Home Sweet Home

I started writing this post almost a year ago, when a number of stories all came together at once. There was  NPR  talking about the effect of the recession on home ownership, and a promotional piece from one of the local stations about a woman who was presenting her research on the Sears homes-selling method, particularly selling the idea of ‘your own home’ in the post-war era. Then there was my own housing situation – at the time, I was trying to find a new housemate. Things got rolling, and the post fell by the wayside.

Now, about a year later, my own housing situation is in flux again. I’m not going to stay in my (gorgeous, poorly insulated 1940s bungalow) rental. I face the choice of trying to find a place of my own that I can afford or finding a house and housemate. And here’s the thing: I have never in my entire life (adult or otherwise) lived on my own.  I’ve never had a house/apartment/studio/condo all to myself.

The reason is simple: I have always lived in areas where it was expensive to live alone, and I’ve never had the kind of income which could bear that expense. Most people I know have had to find a roommate or three after dorm life. Somehow, I feel as though there is a rite of adulthood I have not completed. At the same time, I am clearly aware of how modern that idea is, living without another person.

Perhaps it does not get as much play in historic house museums and other venues as it might, but people rarely had a place to themselves. Women, particularly, lived in family units or at least with other people. If you were rich, there were servants about; if poor, family and neighbors. There were (and are) cultures and classes where having your own bed was unusual. Amanda Vickery, in her Radio 4 series on private lives, does a wonderful job of discussing just what ‘private’ meant to people in the 18th century.   On a far more mundane level, I have to explain to people new to historical costume that, yes, a working woman’s clothes could lace up the back because there would have been someone around to help her into them (and out again!).

I know all of this – in fact, I love this aspect of human history, all jumbled together and social. I am aware that the bachelor pad, the single apartment after college, is a very modern invention, although I’m not sure when it took such a strong hold as definition of adulthood. I know that living with other people is a perfectly historical practice. It does not, however, stop me from wishing I could find a nice little place to call my own, at least for a year, where it would be me and my furniture and my Books.

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2 comments

  1. I’ve never lived alone, either, and I know only one person my age who lives alone. Most people I know who live alone are widows and widowers, the rest confirmed bachelors and bachelorettes (who have been very affluent for most of their lives). I can’t imagine living in a house all by myself – I’ve never lived completely by myself aside from the occasional night when all of my roommates have been out, and that kind of solitude is very strange. I need a room where I can shut the door and be alone (having a freshman-year roommate, as opposed to a flatmate, was tough), but living completely by myself is very odd. I wonder what it was like for people who started to live utterly by themselves in the 20th century. Although it isn’t seen as crazy or unusual, and is in fact idealized, having one’s own apartment, condo, or house certainly isn’t the norm.

  2. Husband and I are going to have to have housemates again, too. I never thought I would again be sharing space with anyone I wasn’t related to, but here we are. I’m nervous about it for all of the usual reasons, but there is a part of me looking forward to having someone else to cook for/with, to share things with. Even though I am a decidedly introverted person, I still revel in community. Funny, that.

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