It's springtime, the season of rebirth and restlessness. A time for moving furniture around and cleaning out eavestroughs while contemplating a bold new colour treatment for the living room – or as my parents might say, "repainting."
In my youth, this was the time of year I'd torture myself with fashion magazines. I'd stare at a picture of Giselle's oiled up haunches draped in a leather-tassled bikini and think, "If I were a better person, that would be me." I wasn't actually silly enough to believe it was possible, but I did spend an inordinate amount of time silently self-immolating while pretending I was actually just really, really interested in clothes.
In my 30s, I discovered clothes are boring. What I'm actually interested in, it turns out, is "home design" – a notion that took hold after I bought my first house and has only grown and spread, a bit like a particularly hardy perennial ground cover, in the years since.
This time of year, all the big interior-design magazines – Elle Decoration, Dwell, House & Garden, The World of Interiors – come out with their "spring design specials," pages and pages of emphatic, anxiety-inducing rules such as "NEVER wallpaper anything less than a whole room – feature walls are outdated." And "DON'T be afraid of houseplants." And "DO evoke the feel of a centuries-old Italian palazzo with this rough-luxe colour wash that will only cost you $8,000 and destroy all peace in your marriage."
Sifting through this collection of glossy porn, usually while sitting on a juice-stained sofa, I am filled with the same mixture of excitement, shame and gnawing covetousness that I used to feel looking at models in designer clothes. I'll decide on doing a chalkboard wall in the kitchen, then fast-forward 30 or 40 years into a fantasy where my son James is being interviewed by Oprah. "My mother created such a magical home for me as a child," he says as Oprah nods. "I really owe this Nobel Peace Prize to her."
I suppose you could say my house complex has become my new body complex. In a way that's true for my entire generation as we careen anxiously into early middle age. While houses and apartments used to be simple roofs over our heads, now they are "personal canvases" on which we are all urged to make our mark with pops of colour and artisanal lightbulbs and poured concrete floors. Our bodies might be our temples, but our homes are our truest outward selves.
Economists say that in the 12 months ending in June 2014, Canadians spent $48.4-billion on home renovations. That's $2.1-billion more than we invested in new home construction across the country. As the population ages, we are staying put and nesting, by which I mean tearing our homes apart and starting all over again in order to cultivate our domestic heart's desire.
Where does it come from, this yearning to endlessly change and improve the spaces in which we live? While the urge might be primal, as a consumer trend it's a relatively new phenomenon.
When I was growing up in the 1980s, "interior design" was something that pretentious rich people in soap operas did. Occasionally, normal people spruced up their homes, but few outside of Park Avenue socialites or Liberace bothered with developing a genuine aesthetic. Over time this has changed. Now it's normal even for peripatetic twentysomethings to have very specific and well-thought-out taste. I can divide my thirty- and fortysomething friends into minimalists, industrialists, mid-century modernists or heritage-loving eclectics. Personal home style is now more important as a social indicator than how you cut your hair or what car you drive.
As our taste in home design has become more refined, our ability to afford the dream has diminished because of the real estate boom. IKEA has done what it can to bridge this expectations gap, but it can't turn my modest Victorian row house into a 5,000-square-foot converted factory loft in Copenhagen. And most of the time, I'm okay with that.
For most middle-class families living in Western cities, finding – let alone renovating – a suitable family home is no simple feat. I have many similar-aged friends who have moved in recent years, either to less expensive rural communities, smaller cities or even different countries, just to attain the kind of bricks and mortar they longed for. If geography (or "location" as they say in real estate) is destiny, it's a big gamble to sacrifice place for space. But a lot of people are doing it, and who can blame them?
The older I get, the less I feel attached to material objects. The one notable exception is our home. When my husband and I bought it, after a search that felt less like a house hunt than a nightmarish quest out of a fantasy movie complete with gut-churning bidding wars and evil super-agents, I thought I would feel safe forever. As the American essayist Meghan Daum once wrote, "There is no object of desire quite like a house. Few things in this world are capable of eliciting such urgent, even painful, yearning."
Once I had my house, my life was perfect – so what did I do? I started to redecorate, of course. It's springtime, the season of rebirth and restlessness.