American Homes

A few years ago, an American friend of mine visited China and asked me why Chinese don’t want to have their own houses. I said we do. We save money for our lifetime just to purchase a decent apartment. (Owning property is not cheap in China, especially in cities.) Then my friend disagreed with me. He said a condominium is not good living. Too crowded—Dozens of families live together in one soaring apartment building. His point was a homeowner should possess a single house with yards and preferably a garage.

I took his words to heart. I thought what my friend said must be one of the American dreams. After I came to America, I finally understand the so-called one-family-living-in-one-house mode of life. Instead of the soaring apartment buildings, independent houses like the ones we would build in a Monopoly game, are easily seen in residential areas across the United States.

In America, my line of sight has been lowered. Buildings were no higher than four or five stories. For a Chinese family, a condominium with two bedrooms has plenty of room, but not for an American family—owning a house is an ultimate goal for many newlyweds.

Now I’m living in such an American dream, sharing homeownership with my husband in Virginia. To my amazement, Americans love storing stuff! With the space of a three-story townhouse, almost all the closets are filled, shelves are occupied and countless papers, knickknacks and a lot of unnamable junk are placed on every possible surface in the house.

I guess Americans hoard unconsciously. Because of sufficient storage space in the house, things get cluttered gradually. Things that are stored are perfectly out of mind until years when they are useless or out of fashion. Their final destiny is either in the annual yard sale or in the dumpster.

I’ve been on such a path in the past two weeks, cleaning up a nearly twenty-year old house. As I put it, I’m helping the house to lose weight. Having lived in this house for less than a month, I’m already overwhelmed by complications of ownership.

I want to ask my American friend why would Americans want to own a big house? Can’t they see there’s so much work attached? Mowing the lawn, tending the plants, vacuuming, dusting, sweeping, wiping, paying bigger bills for utilities because more space means consuming more energy, repairing the house if needed… the list is endless.

I miss my apartment days.

Filed under: Prose, Songyi Zhang's America