A friend and I were talking over the weekend about longing for better houses. A mutual friend is in the process of buying what sounds like to both of us a fabulous place to live. We both have good houses in good locations, but we both also have things we don’t like about our houses. And whenever someone we know buys a new house or we visit someone with a great house, we start seeing the flaws in our own houses all the more clearly. Luckily for me, most of the people I socialize with are other faculty who are as priced out of the larger house market as I am. But there’s still the occasional playdate visit that sends me into envy again.
I also noted that I have a smaller house than my parents did. Financially, my mother ended up in about the same place as she was when she grew up. My dad fared much better. Me, I’m doing worse (yay for the education industry!). Of course, it would have been difficult to go up from where my dad was–near the top of the income ladder, especially for the small town I grew up in. Every once in a while, I lament that I didn’t follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer. Of course, knowing me, I would be a public service lawyer of some kind and still not make any money.
House envy (and probably general envy of other goods) has to have played some role in the current crisis. You watch friends and relatives move up to bigger houses or add on to and improve existing houses and you think, I want to do that. And so you go to the bank and no, you can’t quite afford it, but the broker plays on your envy and next thing you know, you’re paying more than you can afford for a house that isn’t worth as much as it once was. I think it’s a pretty easy trap to fall into.
The whole issue of envy is something I’ve been working on a lot. I think because my lifestyle is somewhat downsized compared to what I grew up with, I’ve struggled with my frustrations at not being able to have some of the things I had as a kid. At the same time, I contribute some of the relationship issues my parents and I had (have?) to the fact that they were both somewhat obsessed with keeping up with the neighbors and we were in a living space where we could all easily avoid each other. So, I’ve been focusing on other things: spending time with the family, enjoying the things I do have. I actually want less stuff now, not more. And we’ve tried to do small things to make our house more enjoyable. Frankly, I often feel lucky to have a roof over my head.