Sunday, 2 November 2008

House dsymorphia

I have house dysmorphia. Distorted house image, if you will. I don't think my house is larger than it really is - I just think it is really, really un-homely.

I am feeling it more than ever at the moment. Not only am I just back from my childhood home, which was warm, soft and cosy, full of nutritious meals and constant cups of tea, but I have also been feeding myself an intensive diet of Christmas issues of women's magazines. I have discussed my feelings on the cookie cutter identi-horror of all women's magazines for the over thirties before, but the Christmas issues are a million times worse. Why not, suggests Red and its army of Nigella drones, place your greetings cards (make them yourself! with hand carved woodcuts!) in an airtight tin with some open pots of Christmassy essential oils? Why not wrap your presents in foreign newspapers, tied with waxed string and a bunch of cinnamon sticks? Why not personalise your gingerbread people with the features of your nearest and dearest in homemade fondant? Why not fuck off and die you poisonous trolls? I think, scornfully, whilst on the inside, my horrid little lizard brain decides they are indeed right.

I look around the house with growing disgust. The CFO, ever energy conscious, has been living in sepulchral half light with all the curtains and blinds closed for the last week, adding more ugly jumpers to his small crochety form as the mercury falls. He has eaten all the food in the house and failed to shop or do any washing ("I cleaned out the fish tank AND videoed Star Ac!" he protests), and created a sordid little nest for himself and the reptiles. The intriguing tableaux vivant from before half term:

still crowns the kitchen shelf (though the crocodile's head has shrunk while its body has swollen grotesquely). The house smells of dust and tinned mackerel and unopened post lies everywhere.

The house itself is not the problem. I love our house - it's a great house (Brussels 1910 town house on 4 floors, tiny back garden, high ceilings, nice if grubby tiles), and a house I can totally imagine staying in forever until they children put me into a really cheap and nasty care home. I can say that with no false modesty because we've done nothing to it since we moved in. it's basically someone else's great house, but than doesn't make it any less great (hell, I wouldn't have shelled out for the HUGE baths or the Philippe Starck sinks). It just looks like sheltered housing for a bunch of hoarding crazies now. Crazies who got a job lot of brown furniture and haven't repainted in, oooh ten years or so. Why is everything I own apparently brown? How did this happen? I can only assume it was during some period of madness I have conveniently forgotten. How dirty can white paint get before you can no longer say it is white? There are books and Pokemon drawings and unidentified tools and plastic rubble and vital financial documents and shoes lying everywhere. There is a fantastic chair somewhere in our bedroom, but I can't find it under a mountain of Schrodinger's clothes. I idiotically had an ancient sofa covered in gorgeous Neisha Crosland fabric last year at eye-watering expense (you can see it here behind the models), but it's covered in unsorted socks and ancient corporate t-shirts, and someone has biroed all over one of the arms.

Everywhere else I go seems better than here. Violet's flat is serene and gorgeous and full of cake and art and loveliness. My brother's house, although there are even more stray frozen peas and chips lurking in corners than here and they have mice, seems oddly more grown up. More full of the stuff you should have. More relaxed. Everyone else seems to make their house more like home. Not necessarily nicer, more beautiful or even cleaner (though 99% are indeed in this category), just more welcoming. I feel like I am still not adult enough to carry this off, somehow - I'm a squalid teenager on the inside, waiting for someone else to sort my washing and make the dinner. There's some indefinable thing that I seem unable to conjure up.

I think - and hope - this is subjective. Maybe in thirty years time this house will exemplify everything that is homely and comforting to the boys (I am smirking as I write that, it seems so improbable) but it's a bit of an obssession of mine and I just can't seem to find the answer. This is why I fill the house with animals. I am currently working tirelessly on the CFO to get a dog when I stop working full time in the hope that this is what's missing. We've restocked the aquarium after the latest overfeeding apocalypse and the triops eggs should be starting to hatch about now. Hibernation watch continues on the tortoises. Lashes has been promised a lizard when he's 10. How many more creatures can we fit in here? I draw the line at additional humans.

Or else I bake - and you've seen how well that goes.

I tried to make soup today but have thus far only succeeded in setting fire to the spatula. I'll have a devil of a job explaining that when they get home. Then I tried to make myself a big pot of proper leaf tea, but dropped the wrong tea pot lid into it then burnt myself trying to fish it out with a ladle. Then I realised I had no tea strainer and the sieve is full of pond slime from the CFO's great fish tank clean. I am doomed aren't I?

Any thoughts? What is it that makes somewhere home? Am I missing some kind of homemaking gene? Anyone who has actually been to my house, did it strike you as cold and unwelcoming and filthy?


Persephone said...

I don't think I suffer from house dysmorphia, just "house apathy". I never caught the decorating fetish that seemed to sweep the world ten years ago. The only "style" that's ever appealed to me is "Arts and Crafts", but, because I can't be bothered, our house has languished in "Late Student/Early Child" for years. No one seems to mind. I keep it reasonably clean (not everyone might think so, but I don't think you'd catch bubonic plague from coming here), and hang up decorations for the various festivals. Isn't that enough?
(I'd drop the women's magazines this instant, by the way, unless you're looking for satirical fodder. I've never seen a decorating spread in one of those things that looks like a real home to me. Maybe I hang out with the wrong people...)
My word verification is "botymoro"...a face-lift cream?

expateek said...

Awwww. House problems can be awful. My answer, in England anyway, was to go to the boot sale every Sunday morning and BUY MORE LAMPS. 5 quid a pop, plus a 7-year-long bulb, means an eternity of more light, even of the environmentally friendly DIM kind of light, which equals more cheer.

And don't bother telling me that it'll make the dirt show even more. Brightly lit dirt is cheery, happy dirt.

Which is bags better than sepulchral gloom. The CFO is trying to go into hibernation too. Better keep a close eye on him or there'll be NO HOT TORTOISE SEX until it's time to dance around the May Pole. (So to speak....)

Enough dirty talk. You're a darling. Perk up and toss those nasty mags in the bin. Although I sense a good PhotoFlop 1.2x project coming on.....

Kate said...

Can I help you start Hag? I love magazines and I think Hag sounds awesome as long as you don't make me drink gin. It makes me throw up alarmingly fast, but there are many other booze that can fill that gap.

If you have a couch like that and a house (dying of jealousy here!) you are miles ahead of me. We rent. And can't paint according to our lease. And I am doomed to live in off-white blah-dom forever. I do highly suggest hiring a cleaner for one morning (I'm not saying your house is dirty). I splurge on a cleaner once every 2 weeks and my apartment suddenly feels ridiculously clean and happy and homelike whenever she has just left. Only because the entire house is clean (for a whole 2 hours usually) and I didn't have to do it.

katyboo1 said...

I love my house when it is clean and tidy. This is about once every five years when the children all go out together for an afternoon.

What depresses me most are the large and drifting piles of stuff that accumulate everywhere. I don't believe in minimalism. I like some stuff around. I just can't stand piles of random stuff that slide all over and form health and safety issues on the stairs etc.

I have this theory that I will have lovely things when the children move out, and it is at this point that my house will truly become home. Until then Ikea and wipeable surfaces rule. I don't care if Oscar writes bum on the Ikea table leg. I do care if it's a Charles Rennie Mackintosh table leg.

Pochyemu said...

Don't even TELL me about house envy. It is the burden of my life.

My brother and sister in law have successful, high paying jobs, being 10 years older than me. They hunted for a house for a YEAR because, apparently, 'You just can't find ANYTHING worth buying with a £285,000 mortgage!' So her parents gave them £100,000 cash out of her inheritance and they finally managed to find a little something. Just a gorgeous old 3 bed detached house in Maidenhead with an enormous garden. Oh, but they'll only stay for maybe 5 years because it is rather small, isn't it?

Now, we rent a small house for a major amount per month, and we earn basically nothing (student and chef? not a mogul couple). It's quite a nice house but we're not allowed to paint, hang paintings, anything. That plus the fact that I'm holding out for moving back to Estonia at a moment's notice (as soon as he gives in. and he will, oh, he will), means we have about 5 pieces of secondhand Ikea furniture and that's about it.

This, plus the fact I don't really give a shit about cleaning more than twice a month, means the brother and sister in law don't like coming over very often. Anyway, they're far too busy polishing the white pickets of their fence!

So, like, you're not alone, yo.

SUEB0B said...

I know how you feel. I live amid squalor. It took me 4 hours yesterday to de-filthify my living room, which is about 16 metres square (I mean 4 on each side, multiplied).

I often pick up washed dishes to find them still crusted in crud. I wonder how I did that. But yet I do. The cabinets are full of things that are knocked over and leaking.

I try to tell myself it is a creative mess, but there does not seem to be a hell of a lot of creativity going on, just random items washed up in shoals around the edges of rooms.

Kitschen Pink said...

Oh honey are you premenstrual?
A home is where your loved one's are of course. You don't need essential oils or the right wallpaper or even a dust free environment (unless said loved one has a dust allergy but even then I think that only applies ot other people's dust). That's it. There's nothing else that matters. Owning, renting, sharing. It's all just semantics.

Anonymous said...

I'd say it was hopeless, except, that sofa is seriously gorgeous.

and the lizard pillow is genius.


Jaywalker said...

Persephone - more like a bum lift cream no? House apathy would be an improvement on this unfocussed dissatisfaction!

Expateek - ooh yes please more Photoflop! I hate the light those environmental bulbs give. It makes me want to hang myself from them. (You are right about the CFO I think. I have selected him a juicy chicory leaf and placed him next to the fire, though the less said about The Other the better)

Kate (whispers) I have a cleaner. She does six hours on a Wednesday. It's nowhere near enough. We should have a Hag editorial meeting soon - I am sure the market is crying out for it.

Katyboo - I fear I will be dead by the time they move out. Eaten by a gang of marauding triops.

Pochyemu - you must be eaten alive with corrosive envy! I would be.

SueBob - do you live in my house? That description is just uncanny.

KP - I can totally imagine your house as being gorgeously welcoming and cosy and wonderful. I think I might conceal myself in a cushion and come and live there.

Asta - I think your first instinct was right. It IS hopeless. But my sofa is blushing prettily at your lovely compliments.

Paula said...

Dearest Jaywalker:

First time posting here, though reading you for a long time already.
Don't want to refer to your house concerns, even though I share the opinion that being wrapped in a comfortable feeling when we get home make you feel that you've finally letf "outdoors" outdoors and nesting in your own private space. I also have to wait for that as I've moved to Belgium a week ago and we're looking for a house - for now the two of us are living in a nice, cosy... studio :)
Still, what I always feel when I read you has nothing to do with the way you sometimes describe yourself. You talk about growing upas if you were waiting for somebody to wrap you in the comfortable hug that you now say your house is missing. Maybe because being a grown up is all about providing oneself with that comfort that we can't wait to be provided by onybody else.
Hence, you call desperatly need to be "soothed" but it has to be you to go and get it. You're a "grown up" already and sometimes it's bloody scaring.

Sorry about the english mistakes - i'm portuguses - the totally fun lacking post :), but reading you always cheers me up and touches me.
TodayI finally said it.

And yes, the couch is amazing! :)

Lulu LaBonne said...

I have never managed to make a house I've occupied feel like a grown up might live there. I don't have children as an excuse either.

My word verification is kenthrac I have decided this is the word for where I hang the stuff I don't know what to do with

Jaywalker said...

Paula - How lovely to hear from you and you are very perceptive. I think my therapist used to say much the same (probably while thinking SHUT. THE. FUCK. UP.)! I am a big self-indulgent child. It is true.
Belgium is very welcoming - I am sure your ahem, cosy nest will soon feel like home...

Lulu - You need triops! No home is complete without a fetid pot of water and soil where a microscopic creature may or may not be lurking. Yes indeed. I need a kenthrac too. I just throw it down in the cellar at the moment.

Z said...

I thought it would get better when the children left home. Then I discovered my husband was worse than all of them and, worse, I'm too polite to move the stuff that he leaves in piles on the table and around the armchairs. I've pretty well given up and just pretend it's my choice to live like this.

Completely Alienne said...

Fear not Jaywalker, you are perfectly normal. I spent years waiting to grow up and eventually, when I got to 50, I realised that nothing was going to change so I must be grown up already. I doesn't feel any different from being 18 - inside that is, externally the deterioration is sad to perceive and I ache a lot me - there just isn't anyone except me to shop, cook, clear up, decorate. So I do as much as I can be arsed to do and what I can't, doesn't get done.

Clearing up and cleaning is basically a complete waste of time when you have kids. I used to flog myself to death cleaning up one room, shifting stuff back to where it should be and cleaning the grime, then I'd start on the next room - and when I came back to the first, it looked as if I had never touched it. In under 15 minutes! At 14 my youngest is still the most lazy, messy, inconsiderate little slob imaginable. I regularly (OK, occasionally) venture into her room and collect plates/mugs/glasses with mould growing in them. I sit or tread on plates she has hidden under cushions.

I now accept that I cannot have a clean or tidy house until the filthy brat has left home. And I happily while away the hours I spend washing up while imagining visiting her home (she is bound to be houseproud in her own place) where I will leave plates and cups hidden for her to find later, and where I will categorically refuse to wash up on the grounds that she owes me for 20 odd years worth of it.

spacecadett said...

your house always feels like home to me :)

not just becos it dont have fleas

Jaywalker said...

Z and CA - so, to summarise, I am not alone but it's basically hopeless. Correct?

No fleas, just ravenous pant spiders. And triops. But thank you anyway darling!

Z said...

I'm so sorry. Though I bet no one else thinks it's un-homely. They think it's somewhere they can sit down, enjoy themselves and not be scared to relax in case they crease a watered silk cushion.

bonnie-ann black said...

i am among the housework despisers... i just cannot seem to get myself in gear when it comes to cleaning... about twice a year i throw a big party, hire a guy to come in and do all the heavy work, close my bedroom door (which is also my office and art studio) and enjoy perhaps 15 minutes of "grown up" cleanliness... after the party, it takes me another 6 months to work up the energy to clean. my mother once said, "no one ever put on their tombstone 'i wish i'd kept the house cleaner.'"

when they dig me out of the squallor that is mine home and scrape up the gooey bits under the paper plates of crusts from grill cheese sandwiches to bury me, other people may put that on my tombstone though. "i wish she'd kept the house cleaner."

Completely Alienne said...

Correct - so there is no point worrying about it. Remember,a brain is a terrible thing to waste on housework.

Kitschen Pink said...

Strange cushions always welcome to join the chaos! t.x

J. said...

I don't have much unsolicited assvice to offer about the house dysmorphia, as I am a fellow hopeless sufferer. However, I do have some assvice re: getting a dog--I wouldn't, if you want to keep your tortoises roaming free and healthy. Dogs like to chew on tortoises, quite a bit, and it's hard to train them not to--I've seen even a little handbag-dwelling dog repeatedly have a go at a tortoise bigger than itself. We got a very affectionate, very bossy Siamese cat instead of a dog; she is fascinated by our tortoise, but she just occasionally follows around watching him with a puzzled expression and doesn't try to gnaw off bits like the visiting dogs have attempted to do. Incidentally, her furry presence makes our apartment feel cozier and more homelike--it's hard to have a satisfying cuddle with a reptile.

Jaywalker said...

J - Oh no! Really? Damn, I had been trying to convince the CFO otherwise with many unscientific arguments and showing him my breasts.

Even if I coat the tortoises in chilli powder?