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!

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