"I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle and farming tools: for these things are more easily acquired than gotten rid of."
—Henry David Thoreau, Walden
American materialism is nothing new, as the Thoreau quote attests. But I wonder what the transcendentalist would say if he "traveled far and wide" in the sprawl surrounding the west Knoxville village named after his home town of Concord, Mass.? The farms, barns and cattle are long gone, but when it comes to possessions, we drag around far more than Thoreau ever dreamed of.
Since 1950, the average American home has more than doubled to 2,434 square feet. And that figure no doubt sounds a bit cramped out in cul-de-sac country, where basement rec rooms and bonus rooms over the garage have become the norm; homes with four or more bedrooms have accounted for more than a third of the new homes built since 2000.
What do we do with all this extra space? Fill it, apparently. Not with people, exactly. A third of Americans may be obese, a 100 percent increase since the 1970s, but household size has steadily decreased, even as our houses grew.
No, we fill those spare rooms with stuff. The average American household now carries around $8,000 in credit card debt. No wonder, since 1980, the share of disposable income each household spends servicing its mortgage and consumer debt has increased by 35 percent.
Now, with credit tighter in the midst of a recession, more and more Americans find themselves living lives of what Thoreau called "quiet desperation." And they've discovered that, contrary to what he wrote in Walden, many of the things we've acquired can easily be gotten rid of (or at least repossessed and foreclosed upon).
Perhaps it's time we followed Thoreau's advice to "simplify, simplify?" I'm not suggesting we all build shacks out by the pond (it was, even in Thoreau's case, more an experiment than a permanent change of address). In fact, living within our means can be accomplished with little, if any, sacrifice.
The price of this house on Orlando Street in North Knoxville, for instance, barely breaks into six figures. For that, you not only get three bedrooms and two baths, but also features like beautifully refinished hardwood floors, the original fireplace in the living room, plus vintage tile and fixtures in one of the baths. And, should you want to spend the money you save thanks to a tiny mortgage, downtown's just minutes away and I-640's ever closer. m
3206 Orlando St.
1,625 sq. ft.
3 bdrm, 2 bath
Contact: Trisha Lyons
Coldwell Banker: 584-4000