Modernity has mutated our thoughts regarding what’s normal and what isn’t, so much so that the very basics needed for our survival have become lost in a world of assumption, privilege and acceptance. I plan to tackle the 4 ‘basic needs’: food, water, shelter and clothing. I’m tackling shelter first, because as many of you may know, in certain places of the world shelter is the primary need. That is to say, you will often die quickest to exposure (without shelter). I’ll be looking at our considerations of these basics and how our current modern state of affairs has altered our perception in rather malicious ways.
What is shelter then? Well, it keeps you dry, it keeps you away from the cold and it keeps you safe at night. We’ve basically forgotten about these and turned ‘homes’ and ‘home-ownership’ into an odd fetish. Note: I’m not against private property rights, in fact, I think they’re smarter than most presumed ‘rights’. Anyway, I’m also starting with shelter because it’s one of the more peculiar alterations of modernity, in that, the way we’ve been taught to modify our understanding of shelter has lead us towards more stress, misery and pressure than ever before.
I’d like to reiterate something before I get into this. If people want to own X, Y or Z house, that’s fine, it’s up to you to make stupid decisions like believing houses are ‘investments’, or getting in a life-long debt because you liked a building. Like I said, I’m not against private property, I am against a generalized/normalized idea of what a private home should be. So what should it be? As stated, it should keep you warm by having good insulation, keep you dry by having good walls and a roof and also keep you safe from potential intruders or threats. Modernity has put such a thick layer of chemical and bureaucratic existence on top of everything, that the bare-bones reasons for many of our undertakings are hidden. But it’s good to remind yourself why we do things. It’s cold our there.
Now, onto the main crux of this piece, what is a home anyway? I don’t want to get too ‘millennial’ about this, but a home can really be whatever you want it to be. And anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you their own will, or their own past mistake. The preconceived notion of what a home is largely sculpted by accepting the idea of a home given to you by society. Sounds like a dumb statement, because this is how our understanding of basically anything grows. Except, within modernity, you’re living within an anomaly of existence to the notion of a home that’s given to you wont exactly fit in with your immediate reality.
The general idea of a home/house that’s given to those looking to buy/acquire one is of a 2-4 bedroom house with a garden, all the amenities and possibly the potential for extension if needed. It’s the absolute ideal of what a lovely Western (Simpson-esque) home should be. Before I get into why this idea in general is complete rubbish, let me tell you some things about contemporary home-ownership, the multiple elephants in the room which every estate agent and nagging authority figure wont tell you about. (UK stats)
I can hear you, don’t worry. “Stop, stop! Please make it stop!” Sorry to say, it’s not stopping anytime soon, it’s something you’ll just have to get used to. Now, this ‘getting used to part’ is really what this series – on a practical level – is about. The desires, material fetishes and consumption habits of the 1960s-2008 are considered the norm. They’re not, they are absolutely NOT normal. They are an anomaly of history. If you buy into them you will cripple yourself! Now I’ve said that, let me explain what it is I actually mean. As you can see from the statistics, none of this really adds up. In short, you used to be able to buy X with Y, and Y would equate to enough to buy X and live relatively comfortably (anyone telling you otherwise doesn’t understand the ). Nowadays, we still believe that we should all be able to buy X (a lovely 3 bed house) and that our Y (wages) are still up to scratch. They’re not. It’s over. 2008 came along and gave us all a harsh reality check, one which pretty everyone seems to have not admitted to. I mean, when you start seeing every other bank, building society and monetary institution handing out grants, loans and ISAs to every young schmuck that comes along, you should be smart enough to see that something’s up. Nothing is free in modernity, you either pay with money, data or time, and guess what, all these loans people are signing up for is just more time they wont get to use as they want to, all because they fell for some dated desire of oh-so-mighty home-ownership.
Perhaps dated is the wrong word, because my qualms about home-ownership aren’t about what people want to buy, but why they want to buy it. It’s one of those cases once again where people seemed to want something, or want to do something, just because everyone else is doing it (abstractly called ‘mimesis’). There are of course varying reasons as to why people would want – or even need – a 2-4 bedroom house: kids, hobbies, pets, relatives etc. However, rarely anyone ever asks themselves (though more people are increasingly starting to do so) whether or not they really need or even want their supposedly self-desired home. What compelled them to want the suburban dream? What compelled them to want a 2-3 bedroom house that needs lots of upkeep and takes away a large portion of one’s time? What ever compelled them to buy into the Western suburbanite aesthetic of pseudo-virtue via owning meaningless, trite nic-nacs? I can’t imagine there was ever some compelling argument to this. When I was younger I distinctly remember having an almost nauseous reaction to ‘homes’ which were full of random useless shit and didn’t seemed to be lived in (a reaction I still get). This is one of the major symptoms of contemporary home ownership, the idea of a home as an extension of yourself. Well, now I come to think of it, perhaps it’s apt then that most modern homes are Ikea-esque multi-builds with no character, no daring and no originality. The reason I feel averse to this way of living is that it always seemed people spent more time tweaking their home than actually living in it. As if one’s favourite hobby was Chess but they spent so much time cleaning the board they never got around to actually playing, and in fact, it’s suspect as to whether or not they actually played chess in the first place. In a world where the majority of people spent as much time at work as they do at home, and then go out on the weekends, why it assumed to be normal to spend the majority if your money on something you don’t really use? Most of the rooms in your average home rarely get used anyway, most time is split between the kitchen, living room and bedroom, with anything else becoming a ornament which you’re paying for over time.
People will often ask at this point “Well, what are the other options? I don’t really want to rent because you’re just wasting money.” Before I get to the other options, I want to address the ‘rent is wasted money’ argument. This argument is based off the prior assumption that I’ve been writing about, that one should – if one can – get a mortgage and purchase a house outright. This is done then for 2 reasons. Firstly, because ‘It’s what you do.’ (as they say) and secondly, because it makes more financial sense. If you’re making your decision in relation to the second decision, you’re already making a few mistakes. Renting seems like a waste because you wont own anything at the end of it, this is true. But, what if you don’t want to own anything? What if you can’t afford the maintenance costs? What if you don’t want to put your time into maintaining a house? What if you have better things to be doing? What if you just want shelter and aren’t too bothered about ownership? What if you don’t want to get stuck with a bunch of unforeseen bills such as various taxes, duties and leasehold fees? When you rent, you aren’t wasting your money, because you get what you pay for. You also get the (potential) freedom to move around far quicker than you’d be able to if you owned a property. It’s all down to personal priorities, and most people have assumed the priorities of the banks and the financial system. ‘Do what’s most financially safe!’ they say, a statement which brings me back to my earlier point about the dumb idea that property is investment. Here’s my take on this: Unless there’s water on the land, the property is not an investment, it’s a punt. People ‘get into’ property because it’s supposedly this ‘safe bet’ with respect to gaining money, 2008 has of course shown this to be untrue. Guess what perpetual peace, perpetual energy, perpetual growth and perpetual progress have in common? They all believe in the idea that something can get better, bigger and greater forever. This is socially, physically and cosmically impossible. If all your housing investments gave you a greater return you happened to invest during a historical anomaly (boomer generation).
Back to the first point, ‘Well, what are the other options?’. The other options are the ones you actually think about, the ones you decide are your own, the ones you create for yourself. People will often turn their nose up at these other options, but that’s only because they believe in a pre-conditioned and presumed notion of what a house should be. Renting, tiny houses, building a house, a condo, van-dwelling, exiting to a more affordable country, rent-as-work (farmhand), living on a boat and digital nomadism are just a few options. I’m sure whilst reading those many of you thought ‘Those don’t seem all that nice.’, once again you’re attending to these ideas from a preconceived notion of what you’re life should be like, you’re trapped in the desire of the other. You believe you should live a certain way out of fear of societal rejection or alienation, you believe you should live this way out of no real conviction but because of an abstract pressure to impress others. Shelter doesn’t have to mean a kitsch suburban 4-bed with boring neighbors and thousands of useless trinkets strewn about the place. Shelter can mean whatever you want it to mean.
Perhaps you don’t really stay in your house much anyway and prefer to travel, what would be wrong with living on a boat? Perhaps you’ve actually never really been fussed about owning a house, because you want to spend your free time doing your hobbies as opposed to repairing a property, well maybe renting is for you? Maybe your job affords you the luxury of working from anywhere (programming), why not travel around affordable countries whilst working from a laptop? Perhaps you just want your house to a base of operation but aren’t too fussed about aesthetics, look into tiny houses? Perhaps you have very few ties in your home country and could live cheaper elsewhere, well, what’s holding you back? The point however, isn’t towards some drastic physical move, but towards a drastic mental move, one in which your very perspective of what is considered a ‘shelter’ or ‘home’ is changed and you no longer abide by the unconscious stress and pressure of ‘becoming a home-owner’.