When a house becomes a home
by Sarita Rao
For the third article for her 'L word' column on wort.lu/en, Sarita Rao explains how she has finally unpacked that last box after a house move in Luxembourg back in July, and points out just how symbolic that is......
Yesterday I unpacked the symbolic ‘last box’ on a house move that started in July. It was the usual bumpy ride that upping sticks brings – removal men, a tonne of administration, an endless round of cleaning, and at least ten things that worked perfectly before but are now mysteriously broken.
It’s the eleventh time I’ve moved with my husband, the second in Luxembourg in two years. Normally, no matter what we decide to call home, I find myself attached to my habitat within days. I am the sort of person who can sleep peacefully on an overnight bus or a crowed plane, and even in a damp tent.
Not so in the new house.
Two months on from moving day and I was starting to worry we’d invested our life savings in a great house, but a bad home. I wasn’t sleeping well, nothing felt like it was in the right place, and I couldn’t get that nesting feeling no matter how many shag pile rugs and fluffy blankets I filled the place with.
When I expressed these doubts to my husband, he raised his eyebrows. For him a house is a functional place. As long as the shower works, the TV works, and the fridge contains food – what more could man want? In his view, the search for elusive ‘homeliness’ was just the neurotic ramblings of someone with too much time on their hands and easy access to IKEA.
When the kids had returned to school I wandered ghost-like around the house, trying to put my finger on why I found it so sterile. We’d bought a modern house, all white tiles and white window frames, and the complete opposite of our London Victorian semi. The wooden furniture just didn’t work. So I’d kitted the place out with black leather chairs and red bookshelves.
It was then that it dawned on me. I felt like I was living in a hotel suite (minus the mini-bar and pillow chocolates). I’d stuffed all the toys into the kids’ bedrooms, put all the books on shelves in the hallway out of site, and taken all those weird but beloved ornaments we’ve picked up in life and buried them in a cupboard in the basement.
If home is where the heart is –it’s also your collective family clutter, a messy jumble of memories and mementos. What was missing was the dreadful pewter goblets we were given at our wedding (that would not look out of place in a scene from Game of Thrones); that awful painting an artist forced upon us in a bar in Chicago (a Jackson Pollock gone horribly wrong), and the kids drawings (where dad has an enormous head and mum has seven fingers on each hand). It’s all the memories, good, bad, and downright ugly.
Following this revelation, I immediately let my children mess the place up. I stopped tidying away the school bags, ignored toys on the floor, and allowed my husband to leave his keys, phone and wallet on the dining room table. This house needed to feel lived in, not something from the pages of a magazine. I had inadvertently created a beautiful space that no one felt comfortable in.
It’s only been a few weeks since I saw the light, and re-cluttered my house to make it more of a home. I have been sleeping much better, thanks also to a small carpet I put next to the bed (I just can’t do white, cold tiles in the morning).
Instead of feeling lost in my own home, I now feel I belong. We all have our favourite spots in front of the TV, and I move around the kitchen like a whirling dervish when I’m cooking something up, because I’ve taken the olive oil and spices out of the cupboards where I could never find them.
We’ve also started to collect new family memories. First unexpected vomit on the expensive shag pile rug (child, not grown up), first scribbles on the chalk boards (Bob the minion), first of a million sticky hand prints on the freshly painted walls, and first family snuggle on the old sofa not the new leather chairs.
And now at last I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Prepared to say, even without ruby slippers, that ‘there’s no place like home’.
Take a read of Sarita Rao's other articles in her column:The L Word
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