Space. Curently, Americans think that the more space they have in their homes, the better. We need grand entrances, large livings rooms, spacious family rooms, big dining rooms, enormous kitchens with breakfast nooks, lots of storage, ample home offices, multiple bathrooms, and a bedroom for every single child we have. Overcrowding has obviously not become an issue in this country.
In Japan, an extreme lack of space has caused its people to be creative with the use of rooms in their domiciles. Living rooms serve as dining rooms and sometimes sleeping quarters. In an earlier era, Americans used to live this way. Remember the one-room log cabins the pioneers built? Everything occurred in that one room – eating, sleeping, bathing, cooking. There was nowhere else in the house for living activities. These living arrangements were a bit too tight for the elbows, so they didn’t last long. As pioneers settled in, they built on to their homes and gained some breathing room.
Somewhere along the way, the addition of space to the home grew to ridiculous proportions. Our obsession with space actually seems to be a relatively new occurrence. The multiplication of technology and stuff in our lives has certainly had an effect on the amount of space we have added to our homes. Televisions have contributed to the invention of the family room. People don’t want “the tube” to be the focal point of the room when visitors come to call, hence, a special room was invented just for the electronic box. Living rooms have taken the place of the parlors of the past. It’s where home owners entertain their guests. Home offices are an outgrowth of computer-usage. We need a place to work in our homes where we can keep our business papers and machines and that we can shut off from domestic disruptions.
And, what about all the stuff we own? Even with the voluntary simplicity movement, it’s practically impossible to ditch a smattering of our possessions without the universe showering us with more stuff to fill the void. We need closets, pantries, and storage rooms in which to keep all of our things in an organized fashion. (This doesn’t include garages and storage sheds and rental storage units.)
Now, a bit about “a bedroom for every single child”. As a kid in the 1970′s, I remember two families who shared homes on the alley with mine. One family had thirteen children, the other had sixteen. They by no means had huge houses in which to raise these children. In fact, one of the homes was a smallish rambler. The family eventually refinished the basement in order to gain more bedrooms. And, where did the children sleep before those bedrooms were added? A good guess is that they were packed like sardines into whatever bedrooms they had.
My grandpa, Jens Rasmussen, lives in a small house in Siren, Wisconsin. My father grew up in this house. The upstairs has three bedrooms, if you could call them that. The bedroom where my grandpa sleeps is just a slight extension of the hallway. The double bed barely fits into this space. Forget dressers! The bedroom where my father slept is about as big as a walk-in closet. The last bedroom is just big enough for a double bed and a dresser, leaving a small path around the bed. Grandpa and Grandma had four children, one girl and three boys. Even given the fact that the children were spaced several years apart in age, there was still some sharing of sleeping quarters going on. In fact, when my three siblings and I went for visits, all four of us sometimes slept in one double bed.
Nowadays, society is skittish of having children of the opposite sex sharing the same bedroom, let alone the same bed. My husband and I are considering adding on to our house because we need more S P A C E. We are living in a house that is over one hundred years old and has only two bedrooms. With three children, one girl and two boys, we are trying to go along with society’s wishes and gain a separate bedroom for our girl. Our oldest boy will have none of that. If his sister gets her own room, then he wants his own, too. The American space addiction has passed on to the next generation.
By Mary Warner
Copyright 2000, Morrison County Historical Society