Tuesday, 25 August 2009

how the other half lives

At home in our real life we live very comfortably. Our home and its trappings are neither flash nor overly scruffy, neither cramped nor overly large. We have only one bathroom without a separate toilet or laundry but it is large and light and has a view from the shower. We don't have a trophy kitchen, but we have appliances that work and a dishwasher and none of it is really ugly. Our kitchen floors show the wear of nearly a hundred years of existence and many chomping bora jaws and we don't have central heating or air con or undercover parking. Our main bedroom is very large and quite spunky, but we have a single living/dining/kitchen space and the entire house at around 160m2 is not much more than half the size of the average family home.

I've always felt happy to live in our house. More than happy, I've felt lucky. Lots of people who visit us comment on how nice the place is, that it has a nice vibe and I always agree. It is a lovely house to live in. A bit untidy perhaps but it is a happy, relaxed place and the door is always open to visitors and neighbours and kids who make mess.

And while I have never felt ungrateful for what I have, I have occasionally wondered about how the other half live. What the super big, super flash minimalist palaces are like to inhabit. They certainly have an aesthetic that appeals. All clean crisp lines and open spaces. Simplicity, coherence. The promise of something seemingly unattainable to me when the clutter and mismatch and make do get me down.

So here I sit nearly 4 weeks on living in such a place. A great big huge newish 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom, pool and carport place. A white walls and lovely matching furniture place. A place largely devoid of excess furniture and stuff, without any peeling paint or unfinished details, with no patchwork or idiosyncrasies.

And I'd like to say my conclusion is that it isn't worth it. Not in the financial sense - we're only paying a smidgen over what we get for our place in Melbourne - but in so many other ways. It should be said too that unlike in Melbourne up here we are both working from home, often when kids are about so we do need more space, and rooms we can disappear off to, and space for visitors to stay and so on.

But still. Both David and I are living in a kind of high pressure craziness in our efforts to maintain this level of perfection. There's an extraordinary amount of cleaning for a start, even though we don't use most of the bathrooms and it isn't like our kids are drawing on the walls or anything. But they do touch the walls (especially to get up and down the many many stairs), and on the endless expanses of white every fingerprint shows. The 100s of m2 of well lit wooden floors also show the inevitable sand, dust and assorted detritus of everyday life, along with every single scratch and drip of water. We have covered the best soft furniture with cloths and the dining table with place mats and coasters (pet hates of mine) to prevent any marks and we keep eagle eyes on the kids to ensure no feet on the couch and no this and no that.

And it is exhausting. Exhausting, and limiting. In the end it places far more importance on protecting the stuff and keeping the place looking nice and clean and untouched than it does on actually living. There is no where that Amy can happily do making, or where Wil can crash cars without fear of damage. And when we are all tired and cranky the no and don't seem to be all we say to each other.

Wil has even started putting his trucks in occasional time out, even though all they are doing is just being trucks.

I don't know how people live like this for real (instead of just on sabbatical), or why they would want to. If we were just adults without kids, perhaps. With a big budget for cleaning, maybe. And no care for the environmental costs to build and run of all these rooms. And no desire to be close enough to hear each other in the few hours we have together.

I get the beauty part, really I do. The house is indeed beautiful. And I admire that beauty on a daily basis. Glossy bathroom tiles and the deep matte stoniness of the shower area. All the glass that provides stunning views as well as excellent ventilation in the heat.

But in the end, seeing the effect we have on the house just by being here - the smudges on the glass louvres, the salt water drips on the 'invisible' pool fencing, the covers over everything - makes me feel like we are ugly. That human activity and what it generates uglifies the beauty of inanimate objects, lumps of wood and stone and glass. I don't like feeling that way and I really really don't like needing to give that message to my kids every other moment. The you do not deserve this beauty message, this everything you touch turns to shit message. The hands off, keep still, don't touch message.

I'm doing my best to savour the beauty while we're here, and knowing that this experiment won't last forever makes the stakes so much lower. But this is definitely the death knell for any home beautiful lust I ever had. Give me bullet proof any day.

18 comments:

Cass said...

The thing is though this isn't your house. You could have the same house, that is yours, with your furniture in it and feel totally at home but because the stuff isn't yours you can't relax. I know if it was mine I probably wouldn't worry about the drips on the pool fence, or the finger marks on the wall all the time. Maybe that's just me!

MildlyCrafty said...

I know what you mean about struggling to keep everything looking as good as it's supposed to. I often wonder about that when I'm looking at fancy houses in designer mags. Like how do they keep their glossy plastic chairs looking like that, coz after a few years wear and tear I think they'd start to look pretty shabby, perhaps they buy new things then :).

We're in the process of building a new house now (see it here http://thelaburnumproject.wordpress.com/) and I've been conscious of choosing materials and furnishings that aren't going to look crap after they've been used for a few years. I actually put this in the design brief for the architect "It should be easy to maintain/clean with materials and finishes that will age well.".

I was looking at stools the other day for the kitchen bench, and some of them are so pretty but I just know that after you've kicked them a few times and put your feet on the bottom rung they're not going to look like the do in the shop. So I'm thinking of getting ones with stainless-steel legs, there's not much you can do to mess stainless-steel up.

Thanks for confirming my suspicion that it was important to choose materials well!

Tania said...

My hearty thanks to you. I first developed a suspicion a little while ago after a friend reno-ed her house. After a year and a half of angst, she moved into her new showroom. It has no heart, no soul. My kids are terrified of going there. Her kid wouldn't dream of playing with a truck. Still, she would NEVER live in a house like mine. I'm still doing the reno one day (after I have taken several thousand deep breaths) but there won't be even a whiff of invisible glass!

Jodie said...

Yourself and your Mister and your truck crashing little man and gorgeous making daughter could spend time in my smudged, messy, falling apart home anytime. I would be honoured and I would sit with you and talk and laugh and possibly spill my wine on the already stained carpet.....and it wouldn't matter.
Luckily the weather means you get to spend more time outside !

Janet said...

yeah, I've always believed that houses are live in, coffee tables are for putting feet on and that don'ts should be about more important things than stuff. I even like clothes better once they have lost their shiny newness and have become moulded to me.

Your real house is pretty anbd comfortable.

susan said...

Oh, I hear you. Living with the detritus of busy, creative humans sometimes makes me long for the clean, clutter-free lines of the minimalist look, but the effort involved in keeping so many surfaces so shiny would make me want to reach for a book, not a dust rag. The 'look' I seem to have created around me over the years seems to be the 'distressed' furniture, shabby without the chic look. In fact, when we recarpeted a few years ago I chose a coffee colour solely because I drink coffee all day and that is what gets spilled the most when I leave cups all over the house.

Nikki said...

I hear ya! Yay for trucks on loungeroom floors and crafty kids spilling glitter on everything.

nikkishell said...

I'd much rather visit your house in Melbourne :) I think it's lovely!

Ali said...

Our current house was occupied by a very slick and chic couple before us and I'll admit to feeling intimidated by it when we first moved in.

But after a few months of constantly wiping the glass doors free from little sticky fingerprints, I learned to just let it go.

And strangely, slick soon metamorphoses into shabbily loved.

Chef Messy said...

I like this post. This is exactly why I've always thought that even if I could afford it, I wouldn't want one of those swanky sort of places any day. Rumpled cottage you can live in and still make it look good. Sleek minimilist modern you cannot. I say keep it in Met Home where it belongs, and the rest of us can enjoy living in the real world.

Kate said...

This is what I hate about renting. I am always so aware that I am living in someone else's house, and more than that, if somethign breaks it is Our Fault and we will have to pay for it - evenif it's something minor that if it was my house I would just go 'eh, I can live with that broken'.

And if the grass isn't mown I can't just think 'well, I'll do it next weekend', I feel guilty. It's like eternally being a teenager with a messy room. You can go with the flow and love the mess.

innercitygarden said...

In my renting career I've lived in lots of places that were so crap you couldn't tell if you'd spent all day cleaning, which was depressing sometimes, but also kinda freeing. If it's never gonna look clean you may as well go to the pub, right? Now I live in a place that is old enough to be comfy, but well maintained and well built enough that it looks clean after I do the housework. It's a nice balance. Nowhere I live will ever be Home Beautiful, it's no fun trying to live in a magazine.

eeloh said...

I have relatives on the Gold Coast who live in a palace on the river ...my cousin even has a gift cupboard. I don't know if she spends all her time cleaning. The staircase looks like something out of Gone with the Wind. It's awful.

Have to say though you don't need to travel to QLD for all that ... my Mums Group in the burbs seems to be absolutely devoid of the sort of lived in, mussed up aesthetic our peer group has - it's McMansions away. I just don't get it.

Terri said...

I agree 100%. Now that I've graduated with my Master's degree (and almost doubled my income in the process) we could certainly afford a larger house, but I don't want one. I'll probably put in a bay window, and a covered patio in back, but I love my rumpled cottage!

Christie said...

I think Cass is right, it would be different if it was your house.

We renovated our home just before our first child was born & by the time we had our second, our standards had slipped greatly! I stopped worrying about the grubby fingerprints on the white walls & windows & just enjoyed our home. I learnt that a beautiful home still needs to be lived in, walls can be repainted & most stains will come out of your carpets when you get them cleaned!

JustJess said...

Having just come home to our rental and the washing machine having flooded someone else's floor, I agree with you. Beauty is pain!!

habitual said...

This is so fascinating to me.... as an Architect, I of course love modern- but often time I have to really clarify for people the difference between what I call "living modern" and "museum modern". I mean- WHO could ever live inside Museum Modern? It makes no sense to me, though I know a couple of Architects that live that way. I prefer a mish mash of the very old, and worn. And the very sparse, and new. It's the mixture to me that satisfies and stands the test of time. Perhaps it's a crisp glass-and-stone shower against worn cupboards and wood floors. Something like that....

Stomper Girl said...

I would feel the same way and it's no way to live with young children. When we got our new (Ikea bottom end of the range) couch Fixit spent a few days saying and you kids don't bounce/eat/touch with dirty hands etcuntil I realised he didn't know about the washable AND replaceable covers. Now we can all enjoy the couch, so much more pleasant.