|The carpet in question|
Quirky, retro carpet (as one of our supercool friends does)? Or, an awful, decaying, unhygienic mess (as I do)?
There are few objects in my home that have caused me as much irritation as this specimen.
Some people aren't cat people, and well, I dislike living with carpet. (Or vacuuming.) It seems so unhygienic, especially with younger children, and inferior to the humble floorboard, varnished or bare.
Of course, this is a trivial concern. A bonafide first world problem. I know this, and yet it has niggled me for months, now well over a year.
Part of this is because this old carpet is less than pleasant to live with. Its condition varies throughout, showing where others have walked their daily routines, paced in front of the heater, and let a cat sharpen her claws in a corner (who does that?).
Ordinarily, wear adds a romantic layer of character other materials, like stone - the worn stone steps of the State Library, for instance, make me think of all the others who've trod them.
But this carpet just leads me to thoughts of decay, layers of dust mites, and people slopping around at home. And worrying about dirt and disease just eats into my time, and risks turning me into a kind of BrandPower woman, treating steam cleaning, vacuuming and carpet products with disproportionate seriousness.
Another problem is simply that it's also an unfamiliar palette and style - 50s stylised roses are not something I'm drawn to. (I know others have worse colours and prints to deal with - at least it isn't mustard or bright blue.) When we first moved in, all our old things sat oddly alien atop of it. It looked like a temporary sharehouse, not the family home where we would, most likely, spend a few years: writing and reading, cooking, planting tomatoes, doing cut and paste, and hours playing and packing up lego. Making our familiar objects work here has meant diligently editing our things in a way we haven't had to before. (The work's paid off, though, I should add.)
If we owned, we'd rip it up, problem solved. But as a rental, we're stuck with it. And being stuck with it is probably the most irritating thing of all. My frustration with the carpet has never just been about unattractive floor coverings, but about being somehow stuck by the decisions we've made to live more simply, and the fears this brings.
While I've commented on the value of living the simple life before, I admit that the spectre of material success still haunts me. The carpet is the obvious reminder of the price paid for living a slightly different life, lower on financial rewards and higher on time and choice - it's that tangible material marker of what it means to take a rather small step away from conventional life, with its solid career paths and mortgages.
Confronting the carpet on a daily basis has been a prolonged process in letting go of the symbols of material success and the conventional life that goes with it.
I can't say I've completely resolved these fears, worries and questions. And this is a good, healthy thing: to keep questioning. In this respect, the carpet has proven a surprisingly robust adversary, prompting questions, stopping me from lazily floating, and sharpening my ideas of what's crucial to live well.
Right now, on a sunny day, with time to write, draw, stroll and hang out with my sick kids, the answer to the carpet question is a surprisingly easy one: I don't have to love it to value the kind of life it makes possible.