Houses now, houses then: the disposable home

“We’ve invented a new disposable – the throw-away home.”

My mother grew up in a cottage that was over six hundred years old, in the south of England.

It’s gone now – demolished in a rash of new building that occurred in the 1960s, when the British Government thought it wise to get rid of as much “outdated” housing as it could, replacing it with rows and rows of tract housing made of brick.

You might be familiar with the type I’m talking about – you see British row housing in practically every episode of Doctor Who or Coronation Street.

You can just about smell the coal fires in this picture...
You can just about smell the coal fires in this picture…

The cottage Mum lived in had two rooms – a living room and a sleeping area. There was a lean-to kitchen -laundry area at the back, added roughly a hundred years ago.

Mum tells me stories of how she used to pump water from the well, and how she remembers when the electricity was added in. She talks about how a slab of ice was delivered weekly for the ice chest, and how her Dad used to poach pheasants from the nearby’s Lord’s estate.

It was a different life. And you know what – I never asked about the toilet! But I imagine it was something like this:

It might have even had an ogre! ;)
It might have even had an ogre! 😉

What I’m saying is, most of the world’s population used to live like this. A lot still do. When I visited China in 1983, before the great modernisation that happened since, I saw how families were living on the communes there.

It was pretty similar to how Mum told me she’d grown up. Most homes had one room, one big bed for the whole family (might explain that single child policy!) and a cooking area in the centre to keep the whole place warm. And the whole place wasn’t big.

Thing is, while I do agree that improving living standards for everyone has been a good thing on the whole, housing has not become more durable. Six hundred years ago in England, cottages were built to last for hundreds of years, and they did. These days, a builder’s guarantee lasts seven years, and most fittings are designed to last twenty years maximum.

Along with our throw-away lifestyles, we’ve invented a new disposable – the throw-away home.

I don’t have answers to any of this. I think tiny houses are part of the solution, and downsizing a whole lot is another part of the answer. Because one thing is certain: our homes are too big to be sustainable.

And I’ll say something else: We don’t need ensuites and guest bedrooms and studies (mostly for people who never study!) and billiard rooms for bad billiard players and family rooms for dysfunctional families.

We don’t need walk-in-robes and butler’s pantries and fish burners on our stovetops and pizza ovens in our back yards. We don’t need any of this, especially when we’re putting the whole damned lot on debt.

Yes, I think it’s time we returned to smaller homes. But we also need to think about building homes that will last a lifetime. Maybe for even six hundred years.

And yes, I think it is a damned shame that cottage was destroyed. But sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

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