KEEPING UP APPEARANCES
IT TAKES A ROAD TRIP TO TEMPORARILY FREE ANNABELLE HICKSON FROM HER HOME IMPROVEMENT OBSESSION.
I CANNOT TELL you how many times a day I think about what I can do to improve my house. Not to make it more efficient, less dusty or maybe mouse-proof, but just to make it more beautiful and somehow bigger, while leaving the footprint unchanged. So much thinking (almost zero actual action, mind you) and I would very much like it to stop. Shelter is one thing. As is comfort. But this constant pinging in my head of: “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to knock out that wall and shift our bedroom into here”, or “Everything will be okay once I have sanded and lime washed the cypress pine flfloorboards and don’t have to look at that orange anymore”, or “Why are those aluminium windows so damn ugly?” I mean, can’t I just sit down and have a cup of tea with warm socks on my feet and read Helen Garner with a general sense of gratitude that I have a roof over my head. What I fifind particularly alarming about this house obsession is how it is purely focused on aesthetics and allocates no time to functional improvements. As I type, there are three windows with holes in them. One is boarded up with cardboard. Dust seems to pour into the house in regular waves. The flfloor in the kitchen is, as someone kindly pointed out, a shed slab. It looks lovely to me, although I will concede it has an alfresco-communal-kitchen-caravan-park vibe and is gritty underfoot. As for the homemade benchtops (“Don’t seal them,” I had almost screamed. “I don’t want that glossy look!”), I certainly got what I asked for. Anything you chop on them becomes schnitzeled with crumbling, sandy cement. And in between the fifirst and second draft of writing this, when I went out to hang the washing, I came back inside and completely smashed my head (nearly lost a tooth) on the sliding glass door where I had refused to put safety stickers because they looked ugly. I am quite literally dreaming of Colefax and Fowler chintz while sitting in a cold house with a great big lump on my forehead and my daughter looks at me with sad eyes as she bites into a sandy piece of rockmelon. This is what happens when you use your surroundings to prop up your own self-worth, but don’t have the budget and organisational skills to match up to what you think it ought to look like. So, when is it going to stop, all this wishing for upholstered bedheads with matching curtains? When will I make a few phone calls and get the practical stuffff sorted? And when will I stop thinking about housey interior things for good and be OK with being me without all the trappings? Well, I know when: when I don’t live in a house. When I live in a van. In another country. On a temporary basis. My family and I just spent two sweet weeks cruising around New Zealand in a campervan. Lake Tekapo was good, but having a break from all this ridiculous internal chat about where to shift the sofa was even better. The joyous relief of just being with my husband and kids in our box, cruising around with nothing to prove and nothing to do was a salvation for my soul. The van was the van. I was not the van. It did not matter a jot that the curtains were ghastly. The curtains stopped the light pouring in while we slept in our little drawer-like spaces, and I was grateful for them. The mini kitchen, where you could cook eggs and touch the toilet at the same time, was also pretty hideous, aesthetically and romantically speaking. But when friends came over for a risotto under the awning, I didn’t feel the need to casually slip into conversation phrases to ease my shame, such as, “Oh, we’ll get around to replacing the joinery one day. Where did you get your marble benchtops?” This must be what it is like to live in a way where you do not see your home as an extension of who you are, or who you want to be. When you don’t need to protect your vulnerable internal self with armour made of the clothes you wear, the kind of house you live in and the sort of car you drive. Ah, the bliss. But, of course, then I started eyeing offff the neighbouring caravan’s artifificial turf doormat and I knew I would never be entirely free of these chains.