I Finally Know What I Need to Feel At Home
Where is home? Is it where you sleep? Is it the town you grew up in? Is it simply where you happen to be standing at this moment?
I’ve moved 13 times in the last 15 years, but very rarely have I felt at home.
I’ve both consciously and sub-consciously tried to find my way. I’ve discussed the void with my therapist, my mom, and talked my ex’s ears off about it when we were together. With my latest change-of-address this past April, the concept has been on my mind more than ever. For a long time, I assumed that I simply needed “constant.” I’ve lived in so many places, that if I could just stay put in the same geographic coordinates with the same person/people for a very, very long time, I’d feel at home. But alas, the universe has had other plans for me.
Then, a funny thing happened, I went to my local gym for the first time since it closed due to COVID and that felt like coming home.
Now don't get me wrong, I’m not about to waltz about the gym in the nude. Nor would I choose the gym as a place to have a cry sesh in front of the TV while shoveling mounds of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream into my pie hole. But it occurred to me that the gym must possess a few of several factors that my brain reads as home vibes. Things other than the simple “constant” I’d spent my energy longing for.
So, I sat down and hammered out exactly what I need to make home home.
Ownership. Whether I rent, own, or neither, I need some claim to the place I live. Home is a place that I have a right to reside in. I’m able to keep my personal belongings in my home. I bear some responsibility for the care of the space and its contents. I belong.
Security. I wish I could create a home where no bad things happen ever, but...burglary, fire, flood...all possible. So, I’ve taken reasonable measures to prevent whatever safety risks I can anticipate. Depending on what your safety needs are, prevention may look like locking the door when you leave and having an operable fire alarm for starters. Whatever the specific situation, I need to feel safe enough to relax and be vulnerable. I need to let my guard down.
Boundary Awareness and Agency. I need to know the physical boundaries that define my home as well as an awareness of the house rules. And to be home means that I have some agency as far as what those rules are! I determine the boundaries, the consequences for violations, and have the authority to remove boundary crossers (especially those who threaten my physical or emotional wellbeing) if needed.
Privacy. Remember when I mentioned waltzing about in the nude? Well, home is the place where I can that and not be arrested for indecent exposure. Bouts of hysterical tears? Pillow punching? Singing in the shower? That can happen here! Home includes some kind of space where I can shut the door and just be alone when need be. I have my own private space.
Familiar surroundings. The “constant” I’d focused on before. While I think there is comfort in home being a long-term location, I think that comfort can be derived from other sources too. The furniture, the décor. Reruns of my favorite TV show playing in the background. The aroma of mom’s pot pie in the oven. An old playlist. It’s people- photos of loved ones if not their physical presence. The steady companionship of my fur children. Perhaps most importantly, my home is a reminder of myself. A reflection of my personality and interests.
Have you ever seen a bird build its nest in an almost-humorously precarious location? Like say, in a trailer hitch receiver, or on top of a trash can intended for dog waste? You want to convey to the bird that this is a really dangerous place and also why aren’t you in court-mandated parenting classes, but you don’t speak chirp. You can't move the nest yourself, lest the bird abandon the whole enterprise and build an equally poor nest somewhere else. Somehow, this bird has developed an instinct, flawed as it may be, and your only option is to allow nature to take its course.
In my life, I’ve been that bird. I’ve picked a bunch of cruddy spots and I’ve built half-ass nests. I’ve basically found really crafty ways to recreate the home I lived in for 12 years prior to my parent’s separation. I did so without ever stopping to consider that, that first nest wasn’t exactly ideal. While there may be pieces of it I want to keep, there are certainly things I need to leave behind and replace with something new.
What I end up with is a living space that is never entirely satisfactory and eventually implodes- usually due to non-existent boundaries.
Maybe all the factors I listed are totally obvious to you, or perhaps your needs are completely different and my factors don’t apply. But for me, articulating those needs in writing has given me a renewed sense of direction. It may take time to get there, but I know my way home.
So, What does ‘home’ mean for YOU? Whether you share my desires, or have something completely different in mind, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments