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Bigger Is Better
Mom with a View

Bigger Is Better

When a 12,000 square foot estate just isn't enough.


"Bigger is better" has become an American cliche. There may be some areas in which this is true (family size, vision for humanity) but we seem to have gotten carried away. There was a recent piece on exploring our demand for larger homes - more space, more volume, more rooms -- even as families are shrinking.

And while I do believe that people are entitled to spend their hard-earned dollars as they desire, I sometimes wonder at their choices - for themselves and for their children.

The Wall Street Journal Real Estate section frequently describes homes of the rich and famous that are on the market. This piece caught my eye. A former baseball star and his wife listed their southern mansion for $3.25 million.

The 12,000 square foot estate has 8 bedrooms, 11 baths and 3 full kitchens. It has 3 floors, including an upper level "golf lounge" with panoramic views of the golf course. The home was custom-built for the couple and includes a spa area and an exercise room, sauna and whirlpool.

"We love this house, but we have four kids now and really need more space," said Mrs. Baseball Star.

What can we say? It's inconceivable to 99% of the world that 12,000 square feet, not to mention the luxurious amenities included, is not enough space for six people. While I know I'm far from living in straightened circumstances, it sure makes the 2,500 square feet that the eleven of us share seem cramped!

But it's not really about space. It's about the dangers of extravagance. It's about what expectations you want to give your children, how you want them to grow up.

Although my kids may complain about sharing rooms (sometimes loudly and vociferously), they frequently run to be with each other when they have that rare opportunity to be alone. And although they fight over space and mess and missing clothing, they also develop special intimacy and shared private moments. And even though I encourage (beg) my kids to spread out, their favorite place to be is clustered around the small space my husband and I inhabit.

We need to think about the soul of our house that we are creating.

Not only do the physically close living quarters contribute to emotional closeness with their siblings, they also learn about giving and compromise (and taking and rigidity!) Why would I want to rob my children of that opportunity?

I'd definitely like more space (although I think I could probably make do with two full kitchens!) but I wouldn't be willing to pay the price. I don't mean the financial price -- that I couldn't afford -- but the cost to the relationships among family members, the lost chances for intimacy and growth. The sisters that quarrel by day have private late night talks that enhance their sense of connection, their caring about each other and their participation in each other's lives. Brothers who go their separate ways by day come together around night to horse around and discuss favorite books.

The bigger the house, and all the gadgets that go with it -- personal TV's, Ipods and computers -- only contribute to the isolation of each family member and the disintegration of the family unit. I don't begrudge anyone his material good, and I appreciate the bounty I have, but we need to think of the soul of our house. Are we creating a large anonymous space or a warm inviting home?

August 24, 2005

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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) Daniela, December 21, 2005 12:00 AM

You are so right!

We live in an apartment with two children and two bedrooms, and we are happy with it. Had I more money? An Same apartment, but with two bathrooms. Even more? Four bathrooms :) Even more money? Four bathrooms and two kitchens. But no, not a dozen rooms that serve the purpose to keep apart family members that looks like they can't stand each other, as it is unfortunately the case sometimes.

(7) Chana Levi, September 13, 2005 12:00 AM

Small is beautiful

I've always thought it rather ironic that the typical small family (2 kids and a dog) lives in the biggest monster house but the large families live in tiny homes. Here in Israel, the average apt. is 100 sq. meters (1076 sq. feet) yet somehow people manage to fit. An apt. I once visited had fold-out bunk beds for six kids up to the ceiling! Yet the kids there were probably just as happy (if not more so) as the two kids and a dog are in their big, empty monster house.

(6) Elizabeth, September 11, 2005 12:00 AM

the American mindsets's lie

My husband & I bought into the bigger-is-better lie when we found ourselves unexpectedly sucessful in business. When we built our dream home & it was the largest house in our hometown. Our kids & their friends used every inch of it until our nest emptied out. Then the home, once filled to the brim with life, became a cavernous house & the shear waste of once lived in space became almost unbearable.
We sold it & downsized to a house less than half its size. In all honesty, this smaller house doesn't have near enough space when everyone comes home with their spouses & kids, but it has become home for my husband & myself.
I think we learned that the only thing that really matters is the quality of life lived in a house.

(5) Geraldine, September 3, 2005 12:00 AM

I don't understand...

We are originally from South America and we are used to living in apartements. We don't understand why people in America are so crazy about huge houses, which are synonyme to no family life, no cozyness and last but not least, a messy and dirty house unless you have a live-in maid (which is very rare in the States). We love to live in our 1000 sq f. condo with our 2 daughters sharing a room, a small kitchen, a living room, 2 bathrooms and a master bedroom...

(4) carla, August 30, 2005 12:00 AM

I agree

I totally agree with you..My family of five live in an 8000 sq. ft. home. At first it was fun to be so isolated from each other, but we have all have grown tired of it. My house is now for sale for and my husband and I are looking for something half the size. We need more together time with our three children before they leave for good.
Then...if my husband makes me nuts, I'll go back to the 8000sq. ft......

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