Easy to envy a pristine house. But it’s the scars that make it a home

Easy to envy a pristine house. But it’s the scars that make it a home

Opinion: While a house’s perfect walls and floors and furniture are all very good and, to me, desirable, it is in its scars and years of wear that we are reflected

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On our evening walks, the dog and I have the dark streets to ourselves, and as we make our way through our suburban neighbourhood, we can see into homes lit up from the inside, with their windows framing bright blocks of light and, sometimes, the eerie indigo glow of a television.

My neighbourhood was once downscale — “quirky” was a word I once heard used to describe it — because it was a beach community populated by artists, latter-day hippies, and young families who couldn’t afford any of the city’s more expensive neighbourhoods. The houses were mostly one-storey beach cottages and ersatz home-builds, and they never aspired to be anything more than modest.

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Over the past decade, however, many of the old homes and the big trees that towered over them have fallen to the wrecking ball, and in their place have risen two- and three-storey faux farmhouse-style manses. They are attractive homes, tastefully un-garish, with their driveways crowded by Land Rovers and Mercedes and Audis and Porsches.

Landscaping firms, once never seen in the neighbourhood, now do a booming business here — apparently, the new homeowners are either too busy or too disinclined to garden — and there has been a proliferation of artificial turf lawns installed by those homeowners who find even cutting the grass bothersome.

The influx of money has also had an effect on one of the most traditional chores of home ownership: There are handyman businesses in the neighbourhood that do nothing but put up Christmas lights.

Anyway, things change, and I’m fine with that, but the one thing about these new homes that struck me is their interiors, at least those of which I can see.

They’re pristine.

Their walls are almost always virginally white. The furniture is often white, too, or of a palette that runs from beige to whatever you call a slightly darker version of beige. Looking at these houses, with nothing out of place, with their gleaming floors and impossibly spotless furniture, I can only wonder if the owners shrink-wrap their children and pets before allowing them inside.

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I would be lying if I claimed not to be envious of these homes. As a neat-freak who compulsively folds t-shirts straight out of the laundry and won’t go outside without my shoes shined, I crave an organized household the kind of which professional decluttering influencers would approve of.

I also know that in my experience this will never be the case.

I should tell you something about my house.

My favourite line when people ask me about it is that it was built by vandals. When we first moved in, we found that the electrical outlets were upside down. The cold and hot water taps were installed backwards. The tiled kitchen floor bounced slightly when you walked on it because, we later discovered, it was on the verge of collapse. The layout of the rooms was designed by a psychopath.

What followed were years of renovations — renovations that are still ongoing.

My three children, and the ensuing waves of grandchildren, have not, I have to say, improved matters. They have been tough on the place.

After completing the remodelling my youngest son’s bedroom, for instance, we discovered months later that he had put up a dart board in his closet. When we found it, we also found a galaxy of dart holes in the walls — everywhere, it seemed, except on the dart board. As my son later explained when confronted with this, he said he liked to throw darts while spinning around. I had to re-mud and repaint the room.

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Or there was the time my two sons were rough-housing — such an apt phrase — and one son threw the other son so hard against the den wall it resulted in a torso-sized hole. My sons tried to hide this by moving the television in front of it, thinking, with their adolescent brains, that mom and dad would never wonder why the television wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Again, I had to redo the wall.

Or there was the time one of my son’s friends stayed over, sleep-walked, and peed in my son’s closet before climbing back into bed, which, to be fair, was exactly what our fox terriers had been doing for years.

Or there were the innumerable times my grandchildren have drawn on our walls, counters, windows and doors with their arsenal of crayons and ink pens, all of which their doting grandmother supplied them with, or the times they trampolined on our furniture, or the times they dropped salsa and chips and Cheerios on the den carpeting. (Although that crescent of solidified Krazy Glue that defies all attempts to get it up off the carpet? — I did that.)

The cherry wood floors that we so lovingly installed and polished to a high gleam? They are now scarred with scratches from dog paws and mud tracked into the house by grandchildren so eager to run into the arms of their grandmother that they forget to take off their shoes.

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As for decluttering the place, we would need a backhoe to do so: Over the years, our mantels, window sills, walls and refrigerator doors have come to groan under the weight of an ever-thickening accretion of knickknacks, grandchildren’s drawings and inherited decades-old tchotchkes, the sentimental value of which protect them from relegation to the garbage can or thrift store.

I have grown accustomed to all of this — or, more accurately, surrendered to it — and I’ve accepted the idea that my house, unlike some of the new houses going up in my neighbourhood of late, will never, ever, be worthy of a spread in Architectural Digest.

But of those houses, I hope, too, for their sake, that over time, they might become lucky enough to become more and more like mine, because I have realized, despite my disposition for neatness and organization, that while a house’s perfect walls and floors and furniture are all very good and, to me, desirable, it is in its scars and years of wear that we are reflected, that those scars and imperfections mirror those scars and imperfections that we ourselves bear, and that they make a house much, much more than a place to live.

They make it home.

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