How MPAC helped me ap­pre­ci­ate my home

This house is worth a mint. Wait, no it isn’t. Wait, yes it is!

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - LATHAM HUNTER

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.

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