Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Who Needs Granite Countertops?

I was posting on LiveJournal about our economic mess and the poor homeowners stuck with impossible mortgages, and then I had a thought: Who needs granite countertops if you don’t cook?

I watch a lot of home improvement shows. I’m not sure why. I never used to and in the past I would scoff loudly that they were a waste of time specifically designed to move useless product. I happen to believe that the entire decorating industry exists to decoy women’s energy into useless endeavor. Spend months or years decorating your house instead of earning a college degree or a promotion, or starting a new business, honey. No.

But I keep seeing house hunters traipsing through homes that are perfectly adequate, complaining that there are no granite countertops. And sometimes I look at those people and I just know that all they do is order takeout. They don’t cook. They don’t need a professional stove, a stainless steel refrigerator, or a two-drawer dishwasher. Because all their dishes are plastic takeout containers. And they toss their cutlery in the trash.

What people keep looking for in homes is status. Flash, if you will. And I admit that when I went house hunting four years ago, I was doing my version of the same. I had lived in a modest, completely unpretentious house for 15 years. Now I wanted something that had grace and charm. That was expansive. A house whose hallways weren’t cramped. With bedrooms big enough so that if you fell out of the bed, you wouldn’t hit the dresser. Or the wall. Now I have it, but I also have 26 more years to go on a big mortgage. If I’d stayed in my old house, I would have been done with the mortgage in another 11 years. About when I’d probably want to sign up for Social Security payments. Did I make a mistake? Only time will tell, but I surely have taken a risk I did not need to take. Nobody was forcing me to leave my old house. Only my sense that my time there was over was pushing me out. And I am glad I sold up. I feel as if I was reborn when I moved into my current home. A new me has emerged, and the gracious, spacious, sunny and private new house has a lot to do with it. However, all it will take is a job loss and several years of unemployment or underemployment, and I will lose this house. And then have to move on to another, lesser version of a new me. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, but I am not ignoring the threat. But I’m typical of many Americans. I take risks.

The conventional rule has always been to buy as much house as you can afford. But somehow, the definition of what we can afford has splintered, because tons of us have managed to buy houses that we quite obviously cannot afford. People have bought houses they couldn’t even make the first payment on. I couldn’t afford our previous house as soon as a layoff occurred. It took years to re-climb the pay scale enough to afford the house again, years in which credit card debt fueled our extremely modest lifestyle. I’ve often thought that we should have just given up the dream of home ownership, sold the house, and gone to live in a relative’s basement. But, like so many other Americans, we didn’t. We wanted to be homeowners so badly that we were willing to sacrifice many other aspects of quality of life. And looking back at it, that’s a crazy risk.

Another crazy risk was paving our driveway recently, and thus putting a lot of debt on a credit card. It gives me a fellow feeling with other Americans who are crushed by debt. It makes me very careful with our money. And, irrationally, I believe that being careful is the answer, even though logically the solution to lack of money is always to obtain more of it. Get another job. Get a better job. Prod a family member to get a job. Sell something, etc. But this is a terrible economy in which to be looking for a job. The only bright spot is the thought of all those arrogant Wall Street guys also looking. Maybe they’ll have to sell their posh homes with all the granite countertops.

But I still don’t want one. Granite’s a bitch to take care of. It’s pretty, but we have the darkest kitchens ever now, full of dark granite, dark hardwoods, and basically non-code, hot, dark task lighting. A working kitchen should be bright and filled with light, so you don’t chop off a finger. But in a time of excess, it’s a status symbol to have a dysfunctional kitchen with appliances fit for a professional chef and all the rest looking like a boudoir. A beautiful showplace with a huge countertop for all the takeout containers. Count me out.

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