Digital spring cleaning can be revealing.
Going through old bookmarks reveals my preoccupations whilst in my twenties. It’s a time now behind me, so it’s fun to look back at what it shows with my worldly, more wrinkly eyes.
A decade of aspiration
During my twenties I went from broke student to working home owner. Rather than hedonism and freedom, I aspired to an image of domesticity.
I had a strong desire to create the perfect home, spending my free time browsing sofa, bed and curtain websites. I wonder if that desire came from the rootlessness of university. You spend years sharing houses with smelly fridges, mouldy showers and damp bedrooms. It’s hardly surprising then that the idea of a fresh, clean and private home is like nectar from the gods.
I was keen to achieve high standards in my home too. I did cookery courses, and even got into making bread by hand. Accumulating a shelf full of cook books, I visited cooking, and bread related websites. One still going is the fabulous Smitten Kitchen. I dreamed of being the type of person who went to and gave dinner parties. Maybe that’s what I thought adulting was.
I was also very career focused in my twenties. I approached work in a similar way to my studies a few years before, assuming it would be a predictable series of tests and rewards. It wasn’t that simple.
When I started learning about User Experience, I bookmarked many websites. I set myself on a career path. I followed designers who wrote about their work such as Sarah Parmenter, for inspiration. I joined communities like London IA and tech meetups, attending events and trying to find courage to speak to people.
People with a greater technical skill set were fascinating to me – how had they got to where they were? Could I ever get there?
Taking a second degree seemed a logical step and I took it on alongside my job. Going back into a university at the age of around 26, I felt ancient amongst teenagers. I had to relearn how to write academic essays, source papers and reference them.
The way academia approached a topic was the exact opposite to the way I was learning to approach it in business.
The degree focused on poring over research, reading different arguments and coming to a well-reasoned view. At work I had to come up with solutions faster, often feeling that I wanted more time to consider before speaking. I learned to switch from one mode to the other, producing a huge amount of work.
Turning the key in the door of your first home is a wonderful moment, but my expectations as a twenty-something didn’t quite match the reality.
I had seen the filtered version of domestic bliss, but not the maintenance behind it.
The big mortgage, ceiling cracks and leaking roof were news.
I hadn’t factored in trying to work out who does what chores in a relationship.
I didn’t imagine I’d be taking out the bins in my pyjamas, panicking because the council only collected once a fortnight.
I hadn’t realised how annoying it can be to keep a lawn mown.
I can’t help but feel twenty-somethings are still fed a domestic lie. The Instagram account MrsHinchhome has 1.5 million followers. It’s photos of a very grey home with tips on how to clean it.
Do we assume that an ordered house means a happy person? That the marriage and baby narrative so often attached to it is still our best option? Are we still so conventional in our aspirations?
My idea of home has shifted.
Having a roof over your head is essential. I still appreciate and understand the thought that goes into decor and hospitality. But I’ve downsized a lot and I value experiences.
I now prioritise shorter commutes over space. I want to talk to my friends when they visit so I will happily order pizza rather than attempting to serve courses of fine dining. I enjoy not having to mow a lawn.
Working and studying gave me a new appreciation for each, but left me with little time for socialising. I started to see that I needed to invest in friendships. They don’t happen without effort once you leave environments like school and university.
A good job can make it feel like you’ve arrived, but it can take over your life. Be prepared to let go and move on. It’s also important to pursue interests, even if they make you no money at all.
Travel, adventure and self-sufficiency were what I found next.