“A hard, conscious look at one’s self-display strategies …”

June 22, 2009

I came down with a nasty stomach bug last night which prevents me from focusing on any great insight. I shall therefor simply pass on another little chunk of excellent prose from this very dense book I am still working my way through (when was the last time I took more than a week to read a book I was enjoying as much as this one?) The text I have chosen is mildly self serving. See if you can figure out why.
The book: Spent by Geoffrey Miller
The chapter: The Centrifugal Soul
The topic: Ways to put a dent in our spending and signal our fitness in more productive ways.
The concepts (a partial list): Don’t buy things, Use what you have, Borrow, Rent, Buy it Used, Make it Yourself, Have it Made Locally, to your Specifications, Wait, Ask for it as a Gift, etc.
The excerpt: “Many families buy mass-designed houses built in alienating new suburbs by huge developers. The structures are designed to the lowest common denominator of taste in the current fashion so their aesthetic value depresses quickly. They are built to poor standards – two-by-four stick lumber and half-inch Sheetrock on concrete slabs – so their physical integrity deteriorates quickly. The houses are not supported by adequate investment in surrounding infrastructure – roads, parks, schools well-planned retail – so their quality of life depreciates quickly. The result is that in many communities, five-year-old houses have lower equity value than new ones. A good alternative is to commission a distinctive new family house from and up-and-coming local architect on a vacant plot in and established community. The build cost per square foot may be slightly higher than for a mass-designed developer house, but the display value – and home equity – per dollar spent will be much higher. Instead of moving into a house built by nameless, faceless workers, you can move into a house that you codesigned with an architect who might become a friend, and a house that you saw being built by local workers whose names you’ll learn and whose workmanship you’ll admire. You’ll also learn much more about the house, so its features and functions can be more knowledgeably appreciated by you and discussed with others. Whereas others live in houses they understand only superficially, you’ll be able to understand all the systems – foundation, framing, roofing, flooring, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, storage, security, decorating – as functional wholes. You’ll maintain them better and repair them more easily. And as the architect’s reputation grows, your house’s value will increase. This way of living makes a much more effective social display, because it grows social and narrative roots deep into one’s local community, and so demonstrates one’s creativity, openness, agreeableness, and extroversion much more credibly than buying a prebuilt mass-market house, which requires nothing more than a down payment, a decent credit score and gullibility.” (266-267)

*Note: I’m not making this up to advertise Whole Trees. It’s a real quote.

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