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People wish they could live in houses, they claw for it, they do extraordinary things like make offers without home inspections and neighbour surveys, they poison the family well by asking for cash they’ll need later for bail, and all for the goal...

Are you sure you want to own a house?: Mallick | Toronto Star

People wish they could live in houses, they claw for it, they do extraordinary things like make offers without home inspections and neighbour surveys, they poison the family well by asking for cash they’ll need later for bail, and all for the goal...

Are you sure you want to own a house?: Mallick | Toronto Star

People wish they could live in houses, they claw for it, they do extraordinary things like make offers without home inspections and neighbour surveys, they poison the family well by asking for cash they’ll need later for bail, and all for the goal of what?

A gabled roof. When the kindergarten teacher asks toddlers to draw a house, they will, but it’s their maddeningly restrictive idea of a house. It’s always the same, four leaning windows, a drunken door and a pointy roof like a hat. One of the many reasons I oppose flat-roofed modernist homes that look like stacked coffins is that all children want a roof like a witch’s hat. Now we have a millennial generation of grown-ups wanting this.

Molly Young wrote wonderfully in the New York Times Magazine last week about the human need for “tiny spaces.” It was a subject I had only considered in the realm of drugs and mania. In amphetamine dementia, as Jean Stein wrote about the life and death of Edie Sedgwick, one is obsessed with order. Sedgwick kept her drugs in hundreds of bags, boxes and pouches inside a picnic basket. “You find something that fits in this box,” Stein said. “Then you find something that this box fits in; everything goes inside something else, and it’s all very mazy but tight and orderly.”

Children do this, Young wrote. They hide under the dining room table. They tie bedsheets to patio chairs and camp out on the lawn; they draw windows on the box the refrigerator came in. They want to be contained.

Home-buyers relive this. It’s as if they, like Young and me, moved around a lot as a child. She doesn’t want suburban McMansions, she is happy in small spaces. “The human compulsion to fit a variety of components into a contained space” explains a lot, she says, including toolboxes, tackle boxes, YouTube parallel-parking videos, Muji (I draw the line at Muji, home of mud-coloured androgyny, Swiss Army knives and RVs.

I am tired of financial explanations for the housing balloon. Buying a house can be so destructive that there must be more to it than money. People want to live just so.

If you buy a dodgy house, you will have to repair it with money you don’t have, partly because small children don’t mix with sagging ceilings or even wayward floor nails. You will go further into debt, and when you kill your mortgage in 25 years, you will have to redo those repairs just for basic maintenance.

Houses are owned by people who can’t afford to repair them but know they won’t get top price without repairs plus updating. A kind of paralysis sets in. You’ve seen those front porches walled in, very badly, by owners cutting it fine. In the 25 years since the last reno, I’ve replaced or rebuilt everything except the kitchen, the one room I eye with dread. I have reno’d the reno, not for cosmetic reasons but just to stay in place.

In the garden, almost every plant has been murdered. Whether damaged by city workers, eaten by canker or bug, drowned, crisped, killed by nature’s whim, dead of old age or failure to thrive, the plantings have been a comedy of errors, though every spring it seems more like Titus Andronicus. I pruned a finger again on Monday; there’s a rusting bloodstain on the euonymus.

It is boring owning a house and I’m not even discussing monthly bills, which are a pain, as are neighbours. All I ask of neighbours now is that they not be drunks and/or pedophiles.

I loved renting, which is what you do when your life is so interesting that you don’t notice where you live. It’s what happens inside the walls that counts. Later, it’s just the walls and what you insert.

And this is where objects come in. A house is where you put things inside things inside things. It is little more than a container for the furniture and objects you collect as a substitute for awe. It is a comfort to open the lid at the end of the day and step inside, having earned with tears the monies that painted the box Dark Teal, no, North Sea Green, no, Mallard Green. (That was my weekend, incidentally. Do you want that weekend? Take it.)

What I am describing is not mere tedium and expense, it is slavery. Careful what you wish for. You might get it.

mallick@thestar.ca

mallick@thestar.ca

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