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.