The concepts of "dream" and "home" have been inextricably intertwined in the American consciousness for nearly a century. But as dreams are wont to do, this one has continually evolved.
The early evolution of the American dream home was a monolithic one, from the three-bedroom/two-bath tract home en vogue in the ’50s, to the McMansions so many mortgaged to the hilt in the early oughts.
Of late, though, the American dream of home has splintered and proliferated into the American dreams, plural: in line with the trend of people eschewing traditional career and family paths and "composing" lifestyles that suit their personal fancies. Here are a few of those out-of-the-box home-related dreams that are increasingly popular, powered by a newly refreshed, nationwide fervor for living out our dreams and the shattering of the informational barriers of yesteryear by the Internet, among other things:
1. Live abroad. There is something equal parts escapist and exploratory about the fantasy of living in another country. Being an expatriate is less about rejecting the country you call home, and more about trying on new versions of everything about your life, from learning a new language, to tackling a new career to creating an entire new community of friends and neighbors — even exposing your children to an entirely new way of life.
The Web seems to have shrunken the planet, and Americans of all ages are thinking about trying out a new life by moving to other countries: "House Hunters International," anyone?
2. Be the lord or lady of your own domain. Sites like VRBO.com and Airbnb.com allow homeowners to try out their hands at having their own little rooming houses by renting out a room, a floor or their entire homes for as little as a night or as long as a month! The recession-era rethink of our finances has also contributed to this trend, creating an uptick in both:
- homeowners looking to squeeze out all the financial value and usage of the assets they already own, including the unused spaces in their homes; and
- people looking to creative, frugal alternatives to pricey hotels and even to traditional apartment rental situations. This dream also includes the increased interest in reworking home spaces to allow for the comfortable cohabitation of co-owners, tenants and relatives from multiple generations (grown kids and older parents alike).
3. Be an urban farmer. Particularly popular in my personal neck of the woods is the now-more-feasible-than-ever fantasy of living in the middle of the city, with all its diversity, conveniences and activity, while still growing your own food and even raising what I call lightweight livestock: chickens, bees and even goats, oh my!
4. Go off the grid. The recent recession and the state of the environment have collided with trends like pocketbook environmentalism, the urge to go green when you can save green, to drive a new, explosive level of interest in switching to alternative and sustainable sources of everything from water to energy and generally rendering our homes more environmentally friendly.
Homeowners from coast to coast, of all nations and all points on the political spectrum, have wholeheartedly seized the money-and-world-saving potential of first-generation green home features like dual-paned windows and low-flow water fixtures. Now, many are taking this to new (and newly comfortable/inexpensive) levels:
- installing solar panels (which can be done for nearly nothing in some states where solar power service is available);
- using graywater systems;
- composting; and
- xeriscaping, among other things.
5. Automate everything. Notwithstanding the movement to return to the simplicity of homegrown foods and conspicuous frugality, the information age has escaped neither home nor hearth. Everyday people are realizing how inexpensive and life-improving it can be to automate all sorts of home functions and features, from their thermostats to their security systems – with whole-house smart systems or mobile phone apps that allow us to record shows, turn our lights on and off or even monitor our babies, nannies and pets, from work or from the other side of the world.