Home truths


View from bedroomThe view from my bedroom window

After some wrangling over the final price, we’re exchanging contracts on our old house tomorrow. As you can imagine, houses – or more accurately, homes – have been on my mind a lot lately. We’ve been viewing large numbers of them and discovering it’s very hard to find anything we like that also suits our needs. I’m finding that no matter how firmly I put on my rational hat, in the end it’s the feel of the place that decides the matter. It’s made me think about what ‘home’ means, and what I need and want from it.

I’ve discovered a few things about myself that I hadn’t been fully aware of. It seems my need for privacy is almost overwhelming and is also coupled with a craving for green and natural spaces. The privacy thing is a big issue, both inside and outside the house. Starting with outside: I hate, hate, hate houses that are all crammed in close to each other with no space around them – they make me feel claustrophobic; I can’t bear people being able to look in through the windows but I do want to be able to look out, so nets at the window are not a solution; I need a garden that’s not overlooked so that I can potter about in a bikini (a somewhat alarming sight these days) or do yoga on the lawn without being observable; and while I’d love to have nice friendly neighbours – and to be one – my idea of a nightmare is someone constantly turning up on my doorstep wanting to come in for coffee.

I’m afraid I get even weirder when it comes to the inside. My secret fantasy has always been to have a relationship where each spouse has their own house next door to each other, or they share a house that’s split into two flats, or some variation on that theme. I’m really not very good at sharing a space and I tend to spend nearly all my time in the one room that feels like mine – my study/office. I rarely use the living room, and only sit in the dining room when we’re eating together. I know where this comes from. My mother was a very difficult person and it was good policy not to be where she might notice you and decide you were doing something she didn’t like, or not doing something she thought you should be doing – out of sight, out of mind was the safest option. We were a bickering sort of family, too, and I didn’t like that, and my room became my safe place where I could hide and get some peace and quiet.  Most of my childhood was spent in my bedroom and even now I can only truly relax when I’m by myself in a non-shared space.

My husband comes from a (much happier) family of four children and is considerably more at ease sharing spaces than I am. Understandably, he doesn’t really ‘get’ my need to have my own exclusive territory. I was quite appalled with myself recently (and I’m sure he would be too if he knew about it) when I realised that the main appeal of one house we were considering was that I could have my own bathroom, my own sitting room, and my own bedroom as well as my study, as there were enough rooms to divide the house up between us. Oooops…..

The craving for nature has two prongs. The first ties in with the privacy thing – if you’re looking out onto fields and green spaces, then by definition you’re not overlooked by other buildings. The second is a little deeper. I’ve been reading a book called House as the Mirror of Self by Clare Cooper Marcus – a fascinating read about the psychology of home. One of the exercises asks you to tune in to where you feel most at home and my sense of belonging in the world – ie, feeling at home in it – only really kicks in when I’m in a green space that’s empty of people. The man-made world seems like a crazy kind of place to me most of the time and nature restores my faith in it all making some kind of sense. Walking through woods, or on the beach, I feel connected to the world and at peace with it. Given the choice, the only sounds I want to hear are birdsong or lapping waves or the wind in the trees or foxes barking. When I’m inside my home, I want to be able to see a lot of sky and at least a few trees and some greenery. If I had my way, I’d most like to live right out in the country down a narrow single-track lane. I did this once, for a while, and I loved it – my room looked out over fields full of cauliflowers to the sea on the horizon.

As you can imagine, unless you have an unlimited budget these kind of requirements make it hard work finding somewhere that fits, especially when the bulk of houses in this area are relative new-builds packed in to sprawling estates. Most of these houses are bland and box-like as well; I didn’t mention we’d also like our new home to have a bit of character. At the moment I’m despairing of ever finding somewhere that will work for us, and I feel as if I’m turning into a fussy, demanding, pain in the ass, to be honest. I really wish I wasn’t like this; I wish I loved being right in the middle of this messy, people-filled thing we call life, but I don’t think I’m going to change any time soon. And given that we’ll probably be living in our new home for the next fifteen years or more, I think we have to get it right.

“There should be at least one room, or some corner, where no-one will find you and disturb you or notice you.  You should be able to untether yourself from the world and set yourself free, loosing all the fine strings and strands of tension that bind you, by sight, by sound, by thought, to the presence of other [people].”

Thomas Merton