The ethics of nesting

My partner and I are in the process of buying our first house.  We don’t close for several weeks, but already I have become at least twice as boring as before.  I think only about paint treatments and gutter guards and furniture arrangement.  The other day I was talking with someone and had trouble paying attention because the wall behind them was exactly the color I’m thinking of for our kitchen.

Home improvement is the most prevalent disease in America, affecting renters and owners alike.  I have been known to rail against our obsessions with our homes on the occasional Sunday, so I am deeply embarrassed to have caught the disease myself—though not too surprised, as we always rail against things that we’re secretly attracted to.

Even more ironically, the book I put down last month in order to spend more time researching how to build a window seat is Living High and Letting Die by Peter Unger, a no-holds-barred ethical polemic that argues against the “illusion of innocence” of most relatively wealthy people (and that’s anyone with the ability to read this online blog, even if you’re doing so at a public library).  Using a simple ethical hypothetical, Unger describes how most of us believe we are morally required to help a person drowning before our eyes, even if we have to ruin a good outfit to do so, but we don’t believe we are morally required to give a lot of our money to starving strangers.  Unger claims that this is a logical fallacy, and that a lot more is truly morally required of us than we want to believe.

I would rather not believe it, because of the changes it would necessitate in my life.  And I imagine that some economists might argue that the paint, wood, furniture, gutter guards, and hundreds of other things I will probably buy as an American homeowner will help underdeveloped countries more than donating money would, as I’m creating jobs for folks in those countries, etc.    It would be nice if someone could crunch all the numbers and tell me exactly how much paint and how much charity is ethically optimal.  Because if I just assume that I’m not doing enough, I get depressed, which makes me put down Living High and pick up Built-in Furniture Projects for Your Home.  Martha Stewart might say we need “home therapy” to make our lives better.  Unger would likely say home therapy is a soporific that distracts us from our ethical obligations, and that what we need is world therapy to make all our lives better.  I guess I won’t know till I finish the book.