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My husband and I are lifelong HGTV fans and recently, we dove into a week-long Love It or List It binge. This program is one of our favorites because it takes place in our hometown. We enjoy seeing snapshots of neighborhoods we already know and love (in one of the episodes, a couple viewed a home right around the corner from us!), and the stunning renovations never fail to inspire us to give our own beloved home a spruce.

But after a while, we caught onto a theme that, while it made for good television, was starting to become toxic for us: the show’s central focus was what was wrong with the featured homes. And while at times the drawbacks were completely understandable (a home wasn’t up to code, or it was simply too small for a growing family), others were certainly not (no first-floor powder room, no pool-view home office, no trendy “open concept”).

Granted, the show wouldn’t exist at all without a problem, real or imagined. Nonetheless, it is hard to deny the emotional issues that can stem from a constant exposure to “problem-spotting mode,” that is, the ways that entertainment, social media, and society condition us to hyper-focus on the inadequacies in our homes. After a while, this can cultivate a lingering sense of dissatisfaction and frustration.

I noticed this mental shift one evening when I was preparing dinner, my one-year-old in tow. Conditioned by hours of footage of middle-class couples squeezing irritably around each other in their “too-small” kitchens, I, too, started to feel a burgeoning wave of frustration with the inadequacies of my own house (inadequacies that, unsurprisingly, I’d never noticed until the ambiguous “they” told me I should).

Even if it can be hard to get over the societal call to “optimize” and “upgrade,” there are times we may need to delay making improvements to our homes. Whether for budgetary reasons, life state (e.g., we are renting and are limited as to what we can do to our abodes), or simply because constantly seeking improvement is mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting, it’s worth taking a moment to actively practice gratitude and cultivate contentment instead of striving for HGTV-level grandeur.


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