I recently read the March 2012 edition of The Lutheran Witness. The emphasis of the magazine this month is on the accumulation of stuff; and while very good, I would like to offer this in addition to the issue.
There are times when I visit members of the congregation I serve, and other times where I just look around town at some of the houses in the community, and I think to myself that the houses should be bulldozed and larger homes should be built in their place.
Why? It is not because the houses are inhabitable, quite the opposite, some are quite nice. The problem is that they are way too small. In some of them, I feel like I am back in my teenage years playing with my Legos, because some of the houses are just that small.
Now here is the kicker: at one point these houses were called home not by just one or two people, but by 4 people or 5 people or 6 people or even 7 and 8 people.
And I think to myself, how could this be? I grew up in a 3 bedroom apartment and there were days that that was barely enough for 4 people; how did they ever fit 6-8 people in a 3 bedroom house?
And then it dawned on me. We have a lot more stuff today, and we keep a lot more stuff today, than they ever did even 40 years ago. Today, it is typical for a family of 4 to have at least 2 televisions; 50 years ago, most families barely had 1 television. My brother and I each had our own room from the time we were 7 and 9; 40 years ago, the only way you got your own room is if you were the only girl in a house full of boys. 30 years ago, nobody had a computer; today, everyone has a computer.
And this ties into another issue: houses are inanimate objects that do not grow or shrink based on the number of people who live in them. Most people live in houses or apartments that were built 30-50 years ago when many of the things you commonly find in homes today were not so common. So the amount of stuff has increased, the space has not increased, so something has to give for a family to live comfortably. And it did.
You are not going to find many houses today that are called home by more than 6 people or even 5 people. The new norm today is that a three bedroom house or apartment will typically be called home by 4 people, and most days even that will seem crowded.
The accumulation of stuff both to use and to save has required the need for more space; and that space has been created by smaller families. In accumulating more stuff, space had to be made to accommodate it. And space has been made. The irony of all of this is that even when people do have larger houses, with more than three bedrooms, it has still not resulted in the increase in the number of children, but rather only in the accumulation of more stuff.
Now to be honest, this is not the only reason why there are smaller families today, but consider that the same houses that were once home to 6-8 people, are now barely able to have half that number. It is quite possible that in our efforts to create more space for more stuff, we may have gotten rid of something even more valuable.