Lease on life

The breadwinners in my household, my husband and I, have both had career trajectories that have looped around and meandered, rather than climbed steadily up. I write, he draws. They are the things we can do. Both of our professional lives have been built on these skills, or exploited them, depending on how you look at it.

Accordingly, as ‘creatives’ we are not swimming in cash. We are not hard up, either. We are somewhere in that no-man’s land that is the domain of many Australians today, comfortable but not flush. We do not use hundred dollar bills to make ornamental origami swans, but nor do we drive five kilometres out of our way to get fuel for 4 cents a litre cheaper than our local servo. That might speak more to our laziness and lack of interest in petrol prices than our financial state, though.

People in Australia can be very coy about money. We speak of it in hushed tones, ever genteel and discreet. Nevertheless, there’s a tricky financial ~situation~ that more and more of us find ourselves in, that actually warrants shouting about, because it has complex and widespread implications: We can’t buy homes for ourselves and our families. We’re long-term renters, and sacrificing any café breakfasts of smashed avo won’t make a difference - buying property is out of reach by a far greater margin than that.

There are other countries where renting is less significant, where ten or twenty-year leases are the norm and less emphasis is placed on home ownership. This urge we have in Australia - to claim a piece of land and plant a flag in it, like dogs weeing on trees to mark their territory, has been overcome. I’d welcome something similar here, and I’d happily rent for as many years as they’d have me if I could be guaranteed a longer tenure.

There are many upsides to renting. We have lived in some lovely homes, we’re not responsible for council rates or maintenance on them, and we can leave quite unceremoniously if a house no longer suits us. There are also downsides that are commonly known, like not being able to put in picture hooks or have pets in some places, having to beg for basic repairs to be made and paying many thousands of dollars out to someone else with no material gain for us whatsoever. But, there’s another downside to renting that’s been brought home, so to speak, especially clearly to us in the last couple of weeks: renting means you don’t get to control your own physical destiny.

For the past eleven years, we’ve moved every two years or so. Some of those times were our decision, like moving to a different country or city or suburb, for whatever reason. But this time, we are going to have to move because the people who own our house want to live in it. That is their right. They are very lovely people. Part of me is happy for them that they get to start a new chapter as a family in this little tropical oasis, the treehouse in the hills. But, another part of me is sad and frustrated and tired of moving, dreading the upheaval for my child and longing for a place to put down roots, for a home of our own to hold us in a comfortable and comforting embrace when we come back to it at night, a home that holds the continuing history of our little family, a home that is our shared language and our collective nest and the backbone of our family body.

The shitty thing about renting is not that you don’t own a home. For much of the time, that matters very little. The shitty thing about renting is having to leave the home you love before you’re ready.

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