Why Living In An Adequately-Sized House Was/Is Awesome

On the front page of the ‘Home’ section of Monday’s Pioneer Press was an article reporting on the growing trend of potential homeowners settling for well-planned, cozy houses instead of following the previous more-rooms-in-the-house-the-better model. Smaller floor plans and multipurpose rooms are on the rise. The main reason for this is, of course, the tanking economy - people are second-guessing whether or not they really need a bigger house in trade for a higher mortgage.

This was surprising to me, because I had never thought that the bigger the house the better. I have been in plenty of big, nice, houses, but I never thought of them as something to put yourself into massive debt over. Big houses were what rich people bought. You know, people who could afford them.

You can chalk this up to ignorance on my part, but the point still stands that I think the first thing to consider in house-buying is how much space you can afford versus how much space you really need. If you want more space than you need or can afford, rethinking that mortgage should be in order. But what do I know - I’ve never bought or sold a house. My family has never even owned a house.

To date I have lived in ten different houses, two different apartments, and one college dorm room. That’s thirteen different permanent residences in twenty-one years. Up until age twelve I had to share a room with my brother, after which I either had my own room or shared a room with a non-relative roommate. The apartments being small goes without saying, but none of houses I’ve lived in would be considered “big” by American standards, yet they each had enough space for my family of four.

I cherish these houses because each one reinforced ideas about living quarters that helped me later on in life as I ventured out on my own. Small houses have taught me lessons that big houses may not have, and the result of this is that I am more aware of how I relate to my living quarters. Allow me to share some examples of what I have learned.

Small houses taught me to share spaces. Growing up, I had to share bathrooms, bedrooms, washrooms, and playrooms. Sharing rooms taught me to clean up after myself, to finish what I started, and to resolve conflicts. I couldn’t leave stuff strewn about because other people used that room, too. If I wanted to play with something, I had to do what I wanted to do in the time allotted, and then I had to pack up and move somewhere else. This, coincidentally, also taught me to keep track of my toys.

When I visit big houses, which is not often, I usually see a huge kids playroom with toys scattered about, abandoned after some play session that happened weeks ago. I never had that luxury. I always had to clean everything up, display my LEGO creations for mere days at a time before dismantling them to build something new, and keep my toy bins nice and orderly because I couldn’t afford the floor space to leave everything scattered about.

Small houses also taught me to buy and use functional furniture. I can’t remember a single item of furniture that my parents kept for display purposes only. No china cabinets, no cubbie shelves to hold knick-knacks, no small hallway tables that supported only a lamp, no overstuffed furniture that us kids weren’t allowed to sit on, nothing like that. Everything in our house had a purpose that it dutifully served. Part of that was because of the size of the houses, yes, but part of it was also due to the constant moving. When you move every two years (on average), you really start to question the reason behind keeping useless furniture, and then you start to dump it. I took that lessraon with me.

Speaking of dumping furniture, that was another thing I learned to do - not become too attached to it. My parents did keep a lot of furniture throughout the years, but they also gave a lot away and bought a lot of recycled stuff. My brother and I both had desks that were purchased from recycle shops. Throughout my childhood furniture was stuff that came and went as easily as the clothes I grew into and out of.

Finally, living in small houses taught me to think of the neighbors. Space is a luxury in most of Japan, and neighbors were never far away. My dad stressed the importance of having good relations with the neighbors, and being in a small house limited the noise levels as well as how much buffer space we had between houses. In the suburban American sprawl, I feel that this is often lost. When mowing your yard constitutes a good 40 minutes of exercise, who has time to pack a compass and knapsack and make the trek to meet the neighbors?

So that’s what I learned from living in lots of small houses. And that is why I will most likely choose to live in a flexibly-designed and cozy house filled with second-hand, functional furniture. At the very least I’m prepared to be ahead of the curve for the next economic recession!


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The Link Between Depression, MMORPGs, and Covetousness

After reading this short post on the LATimes blog about a study showing that almost 1/3 of Everquest II gamers (MMORPG players) are depressed, I can't help but say, "duh. It took this long to get a study going?"

The last time I played a MMO seriously was in mid-high school and, while I don't know if I was depressed or not, I was definitely not all bubbly-smiley-roses-and-rainbows happy. I played my MMO (Runescape) because it was more fun than real life and I don't think other people who play MMOs have any different motives.

What are the possible motives for playing an MMO? Fun? Distraction? Companionship? Team-building? An attempt to make money? There is one thing that these things have in common - doing them online is supposed to be a better alternative than doing them in the real world.

Nobody aspires to be less online than they are in the real world - there's no point in partaking if you don't. You might as well just stay in real life if you're having a more mediocre time online.

If we aspire to be more online, then what are the goals? What is the online gamer trying to achieve? How can they get prestige, status, and "win" in their online game?

Let's look at the cycle in most, if not all, online games,

  1. Kill monsters / Fulfill quest requirements
  2. Get rewarded for: killing monsters / beating quests
  3. Loot monsters for items and money / receive quest rewards
  4. Sell lots of crappy items to buy expensive, better items
  5. Use better items to: kill more powerful monsters / to do harder quests
  6. Go to Step 2

This is an endless cycle that players refer to rather ruefully as "the grind". There are some variations to the grind, like having to take a monster down with a group of people, or having a quest that takes a week to complete, but the basics are very much the same.

So how is the success and status measured in online games? It is measured by the amount of items or money you have. He who has the most toys, wins.

If succeeding in the online realm means having the most toys, and we aspire to be more online than we are in the real world, then I can only deduce that turning to online games represents a discontent with the material possessions or status that we have in the real world. Online games are seen as a shortcut to wealth, fame and fortune. And, unlike the real world, the items and money are all that matter. You can be the most generous person online, but people will still look at your avatar and say, "Man, that guy has crappy items. He must suck at this game." Character counts for nothing in the online gaming universe. It is a facet that is hidden by the brilliant shine of digital material wealth. (This also explains the disdain that gamers have for those who spend real-world money to buy in-game items and currency.)

Does this model hold true in the real world? Do the richest "win" at life? Does money, power, fame, and status bring happiness? I think anyone who reads even a basic supermarket tabloid
can tell you that some of the wealthiest people in the world are the most screwed-up and unhappy of the lot.

So what is the secret to happiness? According to the apostle Paul and psychologist Barry Schwartz, the secret is being content with what we have. The key is not self-centeredness and making sure that our all needs are met first and foremost, but rather that those around us are living comfortably. Every psychologist will tell you that the happiest people are those with meaningful, deep, personal friendships with others. Making these kind of friendships is hard work, as any married person can attest to. In short, character counts in real life.

If character counts in real life, and we want out online lives to be better than our real lives, then why isn't altruism rewarded in online games? As it stands now, selflessness is not a desirable attribute to work towards in any online game simply because it is not rewarded. Sure, you can give away items to lower-level characters or help them beat monsters, but does it really cost you anything? No, because you weigh the risks ahead of time and are always pretty confident that you can win before you engage in any risky combat activity. Helping others doesn't cost you anything in an online universe. In Real Life is costs you time, money, work, and/or investment, but it is one of the most rewarding things in life to do.

So no wonder online roleplayers are depressed - they spend all day thinking "If only I had suchandsuch an item, then I could be really cool and people would look up to me." When success is always one item or another hundred gold pieces out of their reach, constantly failing their expectations of what will make them happy, depression is the only direction to go.


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