Living in homes, not houses

We all have them, those houses we remember from childhood, the ones we carry with us and remember the layout, the smell and the feel of.

For me three houses made an impact on me in adult life. The first was my aunt’s, a big, arts and crafts style house down a potholed lane that lead to open fields. There was a stream at the bottom of the very long garden, window seats in the bays, shelves of books, an open fire and a piano. These were all things we didn’t have at home and I loved them. But at the same time the grandness of this house instilled in me a discomfit of being in big, monied houses, I can never quite relax or shake the feeling of feeling like a chimney sweep, afraid to move or sit anywhere for fear of dirtying the furnishings.

The second house couldn’t be more different, a council house belonging to my 18-year-old self’s boyfriend’s family. The grass was often long, the wooden gate hung wonkily on its hinges, the lounge carpet was flattened and had seen better days, and there was always a slight aroma of dog. But, I was always made welcome, cooked a meal after working my shift at the local pub and I always remember feeling relaxed and very much part of the family in that house. The third house is rather a succession of different houses my family lived in as I was growing up, but they all shared the same name; the three-bed semi.

When the time came to buy my first house, I remember standing in the sunny kitchen of the house that I went on to buy and nearly 20 years later still live in, and feeling completely at home. The wooden floors reminded me of my aunt’s house, the edge-of-a-council-estate location meant that it was both affordable but also not gentrified, and lastly it was a 1950s three-bed semi. It also happened to be in a street I’d lived in for a couple of years pre-school. It was achingly familiar.

Years later, I’ve now got my own bookshelves, tatty out-of-tune piano, bay window seat and wood burner. All those things that stuck in my mind as a child I’ve now got in my own home. My window seat is the special place for me and my son to sit with our breakfast bowls perched on the windowsill while we look outside on the front garden. When he’s long grown up, in my mind’s eye I will always look over to that seat and see my curly-haired son up on his knees, prefixing every question with ‘mummy…’ while eating his bowl of cereal.

I was reminded of all this by conversation I had earlier in the week when I was chatting to someone who was explaining that they’d recently moved house. Listening to her, her reasons for buying her house were completely emotional and were articulated so well that I longed to ask her more, but feared being intrusive. She talked of the terrace she’d bought and how it had reminded her of her grandmother’s house. And her grandmother’s house, when she was a child, had always been somewhere she’d been well fed, loved, felt warm, safe and secure and always made welcome. Her adult house purchase had been made out of nostalgia, out of bringing back those simple feelings that the best homes have. That’s the thing about houses, they are so much more than bricks and mortar, and at a time when our dominant value system puts worth on a house’s market price rather than its position at the centre of our lives then I think we overlook the importance a home has to our souls. Estate agent speak talks of proximity to good schools, room sizes and neighbourhoods yet rarely articulates the feel of homes. From the minute I walked in mine all those years ago I’ve been in love with how safe it makes me feel, how it’s weathered me through many storms, and last year, when a friend commented on how full of love my house is, she simply couldn’t have said anything better.

ANTIDOTE: Value your home for what it’s worth to you and your family, not what it’s worth to the market or as a status symbol.

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