At one time or another I have been intensely interested in learning to skydive, taxidermy, knitting, sewing, oil painting, kung fu movies, film noir, kalashnikovs, diamonds, poisons, the subprime market crisis, science, forensics, the causes of birth defects, cooking, makeup, serial killers, the periodic table, embalming and loads more. Some of those interests are enduring, some were fleeting. Time goes very fast for me when I am learning about something just for the sake of it, but aside from a few things, the interest generally wanes after that.
That’s why I absolutely love my magazine subscription to Stack. They send me a new magazine or two each month on a random topic, put out by independent publishers. The ones I’ve received so far have covered street art, boxing, interns, gay men, plants, bicycle riding, Los Angeles, music, film, graphic design, happiness and inventions. It’s like Christmas once a month when my subscription arrives.
It’s also a purchase, and it’s one I considered long and hard about cancelling when I started my year without spending. But it’s something I decided to keep simply because it brings me so much joy. There have been a few standouts since I started, and I wanted to share two of them because they’re doing an amazing job and I guess its hard to survive in as an independent publisher in the digital age.
This was my very first one and it’s still one of my favourites. It’s a beautiful, full-sized glossy magazine that features interviews with gardeners, landscaping tips, recipes based solely on commonly-grown edibles, gorgeous photography, erotic plant-based fiction (not even joking), an in-depth look at a feature plant and advice on growing more and better.
It’s a fun one to flick open now and again, and fills me with a desire to be more wholesome and self-sufficient. And to get out of the city. Which is completely unrealistic for me because I lose my shit when a pigeon flies in my direction and don’t even get me started on insects.
Works that Work: A magazine of unexpected creativity
Works that Work magazine aims to “publish articles that give you great dinner stories to tell your friends.” And they do. This is by far my favourite and I will get a subscription to it once my year of not spending ends. It’s only put out every six months, but the writing is of such a good standard and the topic is so broad that it could cover just about anything.
The issue I received had a fascinating long read on people who had lived through the siege of Sarajevo – the longest in modern history – and the way they had been forced to improvise to complete simple, every-day tasks. From hauling water up endless flights of stairs with no elevator to home-made thermos mugs constructed from salvaged boxes and bubble wrap, the people interviewed actually looked back on the time as one of the most interesting of their lives. Necessarily forced to develop a sense of community, people shared their inventions as quickly as they could and in a time with no conveniences, intermittent electricity and extreme danger, they innovated the most incredible things from the most unlikely materials.
There were so many other great stories in there as well: how the native Sami people of the arctic constructed dwellings that helped them follow reindeer herds across the tundra, how an entire city is constructed out of nothing every four years for the holy Indian festival of Kumbh Mela, and how the invention of a cheap solar lightbulb is changing lives in the Philippines.
My Stack subscription is a calculated spend that brings me far more joy than the 12eu a month price tag costs me. And it lets me peek into all sorts of interesting corners of our amazing world.
And by the way, if you’re like me and get crazy interested in things for a short time, you might also have felt like there was something wrong with you. I have always envied people who can sustain a deep, abiding interest in a single topic and find contentment in it. The people who always knew what they wanted to do with their lives. I’m still figuring it out, but I’m no longer punishing myself for all my interests. I’m learning to celebrate them, as I’m working my way through this book: Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher. It’s a really liberating read for me and I feel much more at peace with my ADD and my broad array of interests.
And don’t worry, I didn’t buy the book. It’s something I’ve had on my shelf for a long time but have never actually sat down with. That’s another benefit of not spending, it forces you to shop your own bookshelf. And you bought everything in it for a reason, even if you haven’t gotten to it yet!
I’m not that much fun to be friends with at the moment, I’ll admit it. I’m rarely saying yes to invitations, and when I do I am the first to head home. I’m not initiating anything, and I’ve all but stopped going out mid-week. Mondays are set aside for cooking, Tuesdays + Thursdays + Saturday mornings are for crossfit, and Wednesdays I’ve been trying to work on my novel. That’s not to say I am not missing everyone like crazy. And of course, I am still making time for my nearest and dearest. I’m just not being a party animal. There are several reasons for this, and while I initially experienced a great deal of FOMO and anxiety that no one would be there for me when I was ready to re-join the land of the living, I have gotten past that now and made peace with my hibernation.
So, why am I playing the hermit crab? Five good reasons:
1. I want to concentrate on my nutrition. Since cutting out all grains and really shaking up my eating habits about 8 weeks ago, so many great things have happened. The keratosis pilaris that I have always suffered on my upper arms is just gone. Gone. I can’t even describe how happy that makes me. My skin in general feels softer and just…in better condition. My tummy is rarely angry or inflamed, when that was essentially a way of life for me before. I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt so healthy! And although the scales say nothing has changed, I know that my body shape has. This is also due to exercise, but you can work out all day and if you eat shit nothing is going to happen. So I really want to keep cooking for myself and only eating food I eat. I want to get a good repertoire up and then just spend one night per week cooking for the whole week ahead. This means it’s harder to join in on dinners out. And anyone who cooks for me can expect explicit instructions and a thousand insane questions (sorry Fais!). But it’s something I need to do. Something I want to do.
2. I want to concentrate on exercise. I love crossfit. I don’t think that’s a secret. What’s also not a secret is that I am shit at it (“Kelly”, I am looking at you, bitch). (PS that’s the name of a workout, not a person.) But no matter how bad I am, or that I can only squat and dead-lift about a third of the weight that some of the other girls can, I simply love the feeling that the workouts give me. It’s not only physical but mental achievement. And this is something new to me. I have never before liked exercise. And I want to set aside my three times per week for it, with the devotion of a church-goer. So those nights too, I am unavailable. I am hibernating. And it’s something else I really want to do.
3. I want to save money. I’ll be honest. I am already totally over not spending. I hate my wardrobe. It’s coming into winter and I only have two jumpers. I might need to buy an item or two just so I have a full week’s worth of things for the office. I’ve done everything I can think of – sectioned it off into little capsule wardrobes that I rotate amongst, combined pieces I have never tried together before, tried to find any clothing swaps going on (none). I desperately wish I could just go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. But what I really want is to just pay off my debts already and be square. And the harder I hibernate, the quicker that will happen. So I am doing alternative things, like inviting friends to my place and cooking for them. Or meeting people after dinner if I go out at all. And trying to limit the amount of drinks I have when I am out. And trying my hardest to stay off the shopping websites. I think one trick I will try is getting some nice lipstick. I never wear lipstick but it makes people look really dressed up and as though they have made an effort. It might draw attention away from the fact that I am basically wearing the same black skirt each day…
4. I want to cut back on alcohol. Not cut it out. Never, ever cut it out. But just not drink so mindlessly. Not have so many nights where I can’t pull myself together for work, or where I waste a whole Sunday in bed recovering. Because I am shit at not having hangovers. I have already become much better at this. I haven’t really had a big night out in a long time. And I do want one, I will be back. But winter is a great time for me to be doing this. It’s dark early, the beergardens are closed, it will soon be holiday season and most of my ex-pat friends will fly home. So it’s a good time to be limiting my alcohol intake. Temporarily.
5. I want to finish this novel. I have had this idea in my head for about five years. And I just want to get a draft out. I know it will be terrible, I am prepared for that. But it’s the thing I want most in this life – to complete a book. To write. I mean, I do it all day at work, but to write something I would want to read. And it takes time. And it’s really hard. I’m currently on around 16,ooo words. I plan to spend most of tomorrow getting that up to 25,ooo. And then I am back on track to finish Nanowrimo by November 30. Of course, I realise that by “finish” I mean have the world’s roughest first draft. But at least it will be something I can edit. And at least I will be taking steps all the time towards my dream.
So that’s why I’m feeling ok with the fact that I am spending a little more time than usual alone. Why I am ok with saying no a bit more often. Come 2015, I cannot wait to launch and best version of me there is. To get back out and enjoy socialising a little more. But in the meantime, I’m working on my goals.
I’m taking a deeeeep breath. Because the feeling rushing over me is very, very familiar. It’s the urge to spend. And it’s almost overwhelming.
I was in York, England for 5 days and just got back last night. Walking along the old town main streets I saw SO many cute shops and boutiques that don’t exist here in Munich. And when I came back and looked in my closet, I felt a little…impoverished. Also, the more cooking I do, the more I realise there are machines that can do bits and pieces far, far more quickly for me. I don’t have to sacrrifice my knuckles to the Grating God – I can shove the whole bag of carrots in a food processor! Or I could if I had one.
I feel like my grandma must have felt when washing machines were invented – the HOURS she would have spent scrubbing and wringing (although my grandfather was apparently famed for the strength of his arms and hence the amount of water he could wring from a wet piece of clothing, so that helped) and hanging. She could have had all those hours back. Same goes with the ironing. And the cooking. And that’s kind of how I am feeling now.
So here are the Top 5 things I would immediately purchase, if my purse wasn’t closed.
1. This jumper:
It’s cute and warm and cosy and it’s on sale for 22euros. TWENTY TWO clams. That’s hardly any clams at all! I couldn’t knit it myself for the same price! Mostly because I can’t knit, but you see what I mean.
2. This meat grinder:
Germans are mad for a pig. Mad for it. The nation was raised on swine. You can get it in just about any form – although they sadly don’t do bacon the way I know it. Instead of the hearty, thick, crispy slices I grew to love, there are wafer-thin, artificially smoke-flavoured “English-style” jobbies. Not the same, Deutschland. Not the same. Anyway, while minced pork is readily available, and minced beef can also be found, the country is curiously absent of minced chicken, turkey, lamb or any other animal you care to name and mince. And a lot of the recipes I am desperate to try call for such ingredients. If I had this chap (and he’s only 30eu!) this would be a problem of the past. Sigh.
3. This pressure cooker:
Has anyone ever tried to soften adzuki beans? Anyone? I soaked the beggars for two solid days, and then boiled them for 90 minutes. At the end of all that, I could still have sold them as bullets. I stood on one and shattered my femur, but the bean was still intact. The key, apparently, is a pressure cooker! I don’t know what kind of wizardry it works, but it gets the job done – pronto. And because they cook faster, they use less energy too…so I would be saving the world at the same time as I saved myself some time. Sorry, that was a confusing sentence. I would not just use it for beans. Loads of nomnompaleo recipes use a pressure cooker, and they are recipes I want in! my! belly! This fellow is only 50eu. Reduced from 89! I’m losing money every minute I sit here writing about it.
4. This book:
Has anyone else grown up with an extremely patriotic parent no longer living in their homeland? Welcome to my life. My father was born in Wales, of Welsh parents and Welsh grandparents. He was schooled in Wales, studied in Wales, got his degree in Wales. He loves Welsh choir music, Welsh rarebit, Welsh weather, Welsh landscapes, Welsh songs, Welsh history, Welsh welshiness. His whole family stayed in the same village and he alone of them – urged along by my poor Spanish mother whose family had emigrated to Wales during her early teens and who hated the bitter weather – left the Welsh stronghold and moved to Australia.
His heart never made the trip.
Our family home had a Welsh “shrine”, filled with flags and lovespoons and framed quotes and stacks of CDs of welsh people singing (Tom Jones, take a bow). He had an artist weld him a Welsh dragon out of iron, which he used as the emblem for his bar. And he pressed upon my sister and I, most earnestly and unrelentingly, for years and years, the idea that we had to read everything Sharon Penman had written about the medieval history of Wales. We resisted, as children and teenagers do, but the day came where I’d finally had enough. I’d read his stupid book just to tell him I hated it – then he’d leave me alone.
Except I loved it. I cannot recommend her books highly enough. We started with Here Be Dragons, then Falls the Shadow, then the Reckoning and since then I have greedily devoured every single thing she ever wrote. As an historian, she writes so accurately that she footnotes any deviations she makes in timing or location for the sake of plot. As a first-class writer, she keeps you on the edge of your seat, even though you know how things turned out most of the time. She gives real, round life to historical characters. She particularly loves writing about Henry II and Elenor of Aquitaine and their “Devil’s Brood” which included Richard Lionheart and Evil King John Lackland. I’ve read them all, except this guy. Also, the rest of his mates – everything she ever wrote – are in Australia, on my ex-boyfriend’s bookshelf. I will rebuild the collection, but in the meantime – I want to read this one!!
5. This air fryer:
I am a complete sucker for anything fried. Fritters, chips, bhajis, pakoras, patties – you name it, I will put it in my mouth and eat the hell out of it. This gentleman costs only 200 (!), and can not only offer me a lifetime of happiness, but can also cook a batch of fries on A TABLESPOON OF OIL. If you need further reasoning, you have no business being here.
Now, had I have purchased everything on this list, I would have spent at least 250eu. And there is no doubt that I would have bought it all before I started this challenge. And next month, there would have been some equally tantaslising products I “needed”. And here you see where my money was going each and every month. And why it’s a damn good thing I am keeping my purse shut.
Speaking of purses, I GOT MY BOND BACK!!!! Finally, I cannot believe it’s over!
BONUS Travel Tip: If you find yourself in York, strolling along “Grape” Lane (which was called Grope Lane until a few hundred years ago, or less. It was thought that the original, bawdier name would deeply offend the visiting Queen Victoria should her royal eyes have fallen upon it. God knows what they did with the prostitutes who gave the street its name) do yourself a favour and go visit this restaurant: El Piano. It’s vegan, ALL gluten free and home to some of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted! This pig smashed her hooves in all sorts of joyful things and wore such a permanently delighted expression that her similarly impressed (gluten-and-meat-eating) boyfriend secretly took pictures of pig in unflattering, cheek-bulging ecstasy. The fritters are to die for, as are the felafel salad, the baby burger, the currant chutney, the mathematical chips, the quinoa-pineapple salad and whatever that purple thing was. I ordered so much food that the chef came out to warn me these were all adult portions. “Bring them to me!” I commanded, before gobbling them all up. Best of all, they sell kits so you can re-create some of the goody goodness at home!
Shit just got real, yo. It’s begun. Wasn’t off to the best start after I did several stupid things in a row:
– Sat on my glasses
– Turned on the iron while it was still in its protective plastic (messy. not recommended).
– Dropped my bikini trimmer from a great height and smashed it to smithereens (I refuse to grow…”it” out)
But with those hiccups in the rearview, off we go!
I have of course already found several things that I desperately want and would definitely have bought myself if not for this new resolve. Yesterday after my dermatologist appointment, I sat myself in the little “prepare your face for public consumption room” and slathered the most beautiful, creamy, light, dewy makeup over my skin. I hadn’t even been in there for my face (I’ve had an outbreak of reactive dermatitis on my hands – HOT!) but the bottle looked pretty and the room is adjacent to the toilet, so I tried it. It was perfectly matched to my skin tone and evened out all my blemishes. It made my dry skin look moist and radiant. I was like me, just better! I photographed the bottle and colour number and set off for the nearest store…and then remembered. I’m Scrooge McDuck now. I can’t have it. I have five other bottles of perfectly good makeup in my overflowing bathroom cabinet. Once they’re all gone, and only once they’re all REALLY gone, will I allow myself to buy this.
Then I got a notification from my favourite online store telling me a clothing item on my wish list had been reduced in price! OMG! It’s like, 25% cheaper now than it was the first time I wanted it! And I still want it! No. Instead I dutifully deleted my entire wish list…a little part of me dying with every click.
Then I finished reading this great book by Mary Roach and decided to read some of her other stuff! She’s got a book on the Alimentary Canal!* She edited the 2011 edition of the Best American Science and Nature Writing! No! You can’t have them. Sit down and go through your bookshelves again. There are most definitely books there that you’ve bought and haven’t read yet!
Sigh. It’s going to be a looong ride. Life can be really hard in a wealthy first-world country with no social issues and comparative gender equality for a steadily-employed girl in full health and happiness, don’t you think? Just gonna have to tough it out!
*It has been helpfully pointed out to me several times that I have strange taste in reading material. I don’t think it can be that strange when Stiff was a #1 best seller. But if your tastes run the same way, here are some others I have LOVED. Would appreciate any recommendations too…for me to buy next year, of course 😉
I am reporting to you from the office (slow day, promise) because OMG I DON’T HAVE THE INTERNET AT HOME. There was some kind of confusion as to whether the new apartment needed a new modem. People came, people went, a lot of beeps were made, signals tested, things unscrewed (including my sanity)…and in the end, I apparently still need another part. That they will post. Via snail mail!
I have gone through 650MB of data on my cell, in FOUR days. I’m not going to sugar-coat it, I’m suffering. I’m really suffering. No BBC radio in the mornings, no dailymail (did the Kim Kardashian meltdown REALLY happen?), no blogs(!!), no spotify, no (ahem) totally legally watching my favourite shows online, lots of going cross-eyed trying to read long news items on a small screen, and mostly – no online shopping.
Which I guess is good because it’s T minus 4 days. Whatever I have not purchased by Sunday 10th August, simply does not get purchased. Well, for the next 12 months anyway. It’s scaring me, actually. I’m having doubts as to whether I can actually do it. As to whether it’s a good idea…then I look at my bank statements and I know it is. Something needs to change drastically, or I’ll end up like that woman who swears she can live off air alone.
I may or may not have been panic-shopping. Sort of at the same magnitude as people who believe in the zombie apocalypse, or the collapse of society after the Y2K bug (remember that whole thing?). I needed new boots, I needed new stockings to get me through the winter here, I needed overhead lights for the new place, and couldn’t the flower pots do with replacing? and and.
I realised I could pretty much keep finding excuses to stretch it out endlessly. And that there is no way to pre-account for every single possibility I will come across in the course of 12 months! I’m just going to have to make do, push the boat out, take the leap, metaphor, metaphor. So I have drawn the line in the shopping mall tiles, and from August 10th, 2014 to August 10th, 2015 these rules will apply.
I have a feeling I’m going to need my hand held. Everyone, clear your schedules.
Oh, and PS. In case you haven’t heard, I’m kind of a big deal around here. 😉
So today, I was innnocently researching global reinsurance buying strategies (my job is clearly better than yours), when I took a tiny pause. During that pause, I flicked facebook open. During the time I had it open, my eyes landed on a perfectly targetted ad. Then while I was innocently staring at the ad, my finger clicked on it. I took a cute little quiz about where I work out, my body shape and favourite colours, and before I knew it I was packing my credit card away after securing a FULL new workout outfit for 35eu. I know! Bargain, right?
WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!
We all struggle with self-control, I know that. For some people it’s food, for some alcohol, gambling, drugs and the good lord only knows what else. For me, clearly, it’s online shopping. I was on auto-pilot the whole time. I didn’t think twice about it. And it would be ok if it happened once or twice, but it happens all the time.
So, right after I had selected the “Tahiti” workout combo, I did some research on self-control, and on keeping presence of mind.
Willpower’s controled by the pre-frontal cortex
Front of head. Inside skull. First third of grey matter. That’s the chap. Things like sleep deprivation and poor diet can affect this area, which also contains emotional responses (“Hangry”ness, anyone?). Stress draws energy away from it too, so maintaining stress better has the knock-on benefit of improving willpower and self-control. Which sounds like medical grounds for time off work, if you ask me.
It runs out!
Scarily, it seems willpower can be used up. Apparently for me, this happened sometime shortly after birth. But using the “muscle” analogy (which pretty much everything I read did), this means it can be exercised, built up and improved. Like my little biceps at a crossfit session. ONE day, I will be able to do a pull-up, and also not buy stuff. I will become the Arnold Schwarzenegger of not shopping.
You should pick one thing to work on
And take little baby steps towards it. Little, baby, baby steps. Everything said that taking too many goals on at once just confuses your brain and uses up all the willpower from the willpower well.
I have been waiting until I moved into my new apartment before starting this challenge, because there may genuinely be things I need for it. I move on August 2. I plan to start the following week.
I just hope I’m not in jail for bankruptcy before then.
Oh, and just in case online shopping isn’t your kryptonite (and you live in Germany), http://www.fabletics.de have an introductory offer of 50% off your first purchase, plus a grouping discout on 3 items…or something. My German’s still a little dicey. Here’s “Tahiti” for you. You’re welcome.
Whenever I have mentioned this challenge to friends, the first reaction has been a load of questions. Mostly about what’s in and what’s out, and how far I will take this. What if there’s a nuclear holocaust and my winter coat’s not cutting it? This type of stumper.
Apparently, there is a lot more to think about than I realised.
Goods and Services
Can I go to the salon, the nail bar, the waxer? I mostly do my hair myself, so the first one is kind of redundant. I probably should go to the nail bar, but sometimes I just get a little overwhelmed by everything I “should” do for my hair, legs, skin, teeth, eyes, bones, feet and muff. It’s exhausting keeping up with maintenance. Some mornings I’m lucky if I’m wearing clothes, and I once left the apartment after jauntily tossing a black scarf around my shoulders. I got strange looks on the train, and only realised once in the office that the “scarf” was actually my black pyjama pants.
Mostly, goods and services are out. One exception is massages. I don’t go regularly, but for reasons I have explained in a previous post, there are times when I just desperately need a good strong massage. I actually don’t consider this a luxury item. Having Nid 2 (that’s apparently her real name. I’m going to work my way up to Nid 1, and then just Nid), a 45kg Thai lady, walking over your back and separating your ribs with her dainty but surprisingly strong elbows is something everyone needs to experience. You haven’t lived until Nid 2 has produced a crack from your femur.
Actually, it’s singular. I only have one. But it’s just about my favourite thing in the whole world. My Stack Magazines subscription. Each month, I am sent a different, random, English-language magazine from an independent publisher somewhere in the world. I never know what it will be, but my subscription has taken me on cycling journeys with men who’ve lost their babies, got me thinking about the diversity of journalism cadetship candidates, explained the exact reason and mechanisms through which drugs affect the brain, and introduced me to the flamboyant world of plant porn (not a typo). There’s even one dedicated entirely to happiness! Take a bow, Perdiz.
I don’t think I can bear to part with it, and it’s only 12eu a month! But as one friend pointed out, the 12 euros here and there are going to add up. And they’re what got me into this mess in the first place. This is really, really difficult choice for me. I’m going to need some more time here! Back off!
I’m keeping my phone and my internet connection. And electricity and gas connections. But only because it’s 2014 and my boss is kind of a stickler for me showering before work. Also, where else am I going to watch porn but online? (Kidding! I totally have a DVD collection.)
These are in. Because that’s the kinda person I am.
There are going to be things that pop up.What if the vacuum cleaner breaks? I can’t live among pizza crumbs and corn chip remnants for ever. I haven’t even started this thing yet, but I have to admit, I’m getting cold sweats. I actually, genuinely had a nightmare last night where all my bras had gone missing and I couldn’t buy a new one. If this happens, I am definitely allowed to buy a new one.
Everything else, I guess I will have to take case by case. Oh, and waxing is in.
Know what these bad boys are? No? Unfortunately, neither did the cleaning lady I had when I shared a flat with my extremely messy (but amazing) mate Drew. We hired Shirley from Bee Bright BusyBees (not even joking), as the only arguments we ever had involved cleaning. It could also have been because we’re both desperately lazy. The best times we had involved gorging ourselves on takeaway from the local Hong-Kong BBQ (in the halcyon days before I knew I was coeliac), guzzling a bottle of wine and snuffling our way through a tear-jerking episode of The Biggest Loser.
But I digress. Every single week, after Shirley had left, I would have to commence the hunt for this. My Bakballs. One of the best purchases I have ever made.
I honestly don’t know what she thought they were for, or what I did with them, but she couldn’t bear to lay eyes on them. This was no usual “I’m just going to pop that away” tidy up, either. This was an “I’m burying these things deep in an obscure closet because I can’t unsee this kind of debauchery.” And I could NEVER remember to put them away before her visit.
See, I was born with one leg just the slightest bit shorter than the other (as most people are), and just a hint of scoliosis (as most people have) and the gentlest of pelvic tilts (again, very common). What I was not born with, however, was the pain that comes when these things are amplified by five car accidents in rapid succession. Five. I had FIVE car accidents. One was very definitely my fault. I ploughed into the side of a Torana after accidentally taking a sleeping pill. The next was definitely not my fault. I was shunted from behind, into oncoming traffic as a car came speeding round a corner while I was trying to pull out of a parking space. Then the one after was also not my fault. A local nurse was rubber-necking an accident scene to see if she could offer assistance. She slammed straight into the back of me, not realising blockades had been erected. In the fourth, a taxi driver was yelling on his cell phone and didn’t realise the lights had turned red. Again, rammed into me. And the fifth…actually I can’t remember. I always say five, but either it was four or the fifth one gave me amnesia.
Since then, I’ve required regular osteopathy. Which is expensive. So, very, expensive. Having a little roll on these puppies buys me at least another week, and can keep me going indefinitely if I use them nightly.
As I pack to move apartments, I’m really looking closely at all the things I’ve bought in the past. Which ones were worth it? Which ones make me think “what the hell?” and which can I toss and not replace.
These guys? Couldn’t live without them. No matter what Shirley thought of our relationship.
Shelter is right there above food on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s a pretty important business, having a place to lay your hat. Groups that traditionally don’t have fixed abodes are marginalised: Ireland’s traveling population, the Romani, “trailer trash”, people in housing estates, refugees, the homeless. Twelve years ago when I was in my early 20s and working in South Korea as a teacher, we all found something slightly…unsavoury about older men and women doing the same thing. Didn’t they have families, homes? Didn’t anyone love them? Why were they so rootless?
Homes are linked to security, but also to identity and the self. Anyone who’s had their home broken into knows the sickening feeling of violation and the subsequent uneasiness and mistrust. We even say: “I’ve been burgled.” People become obsessed with fences and boundaries, and will poison trees or even neighbours to get a better view. A mortgage is probably the largest loan people take out in their lives, and in some countries takes generations to repay.
So it makes perfect sense that I want one. That it’s my mark of adulthood. It’s always seemed like such an impossible dream to me though – how could I ever save enough money for a deposit? Would that mean I couldn’t travel anymore? Where would this place even be?
The last question is the hardest for me. My German teacher asked me to describe my ideal house once. It was simple: Light-filled, big windows, high ceilings, white walls, lots of greenery, a big kitchen centred around a long wooden bench table, a garden. (Which I outlined in flawless German, of course.) Then she asked me where it would be. I was totally stumped. I’m still thinking about it.
My “country” is Australia, I guess. But it’s Germany right now, and in some ways I feel more settled in Munich than I ever did in my hometown of Newcastle, or in Sydney where I spent 10 years before moving here. Certainly having a UK passport makes it a lot easier for me than it is for other expats – my staying here is not contingent on anything but my own whims. Still, I don’t think I would ever buy here. For one thing, Munich is outrageously expensive and the rental and real estate markets are competitive to the point of brutality. There are good reasons most people here rent forever, outlined in this piece: Most Germans don’t buy their homes, they rent. Here’s why.
So if Munich is out, then where? Newcastle is the place I grew up, for the most part. It’s certainly the longest I’ve ever spent in one place. And it has the incomparable bonus of being home to my best friend – my little sister. And my darling Mum – the best in the world, my awesome stepdad, my cool brother in law and my scrumptious baby niece. My grandparents, all the way from their tiny village in Southern Spain, are buried there. My father lives nearby. And it’s the gathering place of my university friends, most of whom now live overseas but find themselves gravitating back.
Real estate there is reasonably-priced. The beaches are world-class. There are art galleries and crossfit and restaurants that cook gluten free (I have coeliac’s disease, something almost completely unknown in Germany).
But there are other aspects to life there that I find incompatible. For instance, public transport is virtually non-existent. You genuinely need a car to live there. There are no cycle paths. There’s often alochol-fueled violence. There are drug problems. It’s comparatively “white”, often racist, sometimes homophobic. It’s a town that worships the local football heroes. That kinda place. And it’s also just so damn hot. I can hear the cicadas ringing in my ears whenever I think about it.
I’m also in a state of despair over Australian politics. Our stance on asylum seekers, on the environment, our approach to infrastructure, the way wealth is redistributed, even the way our politicans behave during question time. I find it all mortifying. Is Australia really a place I could live again? Should I buy there, in my hometown, just to “have” some property? Can I really not go back?
It’s also somewhat scary. A home is pretty permanent. It’s a huge committment, and I have problems committing to a sofa colour.
But when I think of saving, when I think of why I am going to try this whole experiment, I think it comes down to being able to pull a deposit together to one day buy my own place. Or at least get myself into the right financial mindset for it.
To eventually buy myself the freedom to knock out walls, put some posters up, paint. Do all the things you don’t have the luxury of in a rental place. Know that four walls are mine, and nothing short of default or war can take that away from me.
But if the first part of my goal is crystal clear, the second part is equally murky. Where – exactly – is home?
Despite being a moderately intelligent person, there are a surprising number of things I’m pretty innocent about. I am a notoriously bad liar, and a dubious judge of character – at least initially. I genuinely believe I’ll be safe no matter where I go or what I do. And that money will keep coming, and that everyone just wants to get along. I absolutely cannot dissemble, although I admit that’s mostly due to apathy.
And I had no idea how closely the internet was watching me!
Sometimes, I would have had a cheeky little peek at a handbag website. Then the next time I was on the webs, an ad for the very same bags I’d been looking at would appear. For an embarrassingly long time, I thought it was all an amazing coincidence. And then the bubble was burst and my innocence was shattered. Frankly, I haven’t been the same since.
So! I have now deactivated the tasty, tasty personalised ads google was offering me. By sorting my shit out here: http://www.google.com/ads/preferences.
Similar options are available for Yahoo! http://info.yahoo.com/privacy/us/yahoo/opt_out/targeting/details.html, Apple http://oo.apple.com and Microsoft http://choice.live.com.
All of which will help me keep this purse of mine firmly closed. Impenetrable, if you will.