My wife and I started watching HGTV’s House Hunters around the time we were looking to buy our house, and at the time, I absolutely hated it. Anything then about home-buying was a constant reminder of all the loan applications, appraisals, inspections, and closing costs that were clustering around me, all things I wanted to forget when sitting on the couch to unwind for the evening. Now that I am safely a homeowner and settled in, however, I enjoy catching an episode here or there when I have some time to kill at the end of the day. And I have found that a sustained viewing of the show can have a curiously edifying effect.
The premise of the series is simple. HGTV introduces an individual or family looking to purchase a home, gives the reasons for their move, describes what their budget and must-haves are, and follows them to their first contact with a realtor. The bulk of the episode then consists of the realtor showing them three possible locations, each with its own advantages and drawbacks. Finally, the buyers must decide which of these options best meets their criteria.
What strikes me about House Hunters is how it can act as a cipher to help us quickly decode our priorities. One of my first reactions upon watching it — and still one of my most frequent — is, “You’re serious? That’s what you think is most important in a house?” I was struck, for instance, by how many people insist on having a two-sink bathroom. Now to me, an extra sink means only an extra item that will get very little use but will still require cleaning. Not only would I not put it high on my own list of criteria, I would in fact prefer not to have it. But this reaction in turn made me think, “Well, what are my deal-breakers? Surely some people would find them just as peculiar.” My wife and I wanted to have a yard where we could establish vegetable gardens and raise chickens; we would prefer any type of wood flooring to carpet; and we would rather have fewer but more open rooms than more space with lots of walls. To us, such requirements make perfect sense, yet if House Hunters is any indications, they are by no means universal criteria.
Another interesting feature of the show is the spectrum of socio-economic strata that it covers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, prospective homebuyers on the higher end of the scale tend to emphasize aspects of potential houses that I would consider more cosmetic: the tenor of the décor, for instance, or the ever-popular insistence on granite countertops in the kitchen. Lower income seekers seem more likely to emphasize qualities like functioning utilities or sufficient space (which in itself is often a rather subjective measure). Some qualities cut across such lines: true to the old realtor’s cliché, families from various tax brackets emphasize location, whether it be the school district or the proximity to a buyer’s place of employment.
At the end of the day, House Hunters reminds me that virtually all of our “must-haves” are really not needs but desires. They may be, and often are, well-thought-out and quite legitimate desires, but we as people (and perhaps Americans especially) require far less to live than we tend to maintain. I am always brought back to Jesus’s famous words from the Sermon on the Mount:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25-33, ESV)
Here, Jesus limits material needs only to food, drink, and clothing. Housing is not even included as a need, and indeed, Jesus will say a mere two chapters later, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20). Yet the point of this passage is not to downplay our need for sustenance or to decry our desire to live in a space that we can call our home; Jesus’s ministry would not have been possible had it not been for the hospitality of countless homeowners in Judea. It serves as a reminder, though — as does, ironically, HGTV’s House Hunters – that we must never conflate our wants with our needs, or even further, equate our physical and temporal needs with our spiritual and eternal needs. Only when we take the difficult step of making Christ our true priority can we begin to realize the truth that “all these things will be added to you.”