Out of practice due to the pandemic, they were unable to hide their wonder as they surveyed the multileveled landscape ahead of them. Dispersed out of view were the carefully curated hidden caverns, each distinct in its own function and appearance. The domain that the married couples entered was the house of a man, me, who never married and who happily leads a single life. Being single did not mean a life of solitude, as evidenced by the photographs of friends from walks of life that were not restricted to any demographic, real or imagined.
The two couples in question who walked into my home in unison. All four of them looked up wide-eyed and reminded me of what an alien landscape my house was for them. As soon as their coats and winter boots were removed, their facial expressions resembled explorers in science fiction films as their spaceship entered normal space into a new solar system after years of hyperspace travel. Their eyes and gleeful faces demanded an immediate tour. No words were needed.
Even before the pandemic, I, too, took extra care to take in the scenery of a single person’s house. The homes belonging to that of a family typically fall into four categories, all of which the single person’s residence does not, and this highlights what makes a life that is fully lived by a single person, something that should be appreciated, not admonished.
The House of Many
The first type of family house is a home that is an expression entirely made by the dominant member of the household. Most of us have walked into these homes where every room has the signature of the alpha personality. It stalks its halls every night, quietly pummeling any sense of individuality of the home’s residents as they submit to being an accessory of the dominant’s personality. These homes often share the preferred chair of the dominant personality. These chairs are always placed optimally for viewing the television and taking naps away from natural light. Like vampires, these life-leaching humans also seem to be averse to sunlight.
The second is the home that entrusts all matters of style to one or two residents. Visitors ride a wave of pleasant consistency of textures and themes that results in an overwhelming sense of calm. This calm is usually enhanced by the comfort of those who find their own skin to be a kind and cozy palace. One such house that I am fortunate to visit has vintage posters attentively spread out from room to room. The washrooms are lined with small humorous vintage posters ranging from movie posters, cut-out paperback covers with ridiculous art that doesn’t match the title, and one has turn of the century posters and menus from pubs, cabarets, and brothels. Lighting fixtures match the eras of these framed works of art, as do the towels. This type of house is a joy to explore and to be in. Even on the macro level, there are little pockets of joy everywhere.
The third is the home of balance. Where every family member lovingly fills their individual spaces with their passions. Often each room is painted in the same colour, but the characters of those who spend the most time in the room shine unmistakably through. Each bedroom is lined with its own bookshelves displaying the various interests and offering insights into their perspectives. The shared spaces, such as living, family, and dining rooms, are celebrations of all who reside there. Pictures of vacations, graduations, and distant family members are carefully spaced and placed at angles for easy viewing. Seating arrangements are all equidistant from the television, and all have a surface to place their drinks and snacks within arm’s reach. There is always fresh fruit on the main coffee table, and coasters are already in place.
The fourth house is a warzone between unfinished tasks, such as unpacked toys, video game controllers, dirty dishes, and clear cups with dried yogurt giving way to mold. Visitors are usually met with heartfelt apologies and reminders that their cleaners have not been there for a week. These homes are lined with closed doors where prying eyes are forcefully asked to look only where they must, which is usually for tripping hazards. While this type of home also exists when it is occupied by one single person, this type of family home carries with it a degree of sympathy. We feel sorry for the modern family unit, which is overwhelmed by balancing two careers while trying to raise children who themselves now have schedules that would give a young project manager an ulcer.
The House of One
A single person’s house or apartment can also be a place of horrors. Gallows of mold interlace for dominance on their bathroom walls as extra fluffy clusters of dust make their way behind the sink and toilet. Signs of previously smoke-filled rooms betray all efforts in disguising their natural state as grey stains stretch from obstacles such as ceiling-mounted lights to the air vent across the room. All kitchenware is damp as they have hastily been washed and taken from their common resting place, the calcified kitchen sink. These homes are littered with an army of the cheapest scented candles from Amazon as the host attempts to conceal whatever they are ashamed of behind an aggressive wall of vanilla, lavender, or, goodness forbid, whatever that sharp citrous scent is. The worst cases are a residence strewn with coffee mug wisdom splayed out in café posters and the unbroken spines of New York Times bestsellers that are carefully placed in orbit of the television, the true centre of gravity of these homes.
However, a calm and collected home of a single person deserves careful inspection, for it offers something that none of the previously mentioned homes can. It presents a purified celebration of the person that resides within its walls and what brings them joy and comfort. A house offers more splendour than an apartment simply due to more opportunity. For those who do not live under the constant predator’s stalking of their insecurities, each room, shelf, and surface is either functional or used as a source of comfort.
Recently, I found myself in the position of the eager married couples who had entered my house. I visited a friend’s house after a night out, and I felt an immediate sense of tranquillity as we both entered. As far as the eye could see, I was greeted with the gentle and uniform light that only needed to appease one pair of eyes. To our right as we entered was a yoga mat initially temporarily stationed near the entrance in March 2020, but has not moved since. She made no attempt to set aside the yoga blocks, for she knew I would take care with my steps as we ventured towards the kitchen. I did not ask for a tour and did not need to. As time moved forward, I came to see how the study, which doubled as her home office, her two washrooms, and her living/dining room, all supported her life on this planet. Pictures of loved ones, family pets which had long passed, university friends and reunions were all within sight of where she would sit. Whether it was to enjoy a meal, to read the book from her book club, or to watch a show, she was surrounded by kind and loving faces.
Her basement, which was once purposefully prepared for the inevitable day that her mother would move in with her, was now in an awkward transition as her mother was in a retirement home instead. As we made our way downstairs for the first time, I suggested that she match the light bulbs with those with the rest of the house and then take it from there. Her subtle nod of the agreement would have been missed but strangers, but it was felt firmly. Homes such as these are sanctuaries. They are a haven for those who reside in them and for those who cherish that resident.
A House of Mine
Long after the tour was finished, as usual, the husbands stayed in the living room, and the wives joined me in the kitchen. With fresh wine glasses that were unashamedly filled to their rims, they settled in as I prepared the salmon before it was placed in the preheated oven.
“Who is that,” asked the more inquisitive friend as she pointed to a shelf in the kitchen. Atop the cookbooks, I had placed the biography of one of my heroes for display. “She doesn’t look like a chef.”
“That’s Samantha Power. She was a journalist turned diplomat who basically devotes her life to making the world a better place,” I said quickly as my mind scrambled for an appropriate answer. The rest of my house is lined with books that have prominent works that I admire on display. It didn’t strike me as odd that a book that had nothing to do with food was on display in the kitchen until that moment.
My two friends were unsatisfied with that answer, and I truthfully said, “I place books by authors whom I admire throughout the house. I find their wisdom, character, and impact on the world to have a calming effect on me.”
I then realized what a single person’s home has that others do not. There are no compromises in appeasing others or steamrolling over another’s choices. Objects such as books, pictures, paintings and even coasters fall into their natural places. This was the wonder that I felt when entering my friend’s house mentioned earlier. However, for couples or those with children, the intensity of this wonder is immense.
If you are not a self-absorbed piece of garbage, your life is forever changed when you have children or get married. Your self-identity shifts permanently, and the new humans in your life become who you are. Before the pandemic, I attended a birthday party where I was the only one in attendance who was not the ethnicity of the hosts. Repeatedly various men tried to start conversations with me by asking me if I had children. When I responded no, each one of eyes glazed over as they struggled to grasp at a conversation which we could have. They were overwhelmed by the time vacuum that I as a single person, as in their eyes, for everything they did centre around keeping their families afloat. Without a common ethnicity, it seemed they only saw being married with children as the only possible line of shared interests. These sets of eyes are the ones that always left my house after a dinner party in a state of awe.
“You know what,” an old friend said over a decade ago as she and her family were leaving my house. “Your house is not at all what I expected.”
Back then, I thought she envisioned a home filled with stereotypical items and memorabilia for men, but I was wrong. When I asked her years later what she expected my house to be like, she answered, “I had no expectations. I couldn’t imagine what your house was like.”
Returning to when my friends recently visited, and the choice of book in my kitchen was pointed out, I realized the power of expression a home can have, especially for a single person. After I explained to my friends why certain books, records, paintings and photographs were on display in my house, their pace slowed as they moved from room to room. Considerate and tender smiles graced their faces as they explored mindfully.
Our homes can be an inadvertent form of self-expression and can become an anchorage for all we deem dear. If we wield our personal residences with more care, we will find that our personal sanctuary from life’s troubles will also become a haven for those closest to us.
Wield the power that your home has well, for others may come to depend on it.
Time of writing,