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The cool stuff rich people have in their houses that you don’t

Jay Gatsby, as played by Robert Redford in the 1974 film,"The Great Gatsby," likely would have had wood panels on his refrigerator. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures)

What does it mean to be "rich"? Ask three different people and you're likely to get three different answers and with good reason. A $250,000 income lets you live high on the hog in, say, rural Nebraska. But a quarter-million bucks could feel like poverty wages measured against the standards of Manhattan living.

This week a curious Redditor tried to answer the question in a different way: "What items or products are found only in 'rich' households?" The question from Redditor "Chritt," posed in the AskReddit community, resulted in 18,300 responses that offer a fascinating and often self-contradictory window into what it really means to be rich.

The No. 1 response in the thread -- the answer that was upvoted over 5,000 times by the thread's readers -- was "Fridges that look like cabinates [sic], drawers that are really fridges as well." Built-in refrigerators, in other words. Fancy fridges with wood panels on them that blend into the rest of the kitchen cabinetry.

Now, an interesting thing happens in the replies to the answer about the upscale fridges. Setting aside all the usual dumb jokes, memes and puns that are the hallmark of a typical Reddit conversation, the replies generally sort into one of two categories: either "wow you're absolutely right, I've only ever seen that in rich people's houses" or "what are you talking about, I'm middle class/poor/broke and I have one of those."

Americans define 'rich' as anyone who makes more money than they do

To wit: Are these paneled fridges "really that much more expensive?" user "becca_books_beck" asks. "As a poor person, I've always wanted one of those. I embarrassed a girlfriend in high school when I started asking her parents about the ones they had and was just incredibly awed, I'd never seen them in person before."

Someone responds that the brand-name versions sell for between $7,000 and $10,000 dollars. Redditor "trager" says "that's actually quite affordable." "Megaross" says "that's more than my net worth."

You see similar discussions happen all over the main Reddit thread on this. Another popular response is radiant floor heating. That discussion devolves into an argument over whether rich people only have this in their bathrooms or throughout the whole house. Someone who identifies themselves as a contractor says this is "def not only for rich people. I've thrown this in free before." Another person says they knew someone who not only had radiant heating in the house, but the driveway too.

Another big indicator of wealth, according to Reddit: live-in staff -- maids, gardeners, cooks, etc. "It's smart to have that though really," "Completejerry" remarks. "If you have a house with 15+ rooms, you'd be stupid not to have staff living there. No rent, pay them 20,000 a year. It's only good business."

"Some houses you can't sell without the proper support staff," "Comet997" observes. "The more grandiose the house, the more like a hotel it is to run it. It isn't about fixtures, it's about the complexity of it all." But others point out that in some parts of the world, having support staff is "just a middle class thing really."

A Redditor who identifies themselves as a housecleaner points to more prosaic things: Bowls of fancy candy. A fridge stocked with food. A dining room table that's never used. Piles of decorative pillows. Another Redditor who identifies as "relatively poor" says that they have all of those things at their house.

"Yoinkie2013" tells a story about their uncle who buys things and then forgets about them, leaving them around the house unopened: "He had a top of the line espresso machine just sitting in a closet under a pile of stuff. I asked him why he didn't have it installed and he said he bought it months ago and forgot about it."

One Redditor observes that the discussion seems to be dominated by "people who grossly underestimate what it means to be rich." Another says no, the thread is full of "rich people realising they've been living in a bubble."

And that exchange is a pretty good summation of class in America today. Rich, poor, middle class -- they're all incredibly relative terms. And as the rich get slightly richer, and the very rich get very very richer, it becomes ever more difficult for most of us to comprehend the extent of the wealth distribution in contemporary society.

More from Wonkblog:

The rich get government handouts just like the poor. Here are 10 of them.

Where the poor and rich really spend their money

Really rich people are suddenly paying quite a bit more in taxes