Crossing the threshold

I have lived in rental properties all my life – for the entirety of my childhood, and for the seventeen years of my *officially* adult life. Before we moved to the Netherlands, MR suggested that we buy, rather than rent, a house. It took me awhile to come round to the idea, foreign as it is, but we are now looking for our own home.

On arrival we were ignorant to the state of housing here. We have since learned that houses are, comparative to London, somewhat reasonably priced and in decent condition, and that one hundred percent mortgages and home-owner tax benefits are available. Breezy, no?

Poster by Ruben Pater

We have also discovered that the demand for housing far outweighs the supply. I don’t know the exact details, but I believe the crisis emerged loosely around 2015 as a result of a parliamentary pause on building to minimise environmental impact. Particularly in the Randstad, this has resulted in 8-12% over-bidding as the norm and property values literally doubling since 2015 – check any address on the government’s value register. Skyrocketing prices in Amsterdam have compounded, in part, due to the rise in foreign investment and the doubling of tourists per year from four to eight million between 2004 and 2017 (read more).

Poster by Ruben Pater

Contextual complexities aside, the present possibility to own our own home feels life-changing for me. I was raised by a single mother on a receptionist’s wage, although her parents – who were generous with us in care and finances – were comfortable. This goes some way in explaining the conflict between my middle class values and my working class psyche. But, as Eula Biss points out, defining class is a tricky task.

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Work vs. Labour

Work, Lewis Hyde writes, is distinct from labour. Work is something we do by the hour, and labour sets its own pace. Work, if we are fortunate, is rewarded with money, but the reward for labour is transformation. ‘Writing a poem,’ Hyde writes, ‘raising a child, developing a new calculus, resolving a neurosis, invention in all forms—these are labours.’ This list reveals to me my problem. I want to give my life to labour, not work.

Eula Biss in Having and Being Had, pg 99


The shape of success

Earlier in the week I stumbled across an old personal note which triggered an everyday epiphany. The note was written in a very pragmatic Q and A format around 2018, after some years of disappointing freelance work. One question in particular caught my eye, it read What does success [in my work] look like to me?. I’d outlined five simple fundamentals:

  • autonomy over my work
  • feeling intellectually challenged
  • cooperative working relationships
  • being able to pass on knowledge through mentoring
  • being relatively financially comfortable

Returning to these fundamentals, so explicitly articulated, it dawned on me that I can count myself successful.

I never imagined that I would work anywhere other than small, boutique design studios, but sometimes, often, our abstract projection of success is incongruent with our granular definition of it.


This not That

Redistribution of power

[ not perpetuation of power ]

work together

[ not in isolation ]

foster constructive collaborator dialogue

[ not hostile client monologue ]

support the public interest

[ not private interests ]

embrace multiplicity

[ not singularity]


[ don’t simplify ]

produce critical reflections

[ not narrative descriptions ]

Quality of process

[ not quantity of outcome ]

holistic labour

[ not division of labour ]

fenced work week

[ not overtime ]

scheduled responding to emails

[ not a perpetual flow ]

permit unstructured time

[ reduce billable projects ]

daily walks

[ less sustained screen-time ]

more primary research

[ less secondary/online research ]

After Rosalie Schweiker‘s Rules for Work