Reflections is a series of essays embracing the power of introspection, taking on personal topics and rooting out what is just below the surface. First up is Chloe’s experience so far with moving houses and how this led to a yearning for stability.
“That’s it, I’m not looking any more. This is the last time. I’m done.”
My partner had just delivered the news that the flat we wanted to bid on had been snatched up by another couple, and I was descending into my usual mode of self-preservation by distancing myself from the desire completely. They’d viewed the place only a few hours before us so the loss particularly smarted; the home of our dreams was within reach but we’d missed it by a feather, close enough to feel the cool slip of wooden floorboards underfoot but not close enough to take our socks off.
Though I’d been led to believe that the most difficult part of buying your first home is saving the deposit and having the mortgage approved, we couldn’t seem to get past the first stage. This was the fourth place we’d wanted to buy and the fourth place which had been pinched away, always at the moment when I’d started to imagine what it would be like to live there.
What kind of sofa would we have? Where could I write? Which spaces would claim our friends in drunken clusters after a night out, all limbs and laughs? These are the kinds of things you start to visualise, permitting a flash-forward to unfold like projector from within. The fabric of ‘home’, with its many interwoven threads of daily living.
“I was beginning to realise that what I was looking for in a home was stability. And more importantly, the security that my home couldn’t be taken away from me.”
My partner didn’t take these losses so severely (if you can call them that), but to me, each one felt like a bitter blow. He’d grown up in one house and one bedroom all his life, but I’d moved around a lot more, and it was only now I was beginning to realise that what I was looking for in a home was stability. And more importantly, the security that my home couldn’t be taken away from me.
I can’t remember much of my first home as I was so young, but I know that my Mum had owned it herself and subsequently lost it because of my Dad. After that we moved into my grandparents’ living room, foregoing the sofa for a double bed that I shared with my Mum and brother. Then we were lucky enough to rent a council house which was my longest-standing bedroom to date – I think I achieved a good ten year run before we had to leave that house too. Then it was back to my Nan’s, but this time I had a bedroom of my own, though it was barely big enough to fit a single bed in and I could touch the other wall simply by reaching out my hand.
University was the next step, a particularly transitory period in my life. I moved to Bristol but hated it, and spent most of my weekends taking the four hour journey to reach my then-boyfriend in Sheffield. I felt such intense relief when he’d pick me up from the station in his little Renault Clio; I didn’t live there and these were not my friends, but I felt more at home in his presence than I ever did 180 miles away in my university halls. I used to cry all the way back because I felt this great canyon of distance expanding between us, reminding me that I was going ‘home’ to a place which felt so alien.
Eventually I quit, thanks to the tough love of an advisor whose name I can never remember. I moved back to my box room and waited for the next term, cautiously optimistic that this new university adventure would be the one I had always hoped for.
With a new adventure, comes a new bedroom. This time I shared a flat as one of 14(!), with one kitchen and two bathrooms between us. In hindsight, it wasn’t that bad – we were all on different schedules so you’d rarely see more than 4 people at any one time – but crikey, was the bedroom hot.
On the far side of the room stood two towering windows, half the size of the walls, opening out onto picturesque parkland and a lake. Of course, when I say ‘opened out’, I mean that figuratively. The windows barely opened at all, and thanks to the enormous expanse of glass, as soon as the sun rose, the room turned into a greenhouse. I distinctly remember my university-allocated fan breaking in the second week, too, and never being able to get a replacement.
“I was growing up and out of every bedroom I’d been in, moving from bed to bed but never setting down solid roots.”
I lived in that hot box for a year before moving to a rented home with one of my best friends. There were three of us at the time but the third person we lived with left, so we ended up with the luxury of having a spare room for a year, paid up in full and perfect for storing shoes and deliveries.
I loved that house. It was a 40 minute walk to and from university and the back garden was so overgrown that we never once used it, but I had fun there. I’d packed up my life into boxes and bags so many times over the past few years that a two year stretch felt like permanency.
Eventually my university life came to an end and I graduated back to the shoebox. This move “home” was more difficult than I could have foreseen; often graduates begrudge the return to rules after living freely for 3 or 4 years, but I was coming home to a home which wasn’t really my home from a home that was never my home to begin with. I was growing up and out of every bedroom I’d been in, moving from bed to bed but never setting down solid roots. Most of my experiences had been tainted in some way, whether it was being forced to leave or having to pay a hefty bill for doing so early (an unwelcome surprise I was slapped with after quitting 3 weeks before my first year would have ended – yes, a heads up from the advisor would have been nice).
I was either escaping sadness or seeking security, repeatedly in places which promised quite the opposite. I knew each space was temporary. I certainly knew these spaces didn’t belong to me. My happiness at any moment could be disrupted by those who wielded the power to make me leave, and the reality that the rug could be pulled from under me at any moment has kept me perpetually on my tip toes. Ready to pack up my life into boxes and bags again, to start over in a new bedroom somewhere with its quirks and corners.
“Is a home truly a home if it can be taken away from you with a month’s notice? I suppose that’s what I’ve been grappling with all of these years, seeking something solid in an existence that has been liquid and ever-moving.”
Even though we’ve been in our rented house now for about 4 years (this is my 7th bedroom to date, 9th if we’re counting repeat returns to the shoebox), I’ve never felt entirely secure here. Our landlord has never spoken to us and we don’t have a direct line to them either. The two different lettings companies who’ve engaged with us on their behalf have referenced different people completely, so I’m not 100% sure who my landlord even is.
I know that we’ve had to battle three years to have the back door fixed, and that there are gaps in the windows which have been acknowledged but never addressed. I know that we can’t do anything other than paint the walls a neutral colour, even though when we moved in there was bright red, bright pink and dark navy badly strewn across each room. I know that when we move out, there will likely be a tussle to keep some of our deposit even though there is a giant iron burn on the carpet from the previous tenant which was never replaced.
This is a home within limits. There are boundaries to how rooted we can be here, how much we can express ourselves into its design, how much we’re permitted to live. Is a home truly a home if it can be taken away from you with a month’s notice? I suppose that’s what I’ve been grappling with all of these years, seeking something solid in an existence that has been liquid and ever-moving.
The last time: that’s what I claimed it to be. The disappointment of being so close to something reliable and having it evaporate before my eyes was painful, and truly, can you miss what you’ve never had? I’ve since resolved to keep trying. The process of finding a place has unearthed how greatly I fear it being taken away, but I deserve to descend into the comfort of stability. I deserve something secure and long-lasting. I deserve to be home.
Illustrated by Anna Jane Houghton, a Liverpool based researcher and artist. Drawing influence from the ‘motel’ aesthetic and beatnik literature; her illustrative style combines florals and fruit, amongst plant-life and mid-century interiors, to reimagine the classic still life.
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