Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Home truths

I'm always curious about other people's homes - how they furnish them, what they keep in them, what gadgets they have, how spartan or cluttered they are. I love it when I'm invited into a home I've never seen before. And I'm always peeping into people's windows as I walk along the street.

The most spartan house I ever saw belonged to a friend's aunt in Liverpool. Aunt Dolly was deeply religious and refused to own anything that wasn't strictly essential. Every room was totally basic - just tables, chairs, beds and cupboards. There were no carpets, no ornaments, no pictures, no books. It would have given me the creeps if it wasn't a rather refreshing contrast to the mountainous clutter of my parents' house.

I've seen plenty of cluttered homes, with so many bits and pieces stacked everywhere I have to step carefully through the remaining spaces to avoid toppling huge piles of books, crushing the kids' toys or stepping on a pot plant. The occupants always apologise for the mess and vow to tidy up but the next visit usually reveals even more jumble and disorder.

There are homes where just about everything is faulty and needs attention but the faults are seen as a charming part of the domestic ambience. Ah yes, that door always sticks. Oh yes, that radiator has an awful rattle. And don't worry about the leak, I'll just put a bucket under it.

Some houses exude sex. The main bedroom is full of nude pictures, the bed coverings are silky and sensuous, and a titillating erotic memoir lies on the bedside table. No doubt there are drawers full of sexy underwear and vibrators but I wouldn't be that nosy.

Householders can be so obsessively houseproud you're nervous of touching anything at all in case you leave a fingerprint or a dirty mark or any trace whatever of human contact. Every pristine object looks as if it were bought yesterday and I feel like I'm in a museum. I keep expecting a security alarm to go off or a po-faced attendant to say I'm too close to something.

People's houses are full of fascinating insights into their private lives. And sometimes repulsive ones. I'll never forget the elderly London woman who kept hundreds of cats in her four-bedroom house - the overpowering stink had to be smelt to be believed. She was probably so used to it she never even noticed.

24 comments:

  1. I'm a similar sticky beak I have to admit although I have a few fix it problems like a stain on the ceiling and no knob on the bathroom door an a back door that desperately needs replacing! I have an obsession with blue white and yellow it seems and I'd love it to be pristine and tidy all the time . . .never happens! For about 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon it is as I like it . .clean, uncluttered and sweet smelling . . .

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  2. I am not as tidy as I used to be. I often leave a bundle on the table. Living alone has made me lazy about putting things away.

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  3. Baino - I guess most people have a few outstanding repairs. The only reason we don't is me being unemployed for a while!

    Grannymar - Leaving a few things on the table doesn't sound too sinful to me!

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  5. Gee Nick, I hate those deleted posts, don't you, like what were they saying that they thought better of 5 mins later?
    I'm like you, dead nosy about other lives, I think it is the writer thing. I love love love looking in windows and imagining the lives.
    The best type of home is acres of books and scattered art projects, no TV, good music playing, musical instruments, their own artwork on the walls, a big old porch with comfy old muskokas crouching just ready to be molested, maybe a hammock or a slider too.
    The very worst is white carpets and a take your shoes off policy and no animals ever allowed.
    I'm the former, can't you tell? ;^)
    XO
    WWW

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  6. www - Ah, the original comment came up on my email but I'll respect the deletion and not reveal! The home you describe sounds just my type of home, though sorry to say there's none of my own artwork on the walls! What's a muskoka, btw (apart from a luxury resort in Ontario)?

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  7. My home at any stage in my life has reflected the state of mind.
    One day I look around me and I actually SEE the mess, then I realize that I just went through a bit of an emotional turmoil. Then comes the cleaning, tidying up and keeping it like that until next time my mind gets overloaded and messy, which in return transform the physical space around me from tidy to messy.
    G

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  8. you'd have a great time here then as generally people don't ever close their curtains which means that at night you can see evrything that's going on inside. Very strange altogether.

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  9. GayƩ - I think a lot of people are like that! Our own cleaning blitzes tend to happen when visitors are expected. We suddenly realise how grubby the place has got and then there's frenzied activity to get things vaguely presentable!

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  10. Conor - That tends to be the case in London as well, especially the gentrified areas. You can look in and see exactly what everyone's up to. But in Belfast it's common for the blinds to be down permanently so you can't see anything. Most frustrating!

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  11. My missus is a tidy hoarder which means she keeps absolutely everything and refuses to throw stuff out but it is kept tidy and squashed into wardrobes and cupboards everywhere.

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  12. Quicky - Well, at least it's all out of the way and not lying around ready to trip someone up. But I think we all have that strange tendency to hang on to things "that might come in useful one day".

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  13. It is fascinating to get into other folk's homes. My parent's house is a delightful "jumble" (love that word) in some rooms and then totally pack-rattish in others. I mean, does my mom really still need copies of Vogue from the 1980's, as delightful as some of them were? On the other hand, my sister's home is so spotless that it doesn't feel lived in even though she's been there for four years.

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  14. I love seeing people's houses, too. Gives a fuller picture of who they are. I did have a coworker with lots of sexual images around her place and it was hard to look at her with a straight face after that.

    I'm with wisewebwoman; I love houses filled with books and music and photos and piles of stuff just begging to be explored. But I can't live in that. My place stays pretty neat since I'm the only one in it. Friends think it's odd that I notice right away if they move a picture back an inch or rearrange my DVDs. It's not meant to be anal, I'm just used to seeing everything look a certain way and notice when something's in a different spot.

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  15. "Muskokas" Nick are those type of wooden chairs just built for cottage country, wide arms, sloping.
    I am impressed though that you are familiar with Muskoka, Ontario.
    My saintly cleaning woman was here today and has me sorted now. It will be spectacular for about a day and then I revert. Oh well.
    XO
    WWW

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  16. Liz - That's exactly it, if a home's spotless it doesn't look lived in. And you're afraid even to sit down on the immaculate upholstery!

    Nicole - Yes, I can imagine the sexual images must have been hard to forget! Our house is fairly tidy too because we dislike clutter but I don't think I'd notice if something had been moved - you must have a very acute memory!

    www - Ah, mystery solved! I can just imagine you contentedly nodding off in one! Actually I only knew about the other Muskoka from our old friend Google!

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  17. I'm a great believer in a place for everything and everything in it's place. The rest of my family though, they adopt the system of nearest horizontal surface.

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  18. Thrifty - Nearest horizontal surface, I like it! I think some people imagine that if they just put something down it will magically tidy itself away. If only.

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  19. The house wisewebwoman described is pretty much exactly what I am aiming for with my house. I love walking into a house where there are so many books/pictures/paintings to look at you see something new every time you visit!

    My big no-no is clutter, though. Not sure why it drives me crazy, but I can't take it. Papers and envelopes lying everywhere = insane FG!

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  20. FG, you're right, that's what makes a house especially intriguing when you walk in. I love peeking at bookshelves to see what sort of books people read - particularly the hidden-away whodunits and chick-lit!

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  21. When I had a friend visit she was gawping in every house we passed in the neighbourhood and loudly discussing them. My face was bright red.

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  22. Medbh, I can sympathise with (discreet) gawping but not with the loud discussing. How crass can you get? One of the neighbours might have been passing at the time!

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  23. I think it depends on the person and what they do. At 20, I still live my parents my room is a sea of clothes and books (I am studying Medicine at Queens University). I usually tidy up, whenever I have free time, failing that, I tidy when I need to: i.e I am looking for an important book or the right shirt for a night out, or simply when I have friends staying (assuming I get some prior notice).

    Mum (Pyschologist) keeps the rest of the house spotless with help from me and a cleaning lady. Who I disapprove of, I am afraid she will find evidence of my shameful dealings with members of the same-sex. Even though my parents both know I am gay.

    Finally there's my dad (Photographer), you can garantee, that where ever he goes a sea of papers and general mess will follow him. He leaves things at his arse constantly, then blames everyone else when he can find them. When I was younger, I found it very annoying to be told off for making a mess, as my dad seems incapable of keeping anything tidy.

    I wonder if it's his creative personality or simply complete disregard for anyone else.

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  24. Hi again djm! What a pain having to clear up after your disorderly dad all the time! No doubt he uses that old excuse of "it's not a mess at all. I know exactly where everything is" (except that five minutes later he doesn't). And "my creative personality" is another good excuse!

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