What is the psychology involved in choosing where to live?

Dr Linda Papadopoulos

Dr Linda Papadopoulos - Credit: Archant

Choosing a home is one of life’s most stressful experiences. TV psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos explains the psychology behind the various issues that can arise.


Home - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In the cut throat north London property market, where a hefty whack of money is added into the mix, it can be hard to disentangle the status-related anxieties around finding a home from the absolute necessities. What’s going on when people talk about where they live and how should you navigate making the biggest purchase of your life?

Help, I’m suffering from postcode anxiety

The Bishops Avenue. Picture: Polly Hancock

The Bishops Avenue. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

In London postcodes have come to denote a certain lifestyle. They’re indicative of success or aspiration in the same way as a handbag, or a watch, or a car indicate success. As a consequence it’s interesting to note the number of people who actually lie about their postcode, or who’ll call it something different depending on what fringe area they’re in – they’ll say they live in Highgate if they live in Archway because it sounds better. Or you’ll have all these qualifiers, where people say “It’s very urban, very up and coming” to suggest that it’s cooler than people think. We want to manage people’s understanding and expectations of who we are and any information that we give them, whether it’s embellished or not that fits into the persona we want to suggest.

I’m moving to the suburbs but I’m not a suburban person...


Commuter - Credit: Getty Images

A lot of managing this is about projecting forward, seeing ourselves in a place before we get there as a way of psychologically preparing or emotionally buffering ourselves. As we do this, we start to detach from where we are at present. I have friends who’ve moved from the city to the country who’ll start by saying “I can’t bear the smog anymore and I want a garden.” Conversely, people who’ve moved in the other direction will say “Oh the commute was awful, it’s so nice to be 20 minutes away from work.”

In order to cope with the cognitive dissonance we come up with pros for where we’re going but also cons for where we are and that helps us manage that transition.

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But I really need to live in a period house in NW3

Houses in Belsize Park, NW3

Houses in Belsize Park, NW3 - Credit: Archant

We need to be clear about why we want what we want. It’s easier said than done of course. Part of it is about disentangling who I am from what I have. We know that we live in a very materialist society so who I am and what I have sometimes, sadly, become one and the same. I’m not advocating that we all sell up and live in communes but I do think the basis of one’s identity should be much more bound up in things that aren’t transient.

I do a lot of work on body image and I tell people don’t put all your self esteem eggs in your body image basket. I think by the same token, don’t put all your self esteem eggs in the stuff basket. No matter how great the postcode, what probably matters most to you are your kids having a great school, being able to walk home safely or for a really sporty person being near a park. So base your search on the identity of you and your family and then what fits around that, rather than the identity of the location and you and your family trying to fit into it.

Gut instinct or hard sums: which is more important when choosing a home?

Calculating finances

Calculating finances - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Interestingly enough, in previous years I’d have said gut instinct was the deciding factor, based on all those things that attest to our personalities, the things that we value. By this token, whether it’s a family home or it has a big garden or it’s ultra chic and modern still matters to a point.

I do think, however, the trend in the last decade or two of seeing our homes as an investment rather than as just a home means that those decisions are being moderated. I might be super into twee kitsch décor but if I know that something more minimalist will sell better in future, that will affect my decisions, simply because I’ve got that information now.

Dr Linda has written more about psychology in the home for home insurer Hiscox