The Meaning of Home
Earlier this spring, we became homeowners for the first time. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself because I still can’t believe that it is real. Home ownership means a lot to me and marks a major milestone: the end of my nomadic lifestyle. Up until this year, I was used to move frequently. Unlike other kids, I never had a childhood home to come back to (my parents are also globetrotters) nor a space to store sentimental objects. I had to rely on luggages and temporary storage from family and friends – thanks Dad and Pauline for your help during my various transitions. Home was where my family or my career was.
Always on the go
Moving became so natural to me that I never bothered to fully settle in and I didn’t allow myself to get too comfortable either. Things are inconvenient and the less inconvenient things I carried with me, the more flexible I was. My approach has always been to remain open to new adventures. Through each transition, I repeated the same routine: do the paperwork, find a neighborhood, sign the rental contract, buy furniture at Ikea (or lease it), install the basics but don’t decorate or invest too much. Seize a new opportunity then, discard and donate unneeded things, pack and go. Repeat.
I personally find it exciting to discover new places. Getting a fresh start every 3-4 years was exhilarating because I could reset my life. On the flipside, it required a lot of efforts and patience to build and maintain relationships in all corners of the world. When you are the one leaving, you always have to make extra efforts. Unless you cultivate your relationships, people forget about you and some relationships eventually slowly dissolve.
But this move was different. I am finally settling down after years of traveling and I am committing... well, sort of! I no longer have an excuse to avoid hanging art on my walls and I can focus on integrating myself into the community.
Home is where the heart is
I always wondered where I would settle down and quite frankly, I never imagined that it would be in the Netherlands. Deep down, I always knew that France wouldn’t be "it" because the Parisian lifestyle doesn’t suit me. I do appreciate provincial life but the job market for my industry is smaller outside of the capital. Canada was a strong candidate; I love this country and it feels like home to me but the winters are long and harsh, and I couldn't imagine myself, as an old lady, facing the arctic cold and struggling with black ice.
When I arrived in the Netherlands, I recall telling my Dad that I could see myself living here for a while. The quality of life is good, asides from the maritime climate and the lack of sun. Everything is easy, structured and organized. People are simple, honest and laidback, and everybody speaks English. Meeting my partner was also a key factor in my decision. Time is so precious that it shouldn’t be spent being apart, and for me, this means compromising on a country where we could both live and have a career. My intuition told me to stay here in the Netherlands, at least for now.
One of my dreams was to become a homeowner by age 30 regardless of my romantic situation, and somehow, the Universe made it happen. We were struck by luck when an opportunity showed up last summer. B’s colleague moved abroad and put her home for sale. We had a tour in September, closed the deal in October, signed our mortgage loan in January and moved in April. The purchasing process was relatively quick but making it happen also implied sacrifices. In the last two years, saving for a home was my financial priority. The hardest thing to do was to cut back on fancy trips but it was worth it. This exercise has taught me the importance of focus and patience. Although I enjoy traveling and moving, I am an introverted homebody so feeling good at home everyday is important to me.
Throughout my life, I have lived in all sorts of places, from comfortable expat neighborhoods to social multicultural areas. These experiences have taught me the value of a roof and security, and make me appreciate even more my blessings. When we are born and raised in Western countries, we sometimes forget how fortunate we are.
Our previous apartment was located in a neighborhood of the Hague called the Schilderswijk, which doesn’t resemble the Dutch cliché of elegant canal houses. It is a popular area with social housing and multicultural communities. It is very animated by Turkish cafes and shops, wedding parties, colonies of pigeons (people were feeding them although it was forbidden), occasional disputes in the street and frequent police patrols. The Dutch consider it unsafe – it was once the most dangerous spot in the country, but I find it relatively safe and clean compared to my French benchmark - which I’ve also experienced and trust me, it is not pleasant. However, I won’t lie to you: we were eager to leave this area.
Our successor is a single mother with two kids and they previously lived in a shelter. Realizing that they didn’t have a home or privacy of their own rapidly humbled me. It was a good reminder that we all have to start somewhere. And whilst we appreciate our new apartment, I am thankful for our previous home. Asides from the occasional nuisance, there were positive aspects to it: nice neighbors, cultural diversity, tropical music on Saturdays – which I love, kids playing football in the streets, proximity to the the city center and affordable rent. Most importantly, it was the first roof I shared with my boyfriend. It might not have been a picture perfect home but it was a home of love. And I now know that wherever life may bring us, we will always be able to make any roof feel like home, even the less attractive ones.
Today, we are the proud owners of a cozy boven woning (apartment on top floor) in a quiet neighborhood where stores close on weekdays at 6p.m. and on Sundays (I still need to adjust to that). It is a residential area with trees, pets and children - your stereotypical suburban life. We are excited to cherish and invest in this nest. Weirdly, I feel like I am living an ‘upgraded life’. I am growing up and grounding myself, in good company.
So it is with a open mind and a full heart that I gratefully say goodbye to my nomadic life. The previous owners spent 11 happy years in this house and told us it had good karma. I hope that this karma will fade on us too but I have a feeling that it already did... and I look forward to many joyful moments in this home!