What Have You Learnt from the Places You Have Lived


I’ve lived in six different places that I can remember. That number might seem high to some and low to others. And even though I had a strong resistance to any more moving as a teenager and sometimes suffer a bit of a nostalgic longing for the old places, I actually hope there are a lot more places I’ll live as an adult. Not because I am unhappy where I live now, or because I’m a restless person. But because I’ve learnt so many different things from the places I’ve lived and I hope to learn a lot more.

The first place I remember living was a ground floor flat on a compound in Pakistan. I learnt a lot of things there that have shaped who I see myself as a person today. I learnt that in a hot climate you don’t want to live in an upstairs flat. I learnt to appreciate drinking water, which has set me in good stead for my water drinking habits in the rest of my life. I learnt that in hot weather you can be comfortably sustained on salads and mangoes, and to eat my oats cold and raw rather than as porridge. I learnt that if you have chubby cheeks then they beg to pinched hard.  I learnt that most Middle Eastern languages don’t have a hard ‘a’ sound and it still grates on me when ever I hear anyone say Pakistan like ‘pack is tan’. I learnt to love samosas and jalebis, and to know what’s in most curries by what they’re named. And while my appreciation for hot spice didn’t come until later I’m sure this is where it was first planted. I also learnt how to sleep in any moving transportation and cope with long airport waits.

The next place I lived was a house in a Sydney suburb near Ryde. It was an older house that had most likely been built in the 1920s. There I learnt that a set of stairs and a sleeping bag can make a great slide. If you leave your shoes in the backyard with a labrador they won’t be wearable the next time you see them. That a portly black labrador will knock a small girl over by running into her and trample her all in the name of fun, and that if you stand next to the fence you’re safe from such attacks. I learnt that cats can vault over 2 metres upward in the name of scaring birds. I learnt to love the smell of jasmine, the look of wisteria and how to love walking through the neighbourhood. I learnt that old houses have some odd quirks, like faucets in the shape of animal heads, fireplaces that have electric heaters built into them, raised concrete ramps so you can work on your own car, secret workshops under the house and doors to nowhere.

While we lived there my parents had a house built on a new block in the Hills District. Before we moved there I learnt to love looking at show homes and imagining different ways of living. I learnt that you needed to beat your sister to the best non-main bedroom in order to claim it in case your parents chose that house. I learnt that building times never go as planned. While we moved in I learnt that locking a cat in the bathroom without her kitty litter is a great way to stress your mother out. That “we moved recently and I can’t find it” is an effective excuse for forgetting to bring things you need to school. I learnt that old sheets make effective blinds while you save up for the window dressings you want. I learnt that a house with high ceilings is much cooler in summer. I learnt the joy of having spare blocks to play on and the sorrow of when they’re finally built on. I learnt to sleep through constant traffic noise as mine was the bedroom that faced the main road behind us; now I find it difficult to sleep with out some noise.

After that, I temporarily moved into a college dormitory. Here I learnt that if you pick a room mate well it’s very easy to live with one, especially if she makes your bed when you forget, without complaining. That the showers are a great place to discuss essays and literature. That changing a toilet roll is a task beyond most people. That leaving your door open may invite in new friendships, but also unwanted smells from people less cleanly than you.

From there I moved into my sister’s house in Albury. During that winter I learnt for the first time what proper might-freeze-to-death-without-the-heating cold was. I learnt the importance of natural fibres and layering, not the kind of layering where you wear a jacket and then take it off when it warms up later in the day, more like, wear stockings under your jeans if you’re leaving the house kind of layering. That if you want to be warm you have to start with your feet, and ballet flats are not an effective way to stay warm; you need boots, over wool socks. And that putting the toes of your socks in your armpits is a great way of warming them up before you put them on. That timed central heaters are essential to getting you out of bed in the mornings. How to most quickly get out of your tracksuit and into the heated outdoor pool when it’s 8 degrees. I also learnt that regional centres are excellent places to see comedians. That the best Indian restaurants are in what large city dwellers might consider the most unlikely of places. That living walking distance from a CBD can be seriously awesome, and a stroll down the main street can be both relaxing and interesting. I also learnt that in the country nothing can be purchased without a five minute conversation, and some people consider a closing time of 7pm to be late night shopping. Also, living with your sister has all the benefits of a housemate with none of the downsides.

After that I moved back in with my parents into a different house in the Hills District in Sydney. This was my Grandma’s house, she’d lived here with her mother for a few years, then she had a stroke and my parents moved in with her. Here I learnt that moving into a house already filled with someone else’s stuff is a recipe for a severe clutter problem that will last for many years. I learnt how to cope with having lots of strangers traipse through your house. I’ve learnt that sometimes when you come home you have to introduce yourself with “Hi, I’m Joan’s Granddaughter, don’t be concerned, I live here, that’s why I have keys.” I’ve learnt how to best move through the house unseen when I don’t feel like chatting. I’ve also learnt that this house carries noise very well and if you want to have a private conversation about someone else in the house you’d better whisper. I’ve learnt how useless air-conditioning is if the house is poorly insulated. And that you never know how big a house actually is until you have to clean it. Here I’ve learnt why some people have a wish to downsize their lives.

Hopefully in the next place I live I’ll learn how to actually do it.

What have you learnt from the places you have lived? Have you learnt anything from the places you’ve visited?

  • Gary

    I’ve only lived in three places. I grew up and was educated in Brisbane. I learnt there what I needed to earn a living. I then spent twelve years in Darwin, my favourite place, my happy place. I learnt there how friendly human beings really can be. I’ve now lived in Canberra for a little over seven years and I’ve learnt that despite horrid weather, a small planned city can be a lot of fun. Canberra won’t be my final resting place, but I’m enjoying the people and the convenience of capital city life for now.

    • Jessica Chapman

      It’s funny how we can grow to love places that circumstance brings us to. I don’t think my sister would have chosen to go to Albury if she hadn’t been offered a job there. But she and I really grew to love it there. When I moved back to Sydney to do some further study I always tried to visit her often. Now that she’s moved away we try to go down at least once a year, visit the friends we made, the great places to eat, and the little shops you just don’t get in a big city like Sydney.

  • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

    I wrote something similar to this recently too: http://jajoz.me/my-street

    I was thinking the same thing – about how the places we grow up in shape our lives. I was lucky enough to grow up in the same house my mother grew up in. There was a family history to my childhood.I was thinking of all the people I knew in the street I grew up in, and how they shaped me as a person… many of them would be gone now. All I have left are the memories.

    Love this post, Jess. Beautiful memories. :)

    • Jessica Chapman

      Because we lived on a compound in Pakistan that was the only place we really got to know all the people who lived around us. Particularly the other expats. In a walled area like that you can just wander off and play with your friends, although we needed one of the adults if we wanted to go for a swim in the large, un-clorinated, slightly algae filled pool.

      It’s hard to move from a place like that into suburb anonymity. We only really ever got to know the names of one or two of our neighbours in the places we’ve lived since, although I remember the older couple who lived next to us when we first moved back to Sydney were really friendly, and showed us around their house, introduced us to their cats. Sometimes when I drive by that area I wonder if they’re still there. It’s weird, we only lived in that house for 2 and a half years, but in my memory it seems much longer than that.

  • Bek

    I loved reading your memories of all the different places you’ve lived. I’m quite different, I like living in the same place as long as possible. My parents still live in my childhood home, and when I visit I still sleep in my old bedroom with the flowery Ken Done curtains and the Power Ranger stickers on the wardrobe.

    When I was at uni I lived in the same sharehouse for the 4 years. You rented out the bedroom and couldn’t choose your flatmates- I had some horrid ones over the years.

    I’ve been forced to move around Newcastle a little bit with my kids, as rent prices increase and I look for somewhere affordable. I’m hoping our current rental will let us stay until the kids are finished primary school- they hate moving as much as I do.

    • Jessica Chapman

      Rental prices are really becoming quite an issue, they’re rather ridiculous in Sydney and surrounds, I don’t know how anyone affords them. One good thing about moving every now and then is that it forces you to get rid of some extraneous stuff. It is quite disruptive and exhausting though.

  • Jessica Chapman

    We were almost neighbours! The Hume/Riverina is such a lovely area. My sister and I used to love driving to places like Beechworth and Bright. We also frequented the Rutherglen markets.

    Thanks for sharing your link I loved reading it. I think my Dad suffers from the itchy feet and I remember being petrified he was going to take a job in Western Australia when I was about 15. But I do think moving a lot does furnish you with a bit of a different perspective. Most of Dad’s family are practically nomadic because that’s how they lived as kids.

  • Jessica Chapman

    Thanks for sharing! I love reading about how different people grew up. The front of your old house looks nearly exactly like the place we lived when we first moved back to Sydney. Same configuration at the front, master bed room on one side, living room on the other.

    Recently my Dad took my Grandma on a drive around the houses she grew up in and I realised I won’t be able to do that with the first house I remember living in and felt very sad. But then I already do that with some other places I’ve lived that I’m able to.

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  • Brosa

    Reading about how much you’ve grown how many things you’ve learnt from purely surrounding yourself in a different environment was amazing! We can definitely all relate to how environment affects the way we all grow.

    Thats why it is important to explore and create families and homes that both embodies and reflects yourself for who you are. Whether it’s through location, interior, exterior all these factors are important.