Wednesday, 30 July 2014

[there's no place like home]

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion around me about what makes a place a home. Not just a house, or a flat, or the place you leave your stuff, but a home.

This is something I’m pretty passionate about, as simple as it is, because I think it has core significance to a person’s personality and well-being. I want to discuss a few different elements to this phenomenon, starting with the material, looking at the social view, then spreading out to the wider world.

Straight up I think we all recognise that home for most people means the place where all your stuff is kept. In a modern world where there is so much focus on trying not to be attached to material things, it can be hard to maintain that balance between healthy materialism and enlightened evolution.

Personally, I’m very attached to my stuff. Not all of it, obviously; my fixation on Tupperware, food magazines, and white goods comes and goes really. But the bigger things, the special things, and the hard-earned things, definitely make me feel accomplished and secure.

I know that’s a strange admission, but I’m pretty sure a lot of you can relate. My first piece of furniture, bought with my own money, was my cast-iron, four-poster, queen sized bed. I’ve had it since I was about 17, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m not getting rid of it until it falls apart on me. I’ve changed mattresses a few times obviously, but I’ve never had any desire to get a new bed. Even though this one clearly screams medieval gothic princess.

My Doctor Who coins are a new acquisition, purchased in the last 12 months. They are limited edition, collector’s items. In the end, they are just coins. I can’t use them to buy more stuff, they don’t keep me warm at night, and they sure as hell don’t bring me coffee in the morning.

But you know what they do; they make me smile. They make me think about how hard I worked to get something that makes me smile. They are an outward display of my inner personality. And bar wearing a neon sign with the word GEEK written in big letters, they are pretty much the most enjoyable way for me to demonstrate something fun about myself to others. If I don’t talk your ear off about it first.

Other stuff includes a small, round, rose quartz crystal with the word ‘Gratitude’ engraved in gold letters on it and a snowflake necklace that my Mum got me; various series of DVD’s my partner got me; a Voodoo Knife Set bought for me as a Christmas present years ago. This is all just stuff. But it’s my stuff, it makes me feel secure and loved, and it lives with me in my home, the epicentre of all the material things that make me feel good.

This isn’t an uncommon situation. Some people are minimalist, some people (like me) are more maximalist. But most people like things, and they like to be able to look at them every day. It provides a visual touchstone to all the hard work we’ve put into our lives over the years. Some people take it too far and just buy stuff to cover up how miserable they are. Some people have bought all the stuff they’ll ever want, and are happily getting in touch with their more ephemeral side. Most of us are somewhere in between. But each of these situations are ways people make a residence a home.
On the larger scale, there’s the location; whether you live near beaches, in an industrial area, a rural setting, or just in general suburbia, the location is a big factor in making people feel at home.

I live in Newtown. Before I moved here, I spent occasional visits eating out and seeing live bands, chilling out in coffee shops in the general surrounds, but not much else. I’d always liked the area, but it had just never occurred to me I might live there. Mostly eastern suburbs throughout my life, Newtown was the hippie central with all the great cafes and shops, bars and restaurants.

After a little over three years, I’ve come to adore my ridiculous, comfy, slightly weird neighbourhood. The noise of fireworks most Saturday nights is still a little exciting, the mish-mash market stalls, set up hodgepodge on the sidewalks over the weekends, are treasure troves of random and unusual gems. Most of all, my little terrace is my heartbase, my hideaway, my Sanctuary Newtown as it’s known.

It’s interesting to note then, how location can change a person’s idea of somewhere if they have never lived there. Whether it be that they don’t know much about the place, have stereotyped views, or think it’s too expensive/hippie/snobby from a few forays, an outsider’s view of your home ground can still surprise.

I recently had a conversation with someone who spends a lot of time with me in Newtown about the area and the price of housing. I was rather shocked to discover they thought it was expensive. Not that in general this isn’t true, but as someone who has lived in the same house for more than 15 years, I was curious as to how they had come to this conclusion. Is it because it’s so different from their home ground of Daceyville? Is it because central Newtown, St Peters, and Marrickville tend to have some pricey streets that push the rest of the area up?

My train of thought then followed through to whether people decide where to live based purely on money, and then it becomes a home? Newtown sits somewhere in the middle of the price scale for the eastern suburbs and inner west. Suburbs like Paddington, Surry Hills, and Bondi Junction have terraces exactly like mine, but with rents $100 a week more. On the other hand, places like Ashfield, Summer Hill, and Burwood have terraces at about $40 a week cheaper, but the distance you travel back to the metro area is obviously longer.

 Inside the Newtown bubble, my place is about $40-$60 cheaper than its peers. Whether from luck or design, and including rent increases, our complex has managed to keep the young professionals, little families, and a few retirees pretty happy. Our real estate agent is like most real estate agents (you all know what I mean), but again, we all tend to live pretty harmoniously.

I’ve always considered the North Shore rather pricey and very snobby. People on the other side of the bridge spend more time and money on their lawns than they do on self-improvement. Everything is a little too far from anything else, and travelling to and from the north side is a colossal mission that, before I had a car, seemed rather more trouble than it was worth.

As I spent more time on the north side in the last five years, I started to see its appeal. It’s leafy, very green, reasonably quiet, and the beaches really are lovely. I’m still not keen on living there, but that’s not because I wouldn’t. Living over the bridge for me would mean a bigger move than I’ve done before, a change of lifestyle, and some adjustments to how I balance my time. Again though, I’m not saying I wouldn’t; if all my stuff was there, if I had a quiet place to be myself, a space to share with my nearest and dearest, I’m pretty sure I’d give it a go. It’s just never come up, and I’ve been spoilt by the delights of Newtown.

Obtaining a level of comfort in an area, let alone a domicile, goes a long way to making people at home. You have to like the people, the streets, feel comfortable finding your way about, and more besides.

On an even grander scale, it comes down to countries. I spoke earlier in the year about how much of a culture shock it was coming back to Sydney after my time in Indonesia. Bali is a melting pot of noise, lights, and experiences, but it was still less disconcerting than Sydney is. The sense of peace and quiet enjoyment I felt was palpable, and returning to the big smoke was more of a crash course than I could have imagined.

So how do I still feel at home here after experiencing the wonders of the East? Sanctuary Newtown. I squirrelled myself away at home, touching my stuff, drinking out of my favourite cups, and generally pottering about in my comfort zone. A close friend is Indian and finds Sydney just as brash and disconcerting. Don’t get me wrong, she loves it here, but Australians are so strange and have such weird notions, the country is full of odd smells and practices, that sometimes it’s all she can do not to weep with missing her home.

I think I can understand that. I hope one day to find out what it’s like to be away from Sydney long enough to miss her, but not enough to weep for her company. Even now, there are places I cannot go long without seeing; Nielson Park in Vaucluse, the hill of Milford Street in Coogee, Bondi Junction with its ever changing face over the years, Centennial Park in different seasons. My Mum’s place.

For me, home is most certainly where my heart is. It’s where my Mum is, it’s where my brothers and I played as children, it’s where I had my first kiss, where I walked home at midnight, drunk as a skunk, and fell asleep with my handbag stuffed under my pillow. It’s where my clothes are, where my books are stacked in piles, where my favourite tea is. I sleep there, study there, dream fantastic dreams there. I cry there, cook there, and rage there.

Home surrounds me like a warm blanket on a cold night. One of the greatest feelings I will ever treasure in this life is the feeling of home, wherever it turns out to be.


Tell me about your home, earthlings! I love to hear what makes your heart sing and your mind wander, so fire away!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

[share housing and blind dating]

*Names have been omitted or adjusted to protect the innocent, the crazy, and the downright fucked up*

A while back, when my ex moved out, I was forced to do the share-housing thing. I couldn’t afford to live alone, and I sure as hell wasn’t giving up my gorgeous Newtown pad, aptly named Sanctuary Newtown. So, I put my big girl pants on, sucked it up, and looked into sharing.

My first housemate was an old friend who was licking his wounds after a break up. He’d moved back from Melbourne and wanted to see if Sydney could treat him any better. In the end, it really didn’t, but I can’t say for sure if that was him or Sydney, or just that he needed time out and my place was where he healed.

I got lucky in that first instance; as much as it was a struggle financially as we didn’t share quite as equally, things were pretty chilled and we’ve known each other for years, so there wasn’t likely to be too many surprises. Sort of; the sleep walking at 2am still gives me a giggle.

That being said, there’s only so many random chats you can have at midnight before it gets really tiring. When one of you works office hours and the other works in hospitality, a social household you cannot make.

The other thing is this; when you’ve been friends for ages, but haven’t seen each other for a while, living together can reveal whole new facets of a personality you never knew of. And the chances of liking them are 50/50. Again, we got lucky here; we’re both pretty chilled so clashes were rare and minor.

My second housemate can only be described as bizarre. Sure, living with girls can be quite a different experience to living with boys, but I’ll get to that later.

Let me preface the following with a note, however; C really meant well. I think. She honestly believed the crap she was spouting, and you have to give her credit for being so staunch in these beliefs. No matter how ridiculous they were.

The first, and by no means the last, of these little gems was the washing up penchant. Now, I’m a rinser, occasionally leaving things in the sink until there’s a few to wash. I’m not obsessive when it comes to washing up, just like to have things tidy, and keep the possibility of bugs to a minimum.

C took the last to a new, and slightly weird place; she refused to wash up without gloves, and was adamant that I did so also. Not because she didn’t want our hands on the dishes…but because it stopped us getting cockroaches. Ummm… Yep, she claimed that if we washed up with our hands we’d get roaches. I tried to reason this out with her, saying that when you wash up with your hands, you were pretty much washing them as well as the dishes, and that if she wanted me to rinse them after soaping due to the hands on clean plates, then sure, I was ok with that. Nope, she was having none of it. O-k…

The next strike came into play when I had a friend over. We were discussing cancer cells and how they multiply, and various alternative methods for managing this. At first, the conversation seemed normal; we all had some interesting ideas, had read some studies, etc. C asked what we thought of fasting in order to slow or stave off cancer. Friend and I were dubious, stating that abnormal cells of most types, be they cancer, virus, or general parasite, feed off the healthy, good stuff in your body, and fasting would then seem to speed up the process – without fuel, the cancer then starts to feed on what it has; basically, you.

The response was surprising, to say the least. We were promptly told we were wrong, that no, in fact, when you’re sick, abnormal cells feed off the sick parts of you first, then the healthy parts. And that she had a friend who fasted for 3 days, and when she stopped her cervical cancer had ‘shrivelled up and dropped off’.

Don’t laugh, it’s not funny. It’s fucking hilarious.

Friend and I were momentarily speechless. After we regained ourselves, we tried explaining that we thought that *might* be somewhat illogical, and that *might* not be the reason her friends cancer had gone. Repeated bashing of head against coffee table might have been more effective. Eventually C flounced out, and friend and I were left staring at each other, trying not to giggle.

I’d really like to say that it stopped there, but I imagine you’ve figured out already that it didn’t. She wasn’t crazy, just really, really, REALLY weird. The last straw that made me give up the ghost was the menstrual talk. For those of you who gack out at this stuff, by all means, skip ahead, but you’ll be missing a good story.

Anyway, I get home from work one day to find her curled up on her floor with a blanket and looking rather pitiful. Clearly that time of the month, and it was treating her especially harshly. Most girls know what works for them, and have tried and true remedies to ease their suffering. C and I had been living together long enough now that I thought her wine and chocolate fetish might help, so I suggested one or both, even in a small quantity.

I’m not sure exactly when it got weird, except to say that when I said something about getting the flow, well, flowing better, she came out with this little pearler; apparently bleeding is bad. Like, really bad. And the more you bleed, the worse it is. You are basically shortening your life span by letting yourself bleed, and we (being women ) should all try a remedy called Slaying the Dragon, which slows down your flow and can even stop it. Women are connected to their blood, as men are to their sperm, so women should not bleed excessively, nor men or ejaculate excessively.


At this point, I think I may have actively realised I was living with someone odder than myself.

It’s interesting to note that this isn’t the reason I asked her to leave. I found out she had booked tickets to go overseas, quit her job, and was just biding her time until everything got confirmed when she could give notice. Which turned out was going to be a few weeks at best if I hadn’t found out. So, in the end, a weird girl, and a selfish one. She did hug me goodbye when she left and asked if, maybe in a years’ time, we could possibly have coffee and maybe be friends. To my credit, I let her and didn’t tell her to fuck off.

After all the lead in, I’ll demonstrate why this is like blind dating, for those of you who haven’t already been nodding along sagely and shaking their heads.

When you get talked into a blind date – let’s be honest, no one really goes willingly – you have absolutely no idea what you’re in for. No matter how much you get told they are a lovely person, have similar tastes, are good-looking, etc., you really can’t make any assumptions. You put your evening in the hands of well-meaning friends, family, or a set-up company, and hope for the best.

With share housing, you take someone on face value and see if there’s any spark. Even living with friends is a gamble; my nearest and dearest have habits that make me want to punch them, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. But as we don’t live in the same house, I get to enjoy all their good stuff, and cringe at home later at the stuff that makes me nuts.

Share-housing seems infinitely more painful to be honest. It’s Russian roulette as to whether it will work out, and the only way to find out is time and interaction. After over a year of share-housing, I would now willingly suffer through a dozen blind dates than go through this process again.

That being said, I am getting better. I’m not a pushover about money, cleaning, or noise, and there are certain compromises I’m just not willing to make. I think it has also given me a better sense of other people; a certain respect for how other people like to work, live and play.

And on a smug note, it has clearly demonstrated that my view of how difficult I can be to live with is rather skewed – I’m not that bad, I’m just NORMAL.

On a larger scale, it does make me wonder how people live with more than one person, and how they do share-housing for years at a time. The money factor absolutely makes sense to me. You want to save for a house/holiday/car/whatever, and sharing is the only way to do that.

However. I interviewed a girl last week for Sanctuary Newtown. In one sentence she told me how much she liked her place, in the next how hard it was it was living with SIX other people and how she needed to get out for her sanity and her bank balance.

This all seemed reasonable and we discussed the necessaries of Sanctuary Newtown; quiet, only one other person, and though it seemed a little more expensive weekly, it worked out cheaper monthly (her words, not mine).

To be honest, I’m glad it didn’t go any further anyway, because my question is this; if your option is living in a share house with SIX other people, including all the noise and drama that comes with it, or living in a spacious, quiet place with one other person, then why would you choose to move in with a friend who has 4 kids under the age of 12, put all your stuff in storage, and share a bedroom with an 10 year old? In a bunk bed, by the way. At the age of 32.

I’m honestly asking. I cannot fathom this particular life choice. Nor the reason for saying it out loud. We don’t know each other. I don’t care. Someone, please, enlighten me.

So we come to my current situation of looking for a new housemate. My last one was sweet, but rather immature, and also jetting off to far off places (which he wasn’t going to tell me about until the last minute. Do I have ‘mug’ written on my forehead?).

I’ve had the house to myself for nearly a fortnight now, and though my budget is starting to strain, it’s been rather nice. Kettle goes on when I walk in the door, I watch my shows at full volume, I drink milk out of the carton (ok, it’s my milk, but still!). I do need to find someone though. Either I get a higher paying job or a paying housemate. I interviewed the loveliest investment banker yesterday; tall, muscly, looks like Christopher Judge with glasses. Total geek. We got along very well and he’s coming for a viewing on the weekend.

Things are definitely looking up. But I’m not looking forward to another round of getting-to-know-you-and-all-your-weird-habits. Though I’m sure it’s been a character building exercise for me. Or something.

Right then. Head back, straighten my dress, chest out… Wait. Wrong occasion. Le sigh.. ;)


I’d love to hear any housemate horror stories you have, if only to make me feel more normal. Drop me a line and let me know your best!