown children and young grandchildren!

  5. I agree. When I look around our house, I think that it reflects those thoughts. We have a front kitchen/dining room with a reading chair in the corner. Our family room is where we spend the most time, and it holds our couch, TV/video games, computers, desks, toys, and my craft stuff. I love that we can all hang out together. Our only extra room is a guest/storage room, but that may become a room for a second child someday. We actually ruled some houses on our home search due to being too big and/or having too many rooms.

  6. When we started renting mom’s oversized house, the formal living room and dining room (and den) on the main floor were off limits because of the white carpet and/or formal furniture.

    So even though the house is almost 4,000 square feet, we congregated primarily in the kitchen/breakfast-nook/hearth. Our previous home was only 1,200 sq. ft., and yet I felt more cramped and claustrophobic in mom’s monstrosity because of its “formal” rooms. Absurd.

    Breaking the rules and finally making ourselves comfortable in the living room by setting up our own couch, rug and tv made it bearable, but my experience has been that big houses and formal rooms are definitely over-rated.

    We cannot wait to move into our remodeled 2,600 sq. foot home with no formal living room. We eliminated the formal dining room by busting out the wall that seprated it from the kitchen, and we added a bar and cabinets, and now it’s a larger, open eat-in kitchen. I think you’ll like it when you see it this summer.

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