Occasionally I have to travel with my job and stay overnight in a hotel. Never fancy (and rightly so, I’m not on holiday!) the hotels are always clean, safe, centrally located and very, very anonymous. The kind of hotel where you could be anywhere. This anonymity extends to the bedrooms, which have usually got very little to tell you where in the country you are and instead focus your attention on the giant bed, small kettle and free wifi.
And I love it.
My own life is chaotic, filled with people, meetings, events, obligations, projects and people. I barely know what I’m doing from one day to the next. My house reflects that too. It’s really small and filled to the rafters with stuff. I’m often on the hunt for something that I put somewhere ‘really safe’ that has immediately gone missing and the clutter makes it an absolute haven for dust, which I never feel in the mood to deal with. As I sit here, in my bed, I can see a giant pile of laundry, a gift that needs wrapping, a stack of old magazines that I need to recycle, a pile of boxed chocolate eggs left over from Easter, a discarded trail of toys and my husband’s new road bike, which has been leaning against our bedroom wall since it arrived because he’s been waiting for cleats. I’m sure you can begin to see why that anonymous hotel room looks like a blessed retreat.
But for one night every few months, I get to stay in complete calm with only a handful of routinely organised possessions. Clothes on hangers, toiletries lined up as though a row of soldiers in the bathroom, and a book by my bed. Nothing else. It is heaven, even though either side of this hotel stay will have been back-to-back meetings; the reason I’m away in the first place. (As an aside, packing to go away overnight always makes me feel like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. Remember, she had that skull-print vanity case? I love that film…)
Coming home, I almost feel refreshed, yet there is nothing like staying in a hotel to make me see my own house in a new light. It is small and cluttered. We do need to do some work to it, and I really, really need to deal with my magazine buying habit, because there are high-rise piles of them all over the place, like some kind of paper city.
However, the main reason our house is cluttered is also the main reason I could never stay in a hotel for more than one night at a time. My children. They have a lot of stuff. From the contents of Christmas crackers to the free gifts on the covers of Cbeebies magazine, my daughter has amassed a remarkable assortment of small plastic bits of rubbish and my son is intent on filling the house with Thomas the Tank Engine toys. Not to mention the amounts of laundry they generate, food they drop everywhere and the art gallery’s worth of paintings adorning the kitchen wall. They’re a pair of professional mess-makers!
When I came home from work yesterday after my overnight stay away, my lovely son ran up to me in his t-shirt and pants (we’re potty training) and one sock, shouting ‘Mummy!’ and gave me a giant cuddle. After which he demanded ice cream and wandered off to play. At bed time, my wonderful daughter and I spent a long time talking about ‘nice things’ while I stroked her hair, before she went off to sleep.
I think perhaps I like the occasional hotel stay precisely because it is so different to my usual life. It offers a glimpse into what life might be like if I’d made different choices, reined in some of my own clutter creating tendencies, or not had my children. I get to lie on the bed and not see lot of stuff littering the room, or even go to the bathroom without someone hammering on the door! Not that I’m saying I’d be decorating my home like a hotel chain, but it is a more simplistic and organised feeling. But the truth is, that after one night of it, I would be bored. I’d miss my family too much and I’d miss my clutter!
Some of the clutter exists because of our projects, plans, hopes and dreams. It’s not all just old supermarket receipts and things that haven’t quite made it to the bin. Some of it is more important. It’s paintings the children did that will be framed and put on the wall. It’s travel brochures for places I long to visit. It’s my husband’s new bike that he will ride every Sunday morning, for his own version of freedom. It is our life.
A hotel room may be calm and tidy. But it is not a home…