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Could You Walk Away From Your House?

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    I just knocked out a quick blog post over at Desirable World – I am not sure about the link sharing policy here so look it up if you want to read more – that I thought I’d share hear as I would like to hear other people’s views.

    Could you walk away from your house?

    “What is a house? Is it a roof over one’s head or something more than that? A trove of memories and belongings that needs to be viciously guarded by emotion and more capitalistic instruments like insurance? For most of us, if our house burnt down – rented or owned – we’d be devastated. Even if it wasn’t full of our worldlies the very fact that the house, the structure, it’s rooms and its floors is gone, in itself would be a bad thing. We spend vast resources protecting our homes from harm. We do our best to keep people out with locks and doors – not only from stealing the things that are within but from vandalism and squatting and invasion of its sacred space. We protect our houses from the elements with shutters and steel frames that termites cannot eat through and firebreaks and special cladding to protect from the flames and embers. Our houses, or more aptly homes, in and of themselves mean something to us. It would be hard to just walk away.

    To pay $300 per week rent for five years and then to move away is simple enough to do. We wouldn’t think too much of it. It’s common. I have done it time and time again. But that’s a $78,000 home effectively burnt to a crisp – nothing more to show. Gone, in and of itself. The memories are still there, but that’s the case either way.

    I have read in various places of people that have built disposable homes. No, they are not made of cheap plastic or paper. They are homes that, if the situation fell upon them, they could walk away with no regrets. C’est la vie. This is an unthinkable proposition to most. But the memories, the meaning, the… the… house. But why not that rental? That building – the wood and bricks – that you walked away from after 5 years of good times? That belongs to, and always has, someone else?”


    This is such a good question! Because of my husband’s work, we have never owned the house we live in, and we don’t pay rent, however if we bought our own place, he would get paid a bit more, so in a way we are paying to live here. We have treated each house like our own home, hanging pictures on walls, being free to work with the gardens etc. So if we lost the house, I wouldn’t be devastated, but to lose the things IN the house would be keenly felt. As I go past my neighbour’s houses (lots of Asian migrants) I am often struck by how little STUFF they have in their garages. It has prompted me to look again at my slight hoarding habit and resolve to work harder at lightening my load. It’s not easy, but I really want to show myself and my family that life is so much more than the things we surround ourselves with. I’d rather have a few beautiful, useful things than all the clutter and rubbish that usually passes for home decor! A while ago there was a beautiful series of photographs of people around the world who were asked to pose with their possessions in front of their homes. I loved seeing so many (mostly European) with their musical instruments taking pride of place, amongst other bits and pieces.

    The other thing that I wonder about sometimes (sorry, getting a bit philosophical here!) is the huge attachment that people place on photos. I love my family and the photos that we have that go back generations, but are they as defining as so many people think they are? Would we really lose all our memories if we didn’t have photos to remind us of where we’ve been, what we’ve done and who we’ve done it with? What about the masses of people who lived before the time of photographs? Were they really that much poorer for it? I always find it interesting that they are generally the first thing people would grab in case of evacuation (generally after family and pets!).


    She whose husband I am … and Myself … practice non-attachment. A Buddhist idea. we are like the ‘Asians’ (Australians are practically Asians, dontcha think?) mentioned in a post above who have very few possessions. we are not attached to the white man’s work ethic and do not identify ourselves by the things we own. (Edit:) and we don’t venerate the past by taking/keeping photos either. we say: be here now … enjoy the flames and the warmth …


    I could walk away from my house, but not my property. More so because I love the area we live in, the climate and my neighbours. We aren’t very materialistic and I have very few sentimental things. I have tried to work out what sentimental things to take in a bushfire situation and there just isn’t really anything important enough. So safety stuff and a little bit of paperwork is it. Photos – there are so many digital images of ours at so many peoples houses, that it probably wouldn’t make much difference. We only own 2 photo albums and one of them is of my dog. lol

    I have insurance, but that is mainly to cover appliances/furniture etc. I have house insurance and that is to cover things like the tree that fell on our house this year. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore my house – I have put a lot of work into it, my kids were born in the lounge room etc and this is what I am most attached to. I moved a lot as a kid and I love the excitement of new houses. I would be upset if I lost my house, but equally it would be exciting in creating or finding a new one.


    I could and did walk away from the beautiful handmade stone house that we built 40 years ago, it to us was just a house and we were moving onto another project which was equally as exciting. Home is wherever my family is and a house is just a house, nothing without my family.


    Thanks for sharing your positions on this, folks.

    Let me get to the essence of what I mean in my initial post. When I say walk away I mean without something in exchange. One such example might be losing your house to a natural disaster and not having insurance. I think if one is fairly compensated to leave their house, e.g. they sell it for money or exchange for some other good, it is fairly easy to accept and reconcile. However, what about if this wasn’t the case and the $50k, $100k, $200k you spent on it was all gone. (Obviously in this example you still have your land. But perhaps you can’t build on it again? That said, I am talking more about dwelling here, than property.)


    “Would we really lose all our memories if we didn’t have photos to remind us of where we’ve been, what we’ve done and who we’ve done it with?”

    Agreed, Mudhen. I have always found this to be an bizarre concept. I have never put photos and frames around my house. I have never really had that visual stimuli to bring back the memories of an occasion. As such, I don’t feel I have missed out on those memories. Something will strike me and I will think back to a time, a person, a place.

    I think photographing moments has the potential to negatively draw from a situation. Take happy-snapping on holiday. We spend all this time behind our camera trying to capture the moments rather than living them. We view them through a lens. And why? So we can upload them to our computer when we get home, put them in a folder, and likely forget about them.


    I’ve never felt attachment to an object, and my memories are in my head, not stored in an inanimate object somewhere. So if our house burnt down, I would be upset because of the headache of replacing it (we’re fully insured) and how much money we’ve spent on it, but not because memories are lost. Cos they’re not 🙂


    Interesting question and one many ex-Zimbabwean farmers could talk to you about. I have personally listened to and read many accounts of families that literally walked (escaped) from their home and property with only the clothes on their bodies after their farms were taken from them by force and without compensation. The lucky ones got to take some treasured objects or possessions. I don’t think they truly ever get over it. They may become reconciled to it but they never forget the hurt and the sadness. I could lose my home but not my property as someone else said above. When we came here it was bare. Everything I see now, my partner and I have created with our own labour and love. I don’t know that I have a big enough spirit to be able to walk away from that with nothing to show for it and accept it with grace.


    pavbenth post=358548 wrote:

    I have read in various places of people that have built disposable homes. No, they are not made of cheap plastic or paper. They are homes that, if the situation fell upon them, they could walk away with no regrets. C’est la vie. This is an unthinkable proposition to most. But the memories, the meaning, the… the… house. But why not that rental? That building – the wood and bricks – that you walked away from after 5 years of good times? That belongs to, and always has, someone else?”

    I may still have it wrong BUT I may also now be grasping the context that generated this question …

    this question is about Loss and Ambivalence, yes? about what is inevitably lost by leaving AND what can be gained ONLY by leaving …

    that the decision to go cannot be made without feeling loss and yet if one does not go then desired change cannot happen… and when this is realised the feeling is ambivalence.

    the memories? good memories/bad memories. feel good/feel bad. love love wallow wallow hate hate wallow wallow.

    meaning? meanings change as time moves forward. eg: think what marriage meant BEFORE you tried it. so the challenge is always: can you change with the demands of the time?

    and Ownership … the commercial/religious con that sprang up as compensation for losing a personal Catholic god during the Reformation. You don’t know what I mean? I mean the Protestant notion that with the death of catholicism it was only by the gathering of wealth that could you prove yrself close to god, prove yrself one of his servants. and of course if you stayed poor you must be an inferior person because god’s light had clearly passed you by.

    so investment in your house is usually a status symbol. when you change yr house you just might be altering yr status too. I mean, you sell your house to buy a block of land and you might become merely a ‘blockie’ and the locals will not want to know you. even if you do drive a subaru!

    my goodness. isn’t decison-making hard? how risky life can be!


    You’re way off with the context in which this question was generated, Hermit, but I like what you had to say.

    I try not to be too cryptic in how I write. The premise of my question really was pitting the notion of renting against home ownership and how they are disproportionately revered in the context of loss. We will happily pay $200k for a rental and then walk away from it after several years. To do the same with a house that we ‘own’ would be devastating. The subtext – which was a bit more fuzzy, I suppose – was the ambivalence I am experiencing over just throwing it all in, buying a bush block and squatting on it, with the fear in the back of my mind that someday the council could come along and ask me to knock down my ‘house’; or being more meticulous, dotting my I’s, keeping my nose clean, so I would never have to experience loss.


    In short No, I could not. We worked too long and hard to get here and so much time, effort and love has gone into making our house and land the lovely place it is.

    We have a bushfire survival plan and it includes staying and fighting (and being VERY, VERY prepared).


    Good for you and your commitment, GirlFriday.

    One side of me thinks like you – a house is an expression. However, I realise this position is flawed for I make expressions in the rental I live in now – and all the other ones – and didn’t really feel saddened to leave them. As for money – likewise the rentals. I pay $16k a year where I live. That’s a lot of money. Much more money than I intend to spend on my tiny house.

    The other side is very much I could walk away as it is just a house – nothing is permanent.

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