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HGTV creates unrealistic expectations that make me hate my home

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Want to enjoy your home more? Stop watching HGTV

I’ve been an HGTV addict for years. From House Hunters to Property Virgins andRehab Addict to Property Brothers, I couldn’t get enough.

For the last few months, though, episodes of what used to be my favorite shows have been piling up on my DVR. When I try to watch an episode, I find myself shutting it off after a few minutes.

What’s happened?

I’ve realized that the shows I thought were light, easy-to-digest morsels that don’t cause me any stress — in contrast to the shows my husband enjoys, likeWalking Dead and American Horror Story — are actually making me unhappy.

Every time I see a beautifully designed renovation on Property Brothers, I get depressed that my home doesn’t look like that and probably never will.

When I watch buyers tour turn-of-the-century craftsman homes with exquisite woodwork and coffered ceilings, my mass-produced box home seems so boring.

What’s more, these buyers are usually in their late 20s to early 30s, and they’re already getting their dream homes.

When did your dream home stop being something that you aspired to in your younger years and had to earn over at least a decade of smart career choices, hard work, careful spending and lots of saving?

In the real world, it takes time to accumulate wealth and build up equity.

Then there are the older couples where only one spouse works, yet they somehow have enough cash and creditworthiness to buy a $1 million vacation home.

HGTV doesn’t present the financial reality that most of us live with, and seeing other people live out our wildest fantasies isn’t inspiring — it’s depressing.

Most of us will spend our lives renting, or owning a house that’s “good enough,” and we’ll never have a team of top professionals catering to our every design whim.

According to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors, the median age of first-time home buyers is 31, and the median household income is $69,400. So what gives?

Undoubtedly, many homeowners we see on TV are getting significant financial assistance from the shows, their parents, or both.

Others are getting in way over their heads in debt.

By the time the granite countertops need to be resealed, the excitement of owning a magazine-ready home will have turned into dread over what to cut from the monthly budget.

The shows don’t depict these things.

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum: in other episodes, first-time home buyers settle for a house that isn’t what they really want because it’s all they can afford even with the miniscule down payment allowed by an FHA loan.

Renting means “throwing away” money, and owning a home is the path to familial bliss and long-term wealth, the story goes. It has to happen now, regardless of financial sense, because we’re getting married or having a baby or tired of living with the in-laws.

These buyers have no idea how expensive it really is to own a home, with the property taxes and the insurance bills and the new roof. They’re going to be stressed out over a house they don’t even like.

A conspiracy theorist might say that the point of these shows is to make viewers spend money with the network’s advertisers, whether by convincing them that they need a house when they don’t or by making them feel dissatisfied with their existing living spaces.

You need a real estate agent to buy a home. You need a bank to lend you the money. You need a home equity loan to fix the place up — and lots of tools, paint, furniture and throw pillows.

HGTV is one of the most desirable networks to advertise on because its viewers have so much discretionary income.

I don’t think the situation is that sinister.

Yes, ad revenue from the real estate and home renovation industries helps keep the network running, but I imagine a lot of the people behind the scenes and on the shows mean well.

They think they’re doing viewers a service by entertaining us and showing us things we can do to make our homes more enjoyable.

I’m not enjoying home buying shows or home renovation shows anymore, though, and I think a better idea than constantly thinking about your next home improvement project or the dream house you might one day live in is to practice being content with the house you live in now.

It takes a ton of time and money just to find a home, buy it and maintain it. It’s not easy or cheap to do significant renovations or to ditch it and upgrade.

Most of us are too exhausted from our daily lives to even think about picking up a paintbrush over the weekend, let alone tear up the kitchen — if we can even afford to do so.

And while going to open houses is fun, applying for a bigger mortgage, getting a home ready to sell and packing up your belongings is dreadful.

Being content with your house is much simpler, but it takes practice. It means finding things to be grateful for:

  • I have the financial means to pay for this house.
  • The bathrooms are small, but they’re easy to clean.
  • I don’t share walls with noisy strangers.
  • I have a driveway to park in and a garage to store stuff in.

Then there are the free things you can do to make your home more pleasant:

Decluttering. How many house shows have you watched where the family desperately needs a bigger home to accommodate all their things? An easier solution is to fill a few trash bags with stuff to donate to your favorite charity, and claim a tax deduction in April.

Deep cleaning. Your house gets a little bit dirtier each day, and you don’t really notice it—until you give something a good scrubbing and remember what it used to look like. Spend a weekend cleaning your house like company’s coming — or like it’s about to be filmed for an episode of your favorite house show — and see how much better you feel about it afterward.

Tidying up. Making your bed, not using your stovetop as storage for your pots and pans, putting the nice throw pillows out on the sofa and getting that pile of mail off the entry table will make your home look more elegant.

Finally, if you must make a permanent change to make yourself feel better, don’t resolve to buy a new house or a renovated kitchen. Pick something affordable and manageable:

  • Paint one room.
  • Put a fresh coat of paint on the living room trim.
  • Change the doorknobs, the switch plates or other simple piece of hardware.
  • Replace one worn-out piece of furniture in the room you spend the most time in.

All of these things will be a better use of your free time and make you happier than spending hours watching other people buy, renovate and design spaces that you’ll never have.

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