I have a dated kitchen. For the six years I’ve lived in my house, I didn’t even realize my kitchen was dated! In fact, I thought it was a wonderful kitchen—large, spacious, full of light, beautiful cabinets, a large island, tile floor.
But now that my husband and I are trying to sell our house (not a pleasant process in today’s slumping housing market), I have learned that this kitchen I love is ‘dated.’ The report we get from virtually every prospective buyer is that the kitchen would require a complete renovation.
I can understand that many might say it’s time to replace our 20+ year-old oven and stove; they do look a bit worn. But our motto has been, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ So it took me by surprise to hear that so many other features in our kitchen are seen as hopelessly ‘out of style.’ But why would these features have to be replaced before any prospective buyer could consider living here?
For instance, we are told that no one uses 8-inch floor tiles any more. The tiles now in place (so 20th century!) would have to go, in favor of the now-popular 12-inch tiles. And our perfectly serviceable, pleasant-looking formica counter-tops would have to be ripped out, in favor of the now-popular granite. And it doesn’t seem to matter that our oak cabinets, attractive (we think) and in good condition, are not the kind of kitchen cabinets now in vogue. They’ve got to go too!
What does it mean that functional, decent-looking kitchen features must be replaced with the very newest forms available?
As I ponder this question, it seems to me there are a couple of issues at work here. One is materialism. Our society has become so wealthy that a kitchen, once a place valued mainly for its food preparation and storage functions, is now a place to display one’s affluence and style. A kitchen has become a statement, it seems to me. “I’m a (high-priced) granite counter-top sort of person, not the lower-class laminate type.”
I can understand how a kitchen, a car, or clothing can all be forms of self-expression, even at times, of beauty. A kitchen, like any other human creation, can have an aesthetic dimension. Even so, it seems that, more and more, people are identified with their things, especially when the things are new, expensive, and desired by others. Just how much of an emphasis on things is healthy?
A strong identification with objects can lead to waste, the other issue that our kitchen plight brings to my mind. In our wealthy society (we’re still the wealthiest society the planet has ever seen, even if cracks are forming in the economy), one is able to replace perfectly adequate but ‘dated’ 8-inch tiles with the up-to-date larger tiles simply because one would prefer the newest over anything older. The same is true for counter-tops and cabinets.
I am a life-long environmentalist, and so the ethic of conserving is in my bones. I tend to use things until they are used up, rather than get rid of them when something new comes along. Why expend the earth’s resources and energy in destroying perfectly good counter-tops and cabinets and a nice tile floor, and in putting in new replacements, which also have a cost in resources and energy?
But it’s not a simple matter of saying, “caring for the earth means not replacing anything unless it’s absolutely necessary.” My kitchen musings are but one example of the many choices we middle-class Americans face every day. How much are we entitled to give ourselves what we want, just because we want it? And when, instead, should we ask ourselves to forego a new car, a new pair of shoes, or a trip because of its negative impact on the planet?
With such a large human population (closing in on 7 billion), and with so many of us now able to have so much of what we want, our daily actions affect Mother Earth, especially by contributing to global warming.
Be that as it may, selling our house in today’s society means we’re paying a price for our lovely but unfashionable kitchen. Maybe we should just wait another 25 years to sell. By then, our kitchen may have moved beyond ‘dated,’ into the realm of ‘retro,’ just like a current kitchen that sports a 1950s dinette set and juke box!
Postscript: Since I posted this on my own website, our house did sell, and the housing market has sunk further. But the issues the piece raises are still issues for middle class Americans to ponder.