Help Me Deal with Suburbanitis

Massive house in Suburbs surely causing suburbanits

Massive suburban house surely causing envy/suburbanitis.
Courtesy of Suburban Stock Photo

There’s a reconstruction going on at the end of my block. The house was originally a standard 2000 square foot split level, and it is being tripled in size. It has been turned into a behemoth.

The reconstruction began in May. My boys and I drove past it every day on the way to camp this Summer.  We always had a comment regarding the progress, “look at the hole they’re digging, that door is huge, the windows are in now.”

For the boys, the voyeurism was your typical looking through the hole at the construction site.

However, for me, the gawking was different.

It was envy.

I know envy is one of the seven deadly sins. Every religion, psychologist, and self-help guru warns against it.

Yet, I struggled.

I looked at my own house. Suddenly, my 3-bedroom, 2.5 bath seemed inadequate. It wasn’t just the kitchen and the master bedroom which seemed too small for me. I wanted the behemoth.

This version of house envy is part of what I call suburbanitis.

It hit me especially hard when I first moved to the suburbs. I noticed the other houses on your block, in your neighborhood. Inevitably, some are bigger, more modern, and have better landscaping.

Suburbanitis enters stage two when I actually entered my  neighbors’ houses. Once inside these confines, inevitably I found homes that have more attractive furnishings, more vibrant colors, and are more organized.

No matter how hard I or anyone tries, you can never win.

And that’s the whole point. When you get caught up in suburbanitis, the envy gnaws at you. The perpetual flow of catalogues that are delivered to your house feed suburbanitis. You feel compelled to buy, to keep up with the Jones.’ To rid of yourself of suburbanitis. But you can’t win. Even if you are the wealthiest person on your block or in your neighborhood. Someone is always getting something new, else, better.

I’ve struggled greatly with suburbanitis.

It hit me hard when my family and I arrived in the suburbs a little over six years ago. My wife, on the other hand, was more grounded. In fact when a neighbor wanted to show us her house so we could see what one could do with a split level, my wife’s retort was, “I can live in it.”

Ironic that my wife is the one who enjoys the catalogues and does the buying for our house.

Yet, I wanted everything – the big house that was lavishly decorated with all the trimmings. Not to mention the multiple brand new cars.

These things were simply not in my budget. I had a job, teaching, that while steady and rewarding at times, paid a mediocre salary.  Was it the wrong job? Why couldn’t I support my family the way they deserved to be supported?

Simple – suburbanitis.

As time passed, my case of suburbanitis faded to the background. Did I get used to the big fancy houses and not think they were nicer than mine.

Not quite.

Instead, I remembered something. I have what I have because that is what I am supposed to have. I don’t have what I don’t have because I am not supposed to have it. It’s called faith. And it trumps suburbanitis.

However, my touch of suburbanitis still flares up on occasion. The house on the corner being the perfect example.

“Hey boys. Let’s talk to neighbors who live in that house?”

“What? Do they have kids?”

“I don’t know. Maybe, they can invite us to the house. I think we could all move in and still have plenty of room? What do you say?”

“Are you serious?”

A part of me is. Suburbanitis is a powerful disease.

22 thoughts on “Help Me Deal with Suburbanitis

  1. I wonder if this is a male, “provider” thing. I’m pretty happy with what we have. We live in a great house that is nicer than what I had growing up. It’s more space than we need but not showy. We don’t live beyond our means, which I think many people do. Sometimes when I look at someone else’s home and get those little twitches of envy (everyone does), I ask myself what makes that home seem better? Usually the answer I come up with is that I need to give my home a little TLC. And the thought of cleaning one of those large homes, no way!

    • I don’t think it is just a man thing though maybe for me it is a provider thing. I got issues.
      Funny comment on the cleaning. My guess is people that have a big house often have the means to get cleaning help.

  2. I struggle with that sometimes, but it manifests in the yard! Their yard looks better than ours, I need to get to work. Sadly, the best looking lawn in the neighborhood is next to me… and there is no way I can compete with his perfect lawn with nary a single weed daring to show it’s head! I’ve discovered that I can live with that!

      • My dad and I were talking last weekend and there is this grass… it grows like 1″ per year… and it grows sideways, so that you only have to mow every couple of years or so! And it’s drought resistant (I think it’s Australian grass) so it would be perfect here. I want that. That’s the kind of grass I could maintain!

  3. I think if you can afford the big house you can afford someone to clean it. Wait, now I’m really jealous. I struggle with this one a lot. It doesn’t help when I drop the girls off for playdates at these awesome houses with the perfectly put together moms and know that soon they will be coming to my house. I mentally beat myself up for lacking whatever it is that gets people to that seemingly wonderful place. Then I remember how thankful I am for what I do have. My girls are happy and healthy in our small, disorganized house with the frazzled mom!

    • Agree on the part about cleaning.
      The perfectly put together thing seems to be more an issue that moms focus on. I don’t even know exactly what that means.
      Like you, I try to be thankful for what I do have.
      Enjoy your happy and healthy girls.

  4. your post really made me laugh Larry 🙂 hey, I struggle with “house envy” every day ha!ha! every time, I look at the pictures other bloggers post about their home I say to myself “ah, maybe I should go back to work & buy me one of those” ha!ha! 🙂 I think it’s normal that we feel that way right? & then I look at all those glossy magazines; I never stop ha!ha! hiouf, I’m glad I live where all the houses look the same (townhouse) skinny houses with almost no space, like that when I go out I don’t have house envy ha!ha! 😉 you really made laugh today, I want a behemoth too 🙂

  5. I hear ya! My husband and I are forever roaming our neighbourhood looking at all the new construction. We live in a really old (and very historical) part of Toronto, and some of the houses around here are heritage homes and they are b-e-a-utiful. But it costs thousands and thousands of dollars to bring them into the 21st century and livable for a modern family. We ended up in this neighbourhood because they built a new subdivision on an old, empty lot at the center of the area. And as much as I envy all those big homes around us (and the ones that were small but are being rebuilt as monster homes), I’m quite happy with our three-year-old house in the middle of it. Yes, I would love one extra bedroom and a finished basement, but then I’d have to spend more time cleaning since I would have spent all of our money on the house and would have none left over to pay a cleaning lady. 😉

  6. I have this disease of which you speak. It is sometimes fueled by Facebook, when I see high school acquaintances’ pictures and notice the beautiful modern homes in the background. If I give in to the disease, I might think, “what am I doing wrong?? Why can’t we live like that?” But then I remember the commercial with the guy who was going on and on about his new beautiful home and his brand new car and his exclusive golf course and he says, “I’m in debt up to my eyeballs…please help me.” Do you remember this one?

    George Carlin once tackled this subject in a routine called “A place for my stuff.” It’s on Youtube. It’s rather profane but hilarious. Might be a temporary cure for your suburbanitis.

  7. Yes, I know this feeling. It didn’t help that my brother-in-law moved with his family to a mansion. I called in that and my BIL corrected me, “No, it needs to be 5 sq feet more to technically qualify as a mansion.” My mistake! I made myself stop looking at catalogs too. And I remind myself that I can’t have everything that looks nice. That’s just the way it is. Plus, if I had it, I likely wouldn’t appreciate it as much as I should after a while.
    This quite: “Instead, I remembered something. I have what I have because that is what I am supposed to have. I don’t have what I don’t have because I am not supposed to have it. It’s called faith. And it trumps suburbanitis.” is totally on the money. (Ha!) Words of wisdom. You’ll perhaps remember that my husband is also a school teacher, so I imagine we’re in the same boat–fortunately not the same house!

  8. This post had me not only admitting my own suburbanitis, which I have in double spades, but also remembering the “castle” being built up in the mountains of Ogden, Utah when I was a kid. We would drive by while it was being built and the owners would allow people to tour the site, until someone broke in and vandalized the place. Back then I just thought it was a beautiful castle. The last time I drove by there, about 15 years ago, the happy childhood memories were still there – but more prevalent was that all consuming envy. I WANT THAT HOUSE.

    What you said about having what we are supposed to have and trusting in faith really touched me, in very many ways. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I feel the same way when I drive by homes in the country. I’m jealous of their space, their bonfire pits, the openness. Sigh, I must remember I have a home when so many don’t.

  10. I suffer from this sometimes, my best cure is to instead go round and look for houses that are smaller, not as nice or in a less desirable location to mine to force myself to be grateful for what I have.

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