I recently watched an instructional video on home improvement, and I was struck by how deeply into the presentation the language of business was embedded. For example, when deciding what kind of cabinets to buy for a kitchen, the host recommends that for luxury homes, one purchase the finest fixtures available, since lower quality fixtures could reduce the value of the home. On the other hand, for “normal” homes, one should purchase cheaper cabinets, since having the finest quality available would not necessarily increase the value of the home. The question of which fixtures the people living in the house would actually enjoy is never addressed. Even safety is discussed primarily in terms of financial liability: if someone is injured due to construction work on a home, is the contractor liable, or the homeowner?
In other words, the top priority of the instructor appears to be maximizing the financial value of the house while minimizing costs and liability. One of the disturbing assumptions underlying this perspective is that the home is seen as an inherently temporary product, intended more to be sold than lived in. In this view, the home is reduced from being the intergenerational nexus of a family’s life to being a commodified “vehicle” expected to provide a good “return on investment” (ROI).
Why would anyone plant a tree on such a property, given that the tree could take decades to mature (and only then serve its intended purpose, ROI), long after the house is expected to be sold, and even resold? In his “Last Lecture“, Randy Pausch implores parents to allow their children to color on the walls, as his did. What role could a child play in such a house, other than staying out of the way, for fear of doing something that would (heaven forbid) reduce the value of the property?
Thus what should be the primary focus of home improvement, building a beautiful, loving, warm, and safe long-term environment for family and friends is mutated into a heartless business venture that is crippled by the binary logic of the balance sheet. It is, of course, wise to keep a place for cost-consciousness in any large project, but let us not allow cost-consciousness to supersede the higher consciousness of building a true home.