A McMansion — It’s a big, very pretty house that stays that pretty only as long as it’s properly maintained — often a 24/7 job.

A McMansion — It’s a big, very pretty house that stays that pretty only as long as it’s properly maintained — often a 24/7 job. (Hamilton House Bed & Breakfast, Mexia, Texas)

The McMansion!

Pretty to look at, but …

I just passed a new McMansion, just built this past year. It sets on about ten acres of land, and it’s gorgeous. It has a lot of stonework, a big four-car garage and a separate shop. The building is everything we see in House and Home and House Beautiful magazines. It’s tall. You can see by the dormers that it has two full floors and part of a third.

I don’t know an awful lot about the family, but I do know this McMansion is for a man and wife. Their kids have married and moved away. But they are a close-knit family, so the kids come back and visit.

Who will keep it pretty to look at?

What disturbs me is the care such a McMansion requires. I do not know the owners’ financial details. But obviously it takes a lot of money to build one of these critters. Hopefully the owners will have the money to take care of it over the next twenty to thirty years. Since it’s conventional construction, they can expect conventional power bills, that may grow higher every month. That hardwood fence in front will require serious maintenance, along with the wood barn/storage.

Consider the future of these folks. As they get older, their trips to the third floor will surely decrease and then stop. They will confine themselves to the first floor, especially if one of them ends up in a wheelchair or develops serious arthritis.

A far more manageable alternative

As I contemplate my own inevitable, I think more and more of the compound house. Here in the compound house the occupants can adjust the space they occupy.

My wife and I certainly do not need to live in the same amount of space that we did when we had a bunch of children. The ideal for us now is to lease part of the compound house and comfortably confine ourselves to the smaller space we do need. This would give us more money to spend on what-we-really-want-to-do activities, and it would cut utility costs dramatically.

How senior couples build

I am often amazed to see how some senior couples plan and build their retirement homes. They often build a retirement home when they are still in full vim and vinegar, often a few years before their actual retirement. Many seem convinced that they will continue feeling and living as they do. They must know better, but they just don’t feel weak or old, and they assume that won’t change.

Yet they know that their parents got old and tired and unable to keep up a big yard. Nevertheless they fail to check their reality. They don’t think the thing through, but let emotions cloud their judgment. Sure, we don’t need to worry about horrible things in the future. We do know there is a good chance that we will live for many years, with control of our physical and mental capacities.

On the other hand, there is an Atlas with a road map that says this is not necessarily so. We must ask ourselves: why not build a retirement home that takes into account the eventualities? With some advance thought, we can do this.

We often have people visit our office who want to know how much they can borrow and how much house that will buy. I am saddened by this. They should decide how much house they really need, where they can divide their monies, how much they want to spend on living and how much do they want to spend on playing. As they retire, many seniors gain time for playing. They can go on cruises; they can go on archeology digs; they can do things they dreamt of doing — like adventures they read about in National Geographic.

But If they anchor themselves to a home that requires 24/7 maintenance and takes all their available money what do they have? Only a beautiful place to call home that cheats them out of many of the fun things in this life.

Holding on to what? And why?

Another sad, bothersome thing that I see is people who want to build a house just to store furniture. We see this often. A lady will say, “I need a big house because I have my mother’s furniture; I need rooms so I can store it.” When we ask how much furniture, it’s often enough for a five-bedroom home! And that’s a couple seeking to retire!

Does that lady really want to spend her golden years keeping-up a five-bedroom house? Sure, she no longer has kids to mess it up, but it’s still a big, big house. She and her husband will have to maintain it and pay for the cooling and heating it requires.

Why worry about storing grandma’s furniture? Or even your own? Recently I spoke with my uncle who wanted to give me keepsakes that included some furniture. When I protested, he said, “I sure know what you mean. When they took my wife to the mortuary, they only took her and one clean set of underwear — nothing else.”

Think about that! A hearse doesn’t have a luggage rack or a trailer hitch; it only has room for you. Everything else gets left behind. And all of those leftovers are often left for the family to squabble over or to store!

A more realistic choice

It seems to me that it is time for us to wake up and ask ourselves about that McMansion we think we want. Is it important to our life? Or is it just another pretty thing to take care of, tend, finance, or leave to our children to fight over, store or throw away? Usually our children have all the valuables they need. They don’t need yours or mine.

Let’s go back to the compound house. If it is made of two, two-bedroom homes, we can move into one and rent the other. As part of the rent, we can require the renters to take care of the property and watch the place. Then we can go on our Alaskan cruise or our trip to the Bahamas.