This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
There was this thing in the last place I lived: when we moved in, the light above the hob was out. So we prised it out and googled it, and it turned out the lightbulb would be, like, £8 to replace, plus P+P, or something absurd like that, and the bulb itself was guaranteed for ten years, but we were only on a one-year contract, so we just… didn’t replace it, because it didn’t feel like our problem enough. Did we tell the landlord it needed replacing? No: it felt so fundamentally banal and insignificant that we never raised the idea of it to them. So the light went unfixed, and we chopped and fried and sizzled in the gloomy half-darkness, and after exactly one year we moved out and now it’s somebody else’s problem. Would I be more house-proud, I wonder, if it was my own hob the light was out above? Would I care more about illuminating my chopping board then? Or would I continue to pay almost half my salary per calendar month for a flat that isn’t actually good enough for the job at hand?
A lot of dark ancient feelings I had about The Light Above The Hob (I’m sorry: I thought about it a lot at the time and then I forgot about it, and now I’m having the emotions again) (that fucking light!) have come to the surface recently because I moved house, again, and it is statistically likely you have done so recently too. Aren’t we ever, all of us, moving?
It is, more than ever, our generation’s curse: that we, under siege by a legion of landlords forged in the dark fires of the buy-to-let mortgage boom, live in half-good flats for a year then move again, either because one of our flatmates has Got Really Serious With His Girlfriend and they have decided to move in together, or because the landlord has drastically yanked the rent up under no provocation at all, or just because… because this area is shit, actually, and moving is preferable to staying. What I am saying is that we are a very transient generation, as a whole. No other generation like us, before or since, will have quite so many separate addresses saved in our Amazon Address Book:
[AN IMAGE OF MY AMAZON ADDRESS BOOK, I.E. HELL]
Anyway: moving, emotions, dust swirling, boxes, vans, the new bus routes to learn, the et cetera. Let’s just haul the sofa of "content" up the two flights of stairs that make up "a fun list", shall we?
A FUN LIST™ ABOUT MOVING HOUSE, THE CONSTANT AGONY WE ALL SHARE:
THAT BIT WHERE YOU HAVE TO MAKE TIRED SMALLTALK WITH YOUR HOUSEMATE’S FAMILY WHO ARE HELPING THEM MOVE
You’re living with someone else, is the assumption here. Unless you are a literal King or a Lotto winner, you have a flatmate – minimum one, maximum 12 (it’s fair to say VICE articles are written by London-based journalists with a firm London-based stance, but this goes for the north, too, alright; none of you fuckers live on your own, even if the pints are cheaper and every taxi fare is like £3). You live with a housemate, and that means their family is helping them move. A large long boy in a T-shirt called "Matt". Their dad is somehow using three phones at once in your new kitchen. Their mum is unpacking their stuff and, weirdly, your stuff too. Don’t go in that toiletry bag, house-mum. You won’t like what’s in there. And there you are, nipping in around and through them, slowly trying to accustom yourself to this new space with its new light and smell and feel, and there they all are, clattering about, having a loud inter-family conversation in the front room, plugging a kettle in and having a big family cup of tea. Someone’s mum promises to come over every two weeks to "tidy for you all". Someone's dad leans against your door jamb and asks you what you do for a living while you’re trying to pick what drawer will house all your underwear. Hell on earth.
PACKING UP YOUR EMOTIONS
Packing up every single item you’ve ever bought and now own is good, isn’t it, because firstly it makes you consider what you are spending all your money on (for some reason I have laser-like powers of recollection when it comes to where I bought an item and how much I paid for it, and so whenever I am packing I am basically spending 20 percent of the time lifting up £6 candles and £18 lamps and a £60 (!) quilt (!!!) and wondering if any of the money I have spent in my life, ever, has been worth it) (no.), and also digging up old items that you put in a drawer mindlessly a few months back, and now you have dug up again, juddering emotions and all, and now you are sat on the corner of your bed holding a toy horse you bought on a day out to a city farm with someone you almost had a thing with five shags ago, and now you haven’t really moved for 45 minutes because you’ve been too busy having emotions. Good! Moving is good!
GIVING UP AND JUST FUCK OFF JUST FUCK IT ALL OFF AND PUTTING EVERYTHING YOU OWN IN BIN-BAGS
I’ve moved three times in one calendar year now, so I have learned the age-old lesson of: the more time you spend packing at one end, the less agonising unpacking is at the other end. This is a simple energy transfer equation: time spend being careful = less time going through a box with books, and also bedding, and also for some reason a colander in it (you own three colanders, a fact you now know about yourself) looking for your forks so you can eat takeaway tonight.
Does that mean the last time I moved I didn’t, with the moving van idling outside, stuff three bin-bags' worth of belongings into refuse sacks and toss them in the van to be unceremoniously unloaded at the other end? It does not.
ALSO THE THING WITH DRAWERS
If you have a drawer full of things, the way I see it, you have two options: carefully go through the drawer and sort out everything you want to keep and not keep, and throw them or pack them away accordingly; or: just pull the drawer out of whatever surrounding furniture it is built into and waddle it up and down some stairs like you’re a large, low crab. You’re going to do the crab walk, aren’t you? You pathetic cretin.
AM I FUCK MOVING HALF A BAG OF RICE WITH ME
Something about moving or the imminent threat thereof seems to frazzle and fry the human brain so that when it (the brain) goes through kitchen cupboards about to pack them up, it instead tells itself (the brain) that all of the half-eaten food and store cupboard essentials here are worthless, and so throws them in the bin.
Me, seconds before I last moved house: "Half a squeezy tube of honey? Absolutely fuck off." Me: "Lentils? Lentils can suck my dick." Me: "I will throw these half bags of rice-ends out grain by grain if I have to." Also me, after moving into my new place and having to go to the supermarket immediately after to buy food, and then realising I have to stock up every vinegar, and oil, and store cupboard essential, and various types of salt, and that these things cost money: “[gentle sound of weeping]”
GOD YOU TRULY ARE A DISGUSTING PIG
If you want a fun treat to do when you get home tonight, try moving your bed a few feet away from where it currently is, and behold the vile grey-purple dust that has accrued beneath it since you last moved in. That’s you, that is. All those little flakes of you, all that crumbling skin, collecting beneath your bed, brewing. A discarded sock, thick with your own excess. A long desiccated condom. An old cereal bowl. All of the world’s hair. A magazine you thought you'd lost, with the cover all torn up and crumpled. A weird grey line along the wall where, imperceptibly, your head has rubbed as you sleep, greasing it up.
Clear your entire flat out and you see all the marks of where you’ve been: the grey rims around each light switch, the soupy layer over the bathroom floor, the filthy windows, the Marmite stain that seems to live inside every cupboard. And then you have to come and deep clean the whole place for hours anyway, still panting and exhausted and covered in dust from a whole day spent moving, only for your landlord to snatch your whole deposit up because "you forgot to hoover the skirting boards" or some nonsense shit like that. To live is to be dirt. Know this.
AH GOOD, A CHARGER FOR SOMETHING I BARELY RECOGNISE
Every time I move I find a rat king of discarded charger cables somewhere and think about unknotting it and detangling it and labelling each one, but then more often go "you have managed to exist for a year without the use of any of these cords – throw them all in the bin". And, like clockwork, I turn up at my new place and try to plug a radio–alarm in, and am then unable to find the cable for it. Fuck electricity. Absolutely sick of it.
WHY DO YOU HAVE ALL THESE THINGS????
If you don’t throw out three bin-bags' worth of shit while packing, and two additional bin-bags full of shit when you’re unpacking, then frankly you are doing moving wrong, and that same logic also applies to your life and all the shit you do actually end up keeping, i.e. some specific examples from my recent move: old art sketchbooks I haven’t looked in for 6+ years? An entire folder of Pokémon cards with my childhood address written in neat handwriting on the inside cover? A mug of loose change that I taped closed so I could move it, three entire moves ago, and that I still have not taken to Coinstar to have converted into money I can spend. Why do I have this shit? Why do I have so much shit? (*1)
CURBING THE WHEELS OF YOUR ZIPVAN ON SOMETHING AND OH GOOD NOW YOU’RE DOWN £150
I used to pay a really hench dude to move me and my stuff across London, but eventually he got a bit bored of moving me – "You, again?" he said once, and from there I knew it was over – and so since then I have convinced a series of friends who have driving licences to hire a van and spend a day moving my shit around, with and for me. Pretty much every time it ends up with someone curbing a hubcap, or scraping down a side street, or flying through a red, or reversing over a moped, and with us having to pay Zipvan double what the initial quote was just to fix the problem. This happens to you, too. It happens to everyone. I’ve examined the business model and it’s the only way Zipcar can possibly make money. They want us to fuck up. It is financially pertinent to them.
THE SOUR, VILE FEELING OF PAYING A LETTING AGENT OR LANDLORD MONEY, AT ALL
I know this is a simple one, but there very truly is a blood-bitter taste in the mouth when you have to pay someone a fee for the privilege of paying them money every month to rent a flat off them. There’s £150 to check your references, for example, or an additional £150 for contracts and keys. We had to pay a fee, prised against our eventual deposit, to secure the flat we’d made an offer on so the estate agents would take the rental ad off the market.
I was down about £400 before the first "Right, so if you could send your first month's rent and an additional month's rent as deposit NO LATER THAN 6PM TONITE THANK U" email hit my inbox, and weeks before the three extremely boring and expensive Amazon Prime orders I had to make for dull essentials like "a new power strip". I've already spent all of my fun money this month on hand towels, bowls and Command hooks! People best come to my flat and bring beer over because I’m literally never leaving it again! I have to wring every second out of this fucking place to get my money’s worth!
GOD, NOTHING IS *RIGHT*
Ah, that mattress you bought because a podcast told you to just doesn’t quite fit on this new bed frame you’ve inherited, and the top drawer of these drawers that you don’t even want but the landlord won’t move even though you emailed him twice won’t open unless you pull it really hard and then the whole drawer comes out, at once, and some dip-shit installed a kitchen cupboard so it opens directly onto the hob hood (with! the! light! in! it!) so you can only really open the door halfway anyway, and the radiator is on the exact wrong side of your room so, for your bed to be by the window like you want it, you have to have the radiator behind your wardrobe, just making that hot instead of your room, and your curtain rail for some reason has been installed psychotically and so doesn’t actually cover the top three inches of your window, and there are no shelves in this room so you can’t actually put anything up, and it’s not like you can put a shelf up yourself, can you, they’ll never let you do that, don’t be mad, so you just sort of live here for a bit, never daring to put a nail in the wall or, like, paint, or anything like that.
Like, the best you can really do to make it your own is to buy three cushions, one plant and a single framed print, maybe some fairy lights and maybe not, and the boiler will break once a year at least and the extractor fan in your bathroom screams like a scalded witch, and also there are those ominous grey specks of damp behind the radiator in the hallway that were there when you moved in but are only going to spread, and grow, and you’ll be blamed for it and the money to fix it will be snatched out of your deposit, but it’ll never actually be fixed, will it – and anyway, you pay half of your money, minimum, every month for this place that isn’t your own and is feeling less and less like yours by the second, and you’ll never actually buy a place permanently anyway, unless there is some baffling windfall that comes your way, and so this is sort of it, I guess, forever.
Just have to hope that you luck into a good rental situation at some point (?), maybe (?) – where the landlord doesn’t hoik the rent every year without fail – so you can actually start to put a bit of a base down, maybe get that dog you want. It’s tricky, isn’t it, feeling essentially like a stranger in what is nominally your own home. Anyway, happy housewarming, mate – I've bought you a £6 bottle of wine you won’t drink, and we’ll do this all again in exactly one calendar year, yes?
*1) A quick sidebar about shit: I think there’s definitely a working theory about vile millennials that says they cannot truly afford to be nostalgic in the same way as generations that came before them, because it truly does not make sense to store old photo albums or love letters or fat wads of birthday cards or useless items of family sentimentality, because: i. our flats, temporarily rented from landlords, are not big enough for that shit (our new flat, for instance, does not have a single cupboard in it where I might put a hoover, let alone photos of me as a large tubby child); and ii. moving all that stuff around, constantly, is a false economy in and of itself.
I’ll concede that, because we have The Cloud, we don’t really need old thumbprint-smudged photographs of ourselves taken with a disposable camera. But I do think we are losing the "nostalgia of things", a feeling of sentimentality that can only be anchored to an object, because of the oppressive forces around us, and that maybe that is a bad thing. I don’t know! It’s a working theory. I don’t know!