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Bigger Is Better

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

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?

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