I buddy of mine wrote about Optimizing for the Maximum. In short we buy a huge house because we occasionally have the whole family over. But really it's a few days a year, and the rest of the time we just have a huge item to maintain.
Bob's article made me think of this post on Escaping Consumerism and this great article on spending fuelling the economy to the detriment of saving.
We buy things like huge houses to show off how successful we are (even when we barely make the payments) and the government (speaking for Canadians) makes it super attractive to spend rather than save.
We're getting helped along on a culture of debt and that is not a good thing for us as individuals. As I said just last week, going from very little debt (a car payment) to $0 debt has made a huge change in our quality of life. I can only imagine how poor our quality of life would be if we purchase a huge house with all the money the bank would have given us. We made a smart move when we didn't spend tho extra $70k that the mortgage person tried to tell us was a steal.
They weren't wrong, it was a steal but the bank would have been stealing our house when we didn't make the payments.
Again I really recommend The Total Money Makeover (affiliate) it's changed our lives in a year.