Sunday, 28 May 2017

Can anyone define 'home' for me, please?

What do you mean by 'home'?

I've been pondering this recently - in the context of moving home. I'm having to keep my house unnaturally clean and tidy, just in case I have a viewing at short notice. I look at books and pictures in a different light, now I know I won't have room for them all in my new flat. But a home is much more than clean floors, or books and pictures. For me, it's the place where I can be who I need to be at any given moment. I can be cheerful or crabby or knackered and it's all fine. 

But that's now. When I had small children - home was the place where we lived as a family. It was the container of family life, and my role was to support the fabric of the family in such a way that the children could be cheerful or crabby or knackered at it was all fine. And part of that was providing a building of some sort where we could be safe and warm and secure. These days I live alone. And so 'home' can no longer be defined by family living in it. But it still has a meaning for me in terms of being a refuge from the hurly burly of life outside.

Does 'home' include community? Does it encompass neighbours, villages, towns, cities? Here in the U.K. we shut our front doors behind us. In many developing countries villages people spend most of their time in communal living spaces. Does that impact on their idea of 'home'? Or is the construct meaningless if it's a place where you live all the time, not somewhere you leave and come back to front time to time?

As you know I travel, sometimes for up to six weeks at a time. A few years ago I left for twelve months. So where is 'home' when I'm away for so long? Hotel rooms? If I simply need a place where I can shut the door and be whoever, then some hotel rooms certainly feel like a home. I don't need luxury, but I do need somewhere safe and clean. And I need to know it's there - the anxiety of arriving in a town not knowing where I'm going to sleep defeats me these days. Does this imply that I could include the security of knowing where I'll be spending the night in my definition of 'home'?

Which leads me to speculate on our definition of 'homeless'. On a practical level we think of those who must sleep on the streets as simply having nowhere safe to spend the night. But I think it's much more complicated than that. 'Homes' are not just bricks and mortar. They include an element of predictability and security, a concept of being accepted for who we are.

I'm not quite sure where this thinking is leading. I feel as if I'm scrabbling for a definition but it's too elusive, or too deconstructed, to be really helpful. Maybe you have some better ideas.


  1. I grew up with two siblings and shared a room with my sister. From about 14 onward, I was planning my escape, I wanted to be away from this boring, tedious . . . home. During uni, I shared flats and at one stage a large old house, for a few short years, together with an ever changing cast of rebels and whatnots, I found a new kind of home in this wonderful chaos.
    And for many years, I and my partner and after a time, our child, continued to live in communes and eventually, together with eight others, we bought property and started a housing co-op. For a while, I thought, this is it, this is what home is meant to be, shared and open, privacy when you need it, help and support for each other.
    But it was hard work, seemingly endless meetings to accommodate all the egos, the women left with the dishes too often etc.
    But this was the 1980s in Ireland and we had to escape unemployment and suddenly had to rediscover ourselves as a tiny nuclear family of three in a small bungalow far away.
    It took me years to admit it, but that was my first true home. The bungalow has changed a few times, the child has grown and left for her own home.
    I think I found home when I let go of expectations and allowed my (modest) creature comforts to take over.

    The housing co-op is still going strong BTW.

    1. It's interesting - maybe our concept of home changes as our needs and social circumstances change.

  2. Funny Jo, I've been thinking of this lately as last week we took a drive through the town I lived in until I was 14 yrs old. It still feels like home and so does the place I lived for 38 yrs of my married life. It's a feeling I get when we are getting near to it,a feeling of familiarity and contentment. When I was young I knew nearly everyone round about. I knew if I was ever in trouble someone familiar would rescue me,I felt safe. Funny but I don't feel the same about the place I lived in from ages 14/20, I guess I never really settled there. We have now lived in our new house for two years and my house is home,yes it's the place I can be me and do as I wish,you are right. I don't know if the place is home yet,I'm trying to make it be but it may take a few more years. I said to hubby on the drive through my childhood town that what pleases me is I could never be lost here where as where we live now although I wouldn't get lost don't ask me how to get to the adjoining towns and places. You are also right in that when we go on holiday that becomes your home,your safe sanctuary. You know the words, "Wherever I lay my hat that's my home!" Great post Jo,made me think.

    1. Thank you, Anne - it's a complicated construct, isn't it?

  3. A lot of food for thought here. I will have to disagree with you on something. The whole "shut-front-door" business is not UK-wide. I have been to places (mainly in the countryside) where people still leave their front door open and communal living is very much the norm.

    Your reflections on what home means always remind me of what I started saying a few years ago when I returned from one of my trips to Cuba: I am going home from home. Or back to London from Havana. :-)

    Greetings from London.

    1. I take your point - I live in the countryside and some people still leave their doors unlocked. But it's fewer and fewer - which I think we'd probably agree is a shame.

  4. Jo, I'm so sorry I'm so late here. I read your post a few days ago and wrote half a comment, but had to stop, so it disappeared. I enjoyed it, because as with Anne, it made me think what I mean by 'home'. I've decided I'm of the belief that home is a feeling attached to a place or places, even more than it is to a house (or boat!). There is a certain road I drive along on my way to the crumbly cottage that I love, whatever the weather, and it makes me feel I'm home. The old harbour where I have my barge is another place that feels like home. Whether my barge is there are not, it is a place that fills me with a particular emotion evoked by what it is and where it is - the familiarity and the appreciation of what I love about it; the way it looks at particular times of day, or season or weather. This means, of course, I can have lots of homes - as indeed I have had because I've loved many places in this way. But my barge is of course my real home and it's the place where I feel most relaxed, content and at ease. It wouldn't matter where it was; I would still feel that.

  5. Your post is timely for me as we will be selling the family home where I grew up. No one has lived in it for 6 years, my step mom is in a retirement home and did not sell it until now. I have some nice keepsakes from the house including paintings. But it has me feeling nostalgic to think of it being sold.