How MPAC helped me appreciate my home
This house is worth a mint. Wait, no it isn’t. Wait, yes it is!
Upon opening our property assessment from MPAC last year, I had two reactions: “Oh my God, I can’t believe our house is worth this much!” And then: “Hang on … I can’t believe our house is worth this much.” I grabbed my camera and began a strange kind of scavenger hunt, documenting the worst of it: here’s where the dog ate the wall; here’s where the other dog ate the kitchen cabinet; here’s the crumbling chimney; here’s where the driveway sort of disintegrates and doesn’t actually meet up with the garage; here are the blisters and burns on the laminate counters … I sent the pictures to MPAC, asking for a re-evaluation of what would now surely be recognized as a more of a hovel than a house, really.
When the lovely person from MPAC came to visit, I conducted a tour of the highlights: I think the black mould liberally speckling the ceiling and windows made a particularly strong impression. A few more months, and I got the good news: MPAC agreed that the relative crappiness of the house necessitated a downgrading of its value. Huzzah!
It was good to embrace our house’s rampant imperfections for once; our culture can get overly preoccupied with home improvement and moving up the property ladder — things that take up enormous amounts of time and/or money. A couple who opened a kite-sailing and kite-skiing business in Hamilton many years ago said that, as a recreation and leisure store, their main competition was Home Depot.
Renovating and decorating are ubiquitous media topics, and they seep into our thinking: does the living room need a feature wall? Does the bedroom need a punch of colour, or perhaps a reading nook? Should we update the bathroom? I remember my grandmothers decorated a house once and that would be it, until they moved or died.
But I’m always mulling over how things could be improved. Right now, for example, I’m fixated on sofas. Our old Ikea models are not only liberally stained and perpetually sloppy, but also full of chemical flame retardants. I click from one furniture website to another, measure various dimensions in the living room, and fret about cotton blends vs. “performance velvet.” Surely only an idiot would lust after nice sofas if she also had children and dogs who still have to be reminded not to wipe their hands, faces and beards on the furniture (No points for you if you’re at all confused about who’s doing what in that last sentence. Zero.)
As I write this, I’m sitting with my laptop at one end of the sectional sofa, watching one of the dogs at the other end, a Scottish Terrier, frantically trying to do breakdance jackhammers while simultaneously digging into the seat cushion. If you can’t visualize it, please look up jackhammers online because Lord knows if there’s any breakdancing move that’s meant to be done by a terrier, this is it.
I need to get in touch with my Neanderthal self and think of the house as shelter. Just shelter. If it has a floor for standing on and windows for letting in light and heat and walls and stuff, then we’re good. Or maybe I should try and think of the house as an organic thing, with mice, mould and moths all creating little habitats alongside the habitats the dogs and kids are creating and I am constantly trying to clean up. The dirt comes in, gets swept up and thrown out, then reappears, kind of like gritty brown-grey tides moving on paws and feet. If I could somehow be Zen with all of this, maybe I could be more present in the moment — spend more time enjoying the strengths of our home and less time wishing there were more of them.
Because, really, it’s not all bad. Our walls are decked with art and family pictures. The Persian carpets make things feel cosy and at least minimally refined. We have a dark cranberry velvet armchair so perfectly spare, so elegantly proportioned, that it’s as much sculpture as furniture.
Somehow, between the teeming pressures of materialism and the impersonal emptiness of minimalism, some things can emerge as essential to the house feeling like home. But we only know what those things are after they’ve survived the tests of time — after they’ve survived changing tastes, changing styles, changing family members, changing budgets … A home makeover might aim for perfection done in a few days or weeks, but it doesn’t feel as authentic and comforting as a home assembled over years of gathering, discarding, inheriting, breaking, mending, washing, moving, staying — years in the lives of our things and ourselves. And our dogs.
Latham Hunter is a writer and professor of cultural studies and communications; her work has been published in journals, anthologies, magazines and print news for over 20 years. She blogs at The Kids’ Book Curator.