Seán Moncrieff: What does your house say about you?

We invest so much energy into what our homes look like, in search of validation when the friends call in and tell us how lovely it is

Right now, the house looks like a badly organised warehouse, full of boxes, bags and stacked books. I can’t find shoes. For a while I had no underwear.

Right now, the house looks like a badly organised warehouse, full of boxes, bags and stacked books. I can’t find shoes. For a while I had no underwear.

 

I own a radio. Not some DAB gizmo or an internet podcasty thing, but a proper radio: what they used to call a wireless before wireless came to mean something completely different.

It’s a Bush AC11 from 1947 – 72 years old – and it worked: you’d click the round knob and the glass panel would light up and it would make a lovely boof sound. It could take few minutes to warm up and when the voices finally boomed from the cabinet it could frighten the life out of you.

But about five years ago, it startled to struggle to come on, and eventually went to sleep permanently. Since then it’s been sitting on a bookshelf, reduced to one of those folksy ornaments you’ll find in a kit-Irish pub in Tokyo. And this irked me. It’s a radio. Robbed of the opportunity to be one, to express its radio-ness, it was little more than an old box.

The house move finally spurred me to do what I’d been promising to do for years, and it’s currently being nursed back to life in a place called the HiFi Hospital. It will take a while though. Most of the parts it needs aren’t produced anymore so the engineer keeps me posted about his hunt for things like rectifier tubes. There may be one in Holland. The only country that still makes valves for valve radios is Russia.

There is a space reserved for the old radio on the new shelves; the shelves being part of the ongoing project, What the House Will Look Like When It’s Finished.

Right now, the house looks like a badly organised warehouse, full of boxes, bags and stacked books. I can’t find shoes. For a while I had no underwear.

Of course, it’ll all be much better when everything gets done. But it’s difficult to predict when that will be or even what that will look like. I suspect that a lot of people move in, work furiously for a few weeks and the collapse from exhaustion. Or they give up. Or they simply have to go back to work. Real life intervenes and the house has to be left half-finished.

Someone recently told me that she and her partner just hung their first picture in their house. They moved in two years ago.

Minimalist chic

Yet we invest so much emotional and physical energy into what our homes should look like, to have that moment of validation when the friends call in and tell us how lovely it is. And don’t think you’re not vulnerable to this. You are.

Some psychologists call it self-verification, the idea that the state of your house says something about you. It reveals you. Being seen the way you see yourself is more important than being liked.

And this expresses itself in as many ways as there are different sorts of people. Designed-to-death houses to reflect the fabulous taste of the owners, minimalist chic to demonstrate environmental awareness, comfortable but not too showy to demonstrate that the owners aren’t too up themselves. A total mess, to demonstrate that the owners aren’t consumed with such shallow concerns as décor. Life’s too short etc.

I’m not too sure what our house will say. There’s the theoretical house, which will be pristine and comfy-modern with a few old things, and the actual house which will be covered in toddler handprints and filled with teenager detritus.

Whatever it will be, I just want to get it finished. It’s an itch. I almost didn’t go to see Bob Dylan because of the house, and that was a clarifying moment. In choosing between the literature Nobel winner and making another Ikea shelf, I wavered. Lunacy. 

I’m still wondering what having a working valve radio says about me. Other than I work on radio. And I like radio. Oh yeah, that’s probably it. 

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