I am a long-term fan of renting as a lifestyle. It has many benefits: it’s cheaper than a mortgage, it’s easier to move on when you want a change, someone else has to pay when the hot water service breaks down, and so on. And I have a habit of getting attached to rented houses as if they were my own. That is, I believe that while I was living there, they were my own. The concept of “home” goes so much further than a mortgage. I know the smells, the cracks and peeling paint, the cupboard doors that stick, the creaking floorboards. Each of my past homes has a special place in my nostalgic heart and I even feel a little violated at the thought that someone else is living there now.
I think I’ve retained a child’s view of the matter, as I was recently reminded by my firstborn (whom I will refer to here as Primo). We were driving home from my mum’s place and Primo asked if we could go to Nonna’s house. I replied that we’d just been to Nonna’s house and now we were going to our own house. But that wasn’t quite correct and I felt I had to elaborate. “Actually it isn’t our own house. It’s somebody else’s house. Soon we will have our own house. But right now we’re going to the house that we’re living in.” He was silent for a moment while he mulled it over, then he simply said “Home.” Wise word for a three-year-old.
Home. I’d never had a problem calling our rented houses “home” until now. Now that I have two children, one of them about to start preschool, I want to live somewhere where I can scout the local primary schools. Somewhere where I know the owner can’t ask me to leave with only a couple of months’ notice. Somewhere where I can paint the walls whatever colour I like, hammer up a picture hook without asking for permission, let my cats come live inside if they want (OK, I already did that, but don’t tell the real estate agent!). I want to get to know the neighbours, instead of thinking “Why bother, we’ll only be here a short while.”
So, we have now completed the last remaining stage of what my husband cynically calls “the adulthood triumvirate”: marriage, kids, house. I wonder how this will affect my concept of home. Will I be more at home in this house than I have in my rented homes? Will I get bored after a couple of years and yearn for the ease of moving without having to sell?
In the meantime, I have to confess I haven’t started packing for the move. A few days ago I scrubbed the visible surfaces and hid the mess so that fifty or so people could trundle through my home to consider renting it for themselves. I felt as though they were judging me and yearned for their approval – at the same time I wanted to kick them all out, yelling “Go away, it’s my home!” But in four weeks it won’t be mine anymore, even though I know all its peculiarities and oddities better than anyone.
One day I might drive past and feel a twinge of jealousy when I see someone else’s car parked outside. I will remember bringing home my second baby here, celebrating birthdays in the back yard, running loops with the children indoors and hundreds of other little things that happened in the years we have lived here. Those memories are of our home and it will take some time before we make new memories in our new house. You can’t buy that.