Sean Moncrieff: Being a grown-up is really hard
I’m selling my house and the process seems predicated on the idea I have something to hide
Paper chase: “When I meet people who thoroughly understand the tax system or the social welfare system, who know everything you need to do to buy or sell a house, I am amazed by them.”
Sometimes I get a flash of sympathy for those people in America who go crazy, buy a load of guns and portable toilets and force their families to live “off the grid”. They might tell you, if you could find them, that it’s because of privacy or pollution or some nebulous idea of freedom where they are escaping the many intrusions of the federal government. Like the one that forces them to pay tax.
But another reason could be simple exasperation. Modern life is complicated. And I don’t mean relationships or social mores or the stuff they go on about on Sex and the City. I mean the nuts and bolts things. When I meet people who thoroughly understand the tax system or the social welfare system, who know everything you need to do to buy or sell a house, who know what all the acronyms stand for, I am amazed by them. Not because this information is far beyond my comprehension, but because they found the time and mental space to absorb all this detail and retain it.
Don’t these people also have jobs and families and groceries to fetch and Netflix shows to watch?
It hasn’t been that long since I went through the process of house-selling. Then again, I think the 1990s wasn’t that long ago either. The point is that I’m doing it again and the process seems unrecognisable from what it was before. You seem to have to prove that you actually live in the house or that the house is more than a photoshopped art concept or that you’re not using it as a warehouse for your international kangaroo-smuggling operation. The process seems predicated on the idea that you have something to hide.
This is not for the people buying the house, obviously: they would have caught the unmistakable pong of kangaroo poop and never made an offer. This is to satisfy various neurotic agencies of the State, who seem convinced that we citizens spend most of our time concocting all sorts of dark methods to avoid paying tax. These agencies are all in it together. You have to prove to one arm of government that you’ve paid your taxes to another arm of government. Apparently, it’s regarded as bad form for them to talk directly to each other behind your back.
Suddenly there’s something dubious about me because I haven’t kept my electricity bills from 2009
I have nothing to hide. I think. Yet all the demands for proof – some of which go back years – make me feel automatically guilty. Suddenly there’s something dubious about me because I haven’t kept my electricity bills from 2009 or don’t have a set of spreadsheets detailing my property tax payments. I’m haunted by the creeping fear that a crack Revenue Swat team is going to kick in my front door and drag me away while my judgmental neighbours – taking time out from reviewing their 2004 P60s – will whisper and tut-tut in scandalised voices.
There are many ways to react to this. There’s the don’t-worry-life’s-too-short school of thought, which sounds nice and is sort of true but is generally unrealistic unless you’re planning to go and live with the American crazies in the woods. Or there’s annoyance that I’m so irresponsible and flighty. For some people, familiarity with the bureaucratic workings of the State is what defines them as adults. It’s the Grown-Up Stuff and they take pride in being able to handle it.
It has the opposite effect on me. It makes me want to throw tantrums or draw smiley faces on all the forms or simply refuse to co-operate because you’re all poo-poo heads: mostly because it fills me with an overwhelming feeling of waste. It’s a waste of time and emotional energy when we have limited amounts of both. Not that I ever would have a tantrum. I’m far too much of a boring grown-up.