Dreaming your dream house

I HAD THE DREAM again the other night, the "extra room" dream. I walked out of my bedroom and instead of being deposited into the living room, which adjoins my bedroom in real life, I entered a long hallway that led to at least two or three other rooms I'd never seen before. "Wow," I thought. "My house is so much bigger than I thought! What's with all the bellyaching about having no space for guests? And why have I been using my sun porch as an office/dining room/tool shed?"

I've had dreams like this more times than I can count. They've featured single rooms and multiple rooms, rooms filled with furniture and rooms that echo with the exhilarating possibilities that only empty space can bring.

Though the locations are different — sometimes it's my actual house, other times my subconscious has conjured some random floor plan and labeled it "home" — my emotional response always rolls out the same way. First, I am euphoric at the discovery of more space; it's like a large-scale version of finding a wad of cash in an old coat pocket. But almost as quickly, I am overcome with shame at my poor observational skills. How could I have lived here all this time and not noticed this room? How dare I have griped about my cramped quarters when all this square footage was right under my nose?

Aside from listening to detailed accounts of people's exercise regimens, nothing is more boring than hearing about someone else's dream (so if you dream about working out, put duct tape over your mouth now.) But it turns out that dreams about finding extra rooms in your house are surprisingly common, almost as common as that dream about having to go back to school to take a test you somehow missed the first time around.

To find out what they might mean, I went to dreamdoctor.com, a website run by Charles McPhee, who's written books about dreams and interprets callers' dreams on his syndicated radio program. The Dream Doctor says the extra-room dream is associated with "a rediscovery of lost aspects of the self," noting that it's often experienced by women "who have scarified personal hobbies and passions (painting, music, desire to own a small business) for the responsibility of parenting."

INTERESTING, BUT I'M not convinced. My informal poll has found as many men as women who have had the extra-room dream, and among the women, many of us don't have kids. Besides, I tend to think that what happens in dreams is less significant than the way we feel while we're dreaming. In other words, if my delight in discovering an extra room is quickly eclipsed by embarrassment that I've overlooked it, perhaps that's a sign that I should spend a little less time looking at real estate websites and start showing my own house the love it deserves.

I realize that's a literal interpretation, not to mention pretty sappy. But let's take a moment to consider the real-life ramifications of wanting more rooms than we truly need. The collapse of the subprime lending market that's dominated the headlines for the last few weeks doesn't just speak to the pitfalls of creative financing. It points to the outrageous risks we're willing to take to get a few extra rooms. I've spent more hours reading real estate listings and gawking at shelter magazines than I probably ever spent at the library in college, so I can personally attest to the nearly insatiable hunger that comes from desiring glass walls, red tile roofs or bathroom faucets that are out of reach.

As much as I adore my house (which I bought, mercifully, with a 30-year fixed-rate loan), I'd be lying if I didn't say that much of my time here has been spent thinking of ways to make it better, which usually translates into making it bigger. Instead of reveling in the cozy peacefulness of my 900 square feet, I fantasize about building an addition, constructing a guest house, putting a swimming pool on the roof.

I know I'm not alone. Just as it's a common human foible to find the "perfect" romantic partner and then promptly try to change everything about him or her, our preoccupation with houses means that we'll never be satisfied with what we have.

That's why in real-estate mad L.A., the extra-room dream is a little taste of nirvana. It counteracts the effects of the buying frenzy by giving us a fleeting taste of what it means to be grateful for what we have.

As illusory as these dreams are, they provide us with a feeling most of us can't quite achieve in our waking lives: the feeling of already having as much as we need.

Talk about a broker's worst nightmare.


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