Making a house a home

Almost two years ago, my parents sold my childhood home and moved to the North. They had a few reasons for doing so: a need for a home cheaper to run than our draughty hundred year-old terrace, improving accessibility for my dad after his spinal surgery and, though they denied it for some time, being closer to their only daughter.


I had recently graduated and was in a prime state of Figuring Things Out, but immediate concerns like ‘having a job’ and ‘paying the rent’ took precedent over ‘deciding where to put down roots forever’. I was initially resistant, fear-struck with a sudden sense of obligation to remain living in the North for all eternity if this momentous decision had been made for my benefit. “You’re an only child,” friends would say, in a tone of voice that lit the unspoken ‘duh’ in glowing neon, “they’re definitely only moving because of you.” I hasten to add that I was absolutely thrilled to have them closer – but as a chronic people-pleaser and generally anxious person, this placed a heavy burden on the shoulders of my future self. I almost resented my parents for putting me in a position where I might one day disappoint them by moving away, so awful was the thought of it. As it turns out, I adore the North and do indeed plan to remain here for all eternity – or until I can move to warmer climes. I digress.


I also faced a state of aggressive denial about the sale of the only house I had ever lived in as a child: the house where I had taken my first steps and spoken my first words; the bedroom in which I had held so many childhood sleepovers and studied voraciously and taken recluse after my first teenage heartbreak. I saw it, rather than my own mind, as the receptacle for a trove of treasured memories. When my parents told me that they were selling up, these memories overwhelmed me. I watched my younger self lick cake mixture from a spoon after one of many baking sessions; search for insects in the garden on a hot summers day; scribble in diaries that I hid in my wardrobe under piles of clothes, my pre-teen brain anxious that my deepest secrets remain undiscovered. The old house and its nostalgias contented me each time I visited. I worried that without a physical trigger these memories would be wiped away as quickly as the new owners could re-paint the walls.


My denial transitioned into a begrudging and childish acceptance: I realised that the move was necessary, but that didn’t mean I had to like it. The new house to me was an empty shell; devoid of the personal touches that make a house a home and lacking any fond memories that would force me to hold it dear regardless. It assumed no meaning to me whatsoever and I treated it with a thinly veiled contempt. I hated the low ceilings and the beige everything and the fact that there was no lawn. I found the small kitchen personally offensive and the narrow driveway in which I struggled to park was an affront. Readily accepting the house felt like closing the door on my childhood – something that was all too inevitable as a very recent graduate, but which was made no less palatable by virtue of that fact. It felt like a betrayal of my old home and the self who had grown up in it.


Privately, I acknowledged a deeper reason for my reluctance. I listened to my mother insist that we keep the grab rail in the main bathroom (“to help your father get out of the bath”) and praise the separation of the dining room from the lounge (“just in case the time comes when your dad can’t get upstairs and he needs to sleep here”). Though the location of their move may have been influenced by me, its timing was a practical necessity for my dad’s sake – he struggled to ascend the eleven concrete steps that had led to our door, and without a driveway the daily walk to our garage around the corner was often too painful. Accepting their new house, purchased for its accessibility and potential for long-term adaptation, meant coming to terms with my dad’s disabilities and acknowledging the fact that he – my father who had always been so strong and capable – was aging. And I was powerless to stop it.


It took me a long while to embrace the new situation. It was a period of discontent, each change jarring and uncomfortable. When I told people I was visiting for the weekend, I announced that I was “going to my parents’ place” rather than “going home”. The first Christmas felt peculiar, not least because there was no longer space for our enormous tree, which consequently remained in its box in the attic. When I moved in temporarily, my mother and I frequently became flustered as we tried to cook in a kitchen that was clearly designed for one occupant at a time, so accustomed had we become to the luxury of more than four square feet of space. But I smiled as she told me how happy she was there, in far closer proximity to the countryside than ever before. After my dad had the garage converted into the workshop he had always wanted I felt genuine enthusiasm as he gave me a tour. I watched them gradually turn the new house into a home and soon too it became mine – my second home, a backdrop for new memories and a fresh fondness.


I can say with complete certainty that this is the place where I am most at peace. I step over the threshold and feel my body sag with relief. It is a safe haven, a sanctuary from real life where I can contemplate things most deeply whilst remaining somehow cocooned. Being here is the definition of contentment: a muscle-relaxing, belly-filling, deep sigh of contentment I am hard-pressed to find elsewhere. The reasons behind it are plentiful, but at its core goes far beyond clean sheets and comfortable sofas and a jungle of houseplants. My contentment comes not from where I am but whom I’m with.


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