The Dangerous “Starter” Mentality

“This is a real popular model,” the electrician reassured us.

My husband and I sat down and looked over the blueprints of our future home.  Eager, we followed the electrician’s finger as he showed us where the outlets would be, where the lights would go, and asked us if we wanted to add anything.  We decided to place a rough-in for a light in the den; we added a light to one of the back halls.  “A real popular model,” the electrician repeated.  “A nice starter home.”

Record scratch.  I glanced up at him, bewildered.  What?

My husband and I have been married for over a decade.  For most of that time, we’ve opted to live in an apartment, and had saved enough money to be able to afford the house we wanted.  And now, here we were, looking at the blueprints for our brand-spanking-new home, double the size of our previous apartments, and filled to the brim with every custom option we’d ever dreamed of – all for a price that was well within the affordable budget we’d set for ourselves.

“This house?  A starter home?” my husband asked.  I could see the mortgage numbers dancing through his head.

“Oh, yeah,” the electrician replied, oblivious.  “People always like to go bigger and better after a little while.  I’ve been selling a lot of 3000, 4000 square foot homes lately.”

We left bemused.  The electrician couldn’t have known that we’d deliberately passed up bigger homes, not liking the idea of feeling far from each other in a larger residence.  He couldn’t have known that we’d dismissed a 3000 sq. ft. house, daunted by the size and how little of our furniture would fill it.  He couldn’t have known that our criteria for a new home was “affordable and right for us” and not “bigger and more expensive than everyone else’s.”

But that’s the kind of world we live in – one that has a distinct “starter” mentality.

“Start here, in this house,” we say, “and later you’ll move on to bigger and better things.”  But that ideology is implicitly problematic, because it perpetuates dissatisfaction.  It tells us that what we have is not “good,” but rather “good enough…for now.”  It implies that we must always be in pursuit of the next material step up the ladder: from 2200 sq. ft to 3300, then to 4400, and then on up from there.  When we abide by the belief that there is always more and better to possess, is it any wonder we have a society full of people drowning themselves in debt and shifting their focus to the next step up in the material realm?

There’s nothing wrong with buying things.  And there’s nothing even wrong with buying bigger houses, if need be.  Families grow or jobs change or retirement happens.  What once felt perfect no longer does.  But what is wrong is when we subscribe to the theory that we must always be looking for “better” just because.  What is a problem is when we believe that there is no such thing as “satisfaction” or “good enough,” when we give in to the demand of “more” not for any particular reason but because we want to keep up with everyone else or because we’re using material wealth to make ourselves happy.

I’m sure that my husband and I will move in the future.  When that time comes, we’ll choose another home and we’ll leave this still-being-built, already-beloved one behind.  But when that day comes, I hope and pray that we approach it with Christlike awareness – that we won’t fall into the trap of spending more and buying more and getting more because it’s what everyone is supposed to do, but rather that we will find what is right and good and best for us.

Once you fall into the starter mentality, it’s hard to feel that anything will ever be “finished” or good enough, or to cultivate an attitude of satisfaction or gratitude.  If we are to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), we must do our best to avoid that way of thinking.


3 thoughts on “The Dangerous “Starter” Mentality

  1. Appreciate and relate to your thoughts here. We waited longer than most to buy a house also, and we wanted the house we finally bought to be the one we would stay in “permanently” unless unforeseen circumstances arose. We have been in our house 15 yrs now and still content. I can barely keep up with 2200 square feet, who would want 3 or 4000 sq feet to maintain?! What a burden it would be. For a variety of reasons (spiritual, my personality type, etc) I have never related to or understood the “starter house” mentality…


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