We, my husband and I, moved into a cottage. The cottage is on a road where no one knows us, and in a town where neither of us work. Today I took the train from the train station, and arrived at the office, bypassing new, green landscapes.
I have moved house many times. It is something apparent in the generations that were before me. I lived in six homes before I was 17 years old, a testament to the social housing problem in Britain which meant every home I had was temporary, and we never knew when we would have to move on to another Local Authority.
Marrying David took me to Surrey, then to Alexandria in Egypt, then Damascus in Syria, back to London and then to Surrey again. Now we are in Hampshire. Why is it different to any other move? Because this one doesn’t start with ‘It’s close to my parents/university/office and will do for a while.’
When you live in multiple interiors for short bursts of time and on a budget, especially in different countries and continents, you get used to things not quite working, or illogical layouts, bad plumbing, pests, damp and long-term problems that will need work and time that you don’t have, because you are only investing a year, or less, of your life in that property.
Case in point: whilst spending a month in Alexandria to study Arabic, David and I didn’t have the money, time or inclination to move from the flat we found by word-of-mouth. It was on the 17th floor, dusty and filled with mouse droppings. The bathroom window had smashed glass and the kitchen had cockroaches. We also had a nightly visit from a rat, until David killed it. We kept telling ourselves, it is only a month, then we are moving on.
It turned out, our next rental property was pretty awful too. It was cheap, dirty, and in a noisy street, but was in the right location, in Central Cairo.
So we were living as impoverished students for so long that we got used to modest conditions. I sewed my own curtains, we rode bikes instead of having a car and went to charity shops for clothes.
Marrying in your early 20s and being part of Generation Y means this: that you start with nothing. That is, nothing materially, but bursting with all the good humour and naivety to yoke your lives together. Now, seven years since our wedding, having lost our daughter, I vowed to customise our life, and work towards better quality in everything: in our home, our purchases, our friends and our time. Life, family and love is precious. They require investment and effort.
So, the first step to making a fresh start, reader, is to take time in researching where you are going to go, and what exactly you are looking for.
I took time selecting the neighbourhood. Spending more doesn’t necessarily mean better quality of life, you need to weigh up many factors. A nice house with bad neighbours is a disaster waiting to happen. As the Arab saying goes:
الجار ثم الدار
the neighbour, then the house
In other words, the area has to be your priority before falling in love with all the storage space. What kind of community would you like around you? If you enjoy intellectual stimulation, live in a university town, if you love hustle and bustle, move closer to a market town. Your neighbours are affected by the environment and surrounding resources.
Going deeper in the countryside meant more square footage for our money, so more space for our family to visit and stay, but more distance from the capital. What we needed was warmth and functional facilities. I wanted a garden, and quiet, two things that can’t be gained in a city, for love nor money.
And my health is worth it. My habitat, the place I eat and sleep in, the place I share my life with my husband, has vastly improved compared to anything I’ve lived in before, and it matters that the cottage is well structured, and that I can hear birds singing.
Step two is subject to the amount of distance you want from your old life. It entails taking a break from social media. I quit Facebook altogether, and felt better for it. If there are people in your life that you have an unbalanced relationship with, you will realise it.
Your time is better spent nurturing relationships with those that you respect and who share your values. Even a short break from WhatsApp/Instagram will help un-cloud the fog of confusion around who is supportive in you life and who isn’t.
It isn’t easy to break up with bad friends, it takes guts. But every time you do, you revive your soul a little, and bow to peer pressure a little less. Your self-reliance muscles strengthen and you realise that the approval and acceptance you once looked for was there all along in your life, held by people that reveal themselves in the most difficult moments.
The third step is the space and time to explore the occupation and pursuits that make you happy. This part takes longer than you may think.
After I graduated, I thought I would settle into a career smoothly. Some opportunity would fall into my lap. In fact, trying to identify a career path was hard. I listed my skills, and my interests, I went to career fairs and finally chose academic publishing. That time thinking about what suited me was worth it, better than being in a dead-end position that I would dread every day forever. And I am happy now, earning money for doing what I enjoy.
Your happiness is worth it. It is worth every ounce of effort, and every clear moment you say ‘no’ to unreasonable requests, and every clear moment you pursue the best for yourself. And what is it you are sacrificing? Possibly the expectations of others? They don’t have to live with the consequences of your poor decisions, but you do.