It has been over a month now since I packed up, said my goodbyes, and left the home I have known since the young age of seven. In the months leading up to my departure, I felt tired of the monotony of daily life, frustrated and stressed with the hurdles that life had thrown my way, and I yearned for a change and relief. Of course, this was something I had spoken about for so long that it felt surreal when it finally happened. Many told me not to be too nervous about moving; they said I’d be back before I knew it. After all, I was living in paradise. But I assured them I would not be back soon, if ever. “I’ve done Hawaii, there’s so much more world out there!” I’d explain, confident about my decision. And yet, as I sit at my family’s house now, with foreseen uncertainty, but endless possibility ahead of me, I’m surprised by how much I’m now missing my former life.
It has crossed my mind that I could be homesick, even after the years of dreaming of a new residence and after feeling a sense of depression every time I returned home to the islands from a trip. It was unexpected and seemed a bit unlikely, but it got me to thinking about what “home” really is.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, a home is defined as being a place of residence, a social unit, a familiar and comfortable setting, and/or a person’s place of origin. This variety of definitions, however, made the answer to my question even more ambiguous. Language is a tool to communicate understood ideas, but sometimes we do not quite have the vocabulary to accurately explain and define certain specifics and concepts. By also considering how my own definition of home has changed throughout my life, I discovered that home is more of an idea than something strictly defined, and that perhaps it’s ambiguity is, in fact, part of its definition.
When first hearing the word home, many of us are likely to think of a building; some house or apartment that we reside or have resided in. It is what we call Home by name. It is our space, our property, and it is a reflection of ourselves. Whether hours and elbow grease were put into the structure to make it exactly as the resident wanted, or it is barren because the resident is frequently away, these structures are reflections of the lives of the residents who call them home. Though many homes follow a similar format (ie. bedrooms with a place to sleep and storage, kitchen, bathroom, living and/or dining room, perhaps an office), this definition allows for this space to be however the resident desires.
According to a fun article I found on letterpile.com, the author Arther Windermere argues that the unique differences between living spaces are, in fact, exactly what creates a home. He first describes a space when it is still a blank canvas, as in a new home or apartment before it becomes filled with furniture and objects. At this point, he claims, it is not yet home, for a connection has not yet been formed.
“There is no relationship to the space: it is impersonal, dispassionate, and objective”,
“One sees the mere functionality of the living space as what it is, the walls, the floor, and the roof; as elegant as the living space may be, it was not made for you.”
It is not until we mold this emptiness into something with more substance, fill it in a matter that will be functional for our lifestyle, and decorate it with objects that are important and aesthetically pleasing to us, that the blank space that could have been for anyone suddenly becomes our own. Windermere explains,
“By working with our objects and arranging them within the space, we draw forth from the space that which could not have been had it not been for us: our place, also called home. A home is always absolutely personal. It comes into being from the individual being of one or a group of people and, like a fingerprint, could not occur in the same way anywhere else.”
I enjoyed and agree with Windermere’s perspective of a home, and I believe that many people share a similar definition. However, I felt that mere interior design couldn’t itself encompass the full extent of what a home is, bringing us to ‘home’ being defined by a social unit. The most common social unit would be the immediate family, this also commonly being those who live in the same structure. When relations are well and close, home is likely wherever their family is, with the building being a potential secondary element. And yet, if this hypothetical family were to lose the house they called home, they would likely consider themselves ‘homeless’. The family is of more value and is the foundation of building a new home, but ‘home’ itself would still be lost. This, to me, signifies that a place, a personal space of living, is still required for an accurate definition.
Whether home is defined by the space or by the people within it, they both create a familiar setting. Despite where or what home is, it is a place where we are comfortable, go frequently, and can feel at ease. This is perhaps the most essential part of the definition: the warmth and comfort we experience when at home, whether it comes from loved ones or simply because it is our space in which we can do as we please, is what sets a home apart from any other place.
The last part of the Merriam Webster definition was “a place of origin”. While some spend their adulthood in or around their childhood home, and home would then still be directly related to the structure. However, a place of origin could also be where a person’s family resides, or could be something broader such as the town, state, or even country of one’s youth. A place of origin can feel familiar and/or comfortable, although probably not as comfortable as it once was if it is no longer a person’s place of residence. It is no longer THEIR place, and so it is no longer the ‘home’ they once knew. A childhood home that has been left is, in this case, largely nostalgic.
It’s difficult to define home because the definition is relevant to the person considering it. It is an ambiguous concept dependent on who considers it. To many, it is where they currently reside, whether that’s a lifelong residence or the familiarity of frequently changing accommodations. To others, home is directly tied to anywhere his or her immediate family is. And to some, it may be any place or group that they have created, where they can be themselves, are familiar and at ease in their surroundings, and can retreat in the comfort of their unique preferences.
Curious as to where my feelings of longing and sadness came from, I asked my brother what his definition of home is. “Home is where the heart is, that’s what they say” he answered, and there is a reason this English proverb has been spoken into existence for centuries. He then continued onto something that brought this whole consideration full circle and sparked my mind’s light bulb.
“It’s wherever you feel happy”,
Said my brother.
“For me, personally, I’d still want more of a home-base. But for you, you’ve always gone where your heart was, and that’s home too.”
Although these wise words from my brother don’t provide me with any clear answers as to what I’m doing with my life, they do help reassure me in my choice of an alternative lifestyle. We currently have no home, but that’s okay. We are welcomed into the homes of others and are grateful for their assistance. Soon I will buy a vehicle that I feel fit for Duchess and me to live and travel in. I will fill it with our possessions, and I will fill it with excitement, curiosity, and love, and no matter where we end up, we will then be home again.