Here we are, stuck at home. Again. Lockdown has us spending time within our homes a lot more than we usually would. But does the place you are living in really feel like home to you? Do you feel comfortable, secure and like yourself within these walls?
I have been on a quest to find something that feels like home for a long time. Even though I grew up in the same house in the same town almost my entire life, it never truly felt like home. It took me many years, lonely nights, a university degree and moving to a tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean to finally find the answers to what home truly means. To save you some time, here is what I have learned:
Your Space Should Mirror Your Soul
Scrolling through Instagram we often see these perfectly decorated apartments full of plants and beautiful furniture that matches the cushions on the brand-new couch. Looking around in our reality that is often very far away from the actual experience. But does such a polished and stylish place feel more like home?
Not necessarily. We might find the idea of a monochrome interior design beautiful, but we truly love colors. Maybe we love the look of plants but cannot be bothered to care for them. We might like the view of big glass windows but enjoy dancing naked through the room.
Your space should mirror your soul. It should always resemble you. Who you are and who you truly want to be. If that means buying cute Christmas decorations and having it up year round or living a highly minimalistic lifestyle without any distractions — it is completely up to you. Find out what interior elements reflect your personality and transform your place into something that makes you happy.
Get Comfortable with the Dark
One trick that has helped me every time I moved into a new apartment in the last few years is almost too easy to be true. But it works!
I challenged myself to walk around my apartment during the night in complete darkness. Barefoot.
The first one or two times I walked very slowly and still ended up stubbing my toes on a corner or hitting something in my way. But after a very short time I started to have a very clear orientation of my place. Within just a few nights, I knew my apartment inside and out and instantly became more comfortable. I knew exactly how the tiles felt and observed the texture of my carpet with the skin of my feet. It sounds silly, but getting to know your place up close and with all your senses will take away its strangeness. If you are afraid of the dark, try doing this exercise during the day with closed eyes.
Yes, You Have To Do the Work
Here comes a tip no one wants to hear: You have to do the work. And by that I mean the household. That does not mean that your home needs to be perfectly clean at all times, but you need to get your hands dirty. Do the dishes. Take care of the laundry. Mop the floor. Clean the windows. You can make it more fun while listening to music or a good audiobook or maybe treating yourself with something that brings you joy as soon as it is done. But you need to do it. Don’t let your partner, housemate or cleaning lady do the job, do it yourself (even tho help is always welcome and if you don’t live alone it is the responsibility of everyone to do this work in equal parts).
Why is this important? While this work is annoying to many, it grounds you and connects you to your place. Knowing how much effort went into creating your home will make it truly yours. And a nice side effect is that a cleaned space is beneficial for your mental health and overall well being. Make it a habit to work with and within your home.
Small Steps Lead to Greater Things
Not everybody is able to afford the apartment or house of their dreams or the materials and elements of a home that makes them truly happy. But it does not need a full makeover to make your place feel like home.
As I was traveling I wasn’t able to bring many things with me and certainly didn’t spend money on decorations or wall paint. But I always tried to bring or buy a few little things that made me feel more welcomed in the place that was my temporary home. For me, those were at least one book, a candle, a little travel cushion, the postcards I received from friends and family and — if I found them on the markets — some fresh colorful flowers. For you, these might be completely different things that have the same effect. Having those items around and arranging my space in a way that made me feel safe and more like myself, I was able to adapt.
Did I like every apartment that I stayed in? Hell no. Did I still feel like coming home every evening? Almost always.
The Warmth of Soup
A major shift in my journey towards finding home was cooking. In the beginning I despised it and tried to avoid it. But with time, I learned new skills and managed to actually cook things that I liked. I asked friends that I couldn’t see in person for their favorite recipes and recreated them at home, which made me feel more connected to them, to myself, the place I lived in and the places the food was from. Since I also moved away from my home country I started to make traditional dishes and family recipes, merging my cultural heritage with my new life. I have never felt so at home as in the moments I sat in my current kitchen, tasting my favorite soup from where I am from. I also tried new and regional things, improvised a lot and just let the creativity flow with what I had available and what was local to the region.
A good meal is also the perfect excuse to connect to other people. Sharing food with friends, family, neighbors or even strangers — as long as you can do it safely — can be an amazing way to feel less alone and fill your place with the love and warmth a home needs.
Let Love Move In, too
Something that is not very easy to do during the pandemic but is essential to feeling more at home: to connect with other people. Those people can be the ones you live with, friends or family that come for a visit or simply your neighbors. Invite them over for a dinner, show them your place, let them fill it with their love for you. Let them help you reshape you place by painting walls with you, rearrange furniture or leave you notes and photos. Make memories within those walls.
For now it might just be digitally or via mail but this is important. We are social creatures and even if you enjoy being alone, like me, way too much, it is necessary to let other peoples energy be a part of the process. Home is just a different shape of love. And while we are capable of love even on our own, it is always good to mix it up and receive love from others.
And if you know someone that just moved, send them a postcard or something they would appreciate. Let love move in.
Growing up I never experienced healthy and connected neighborhoods. Not in my street or anywhere else. Today, that is different. My neighbor is a big part of my life, we share food and tools and wisdom, invite each other for dinner and can talk for hours. Together with some friends we form a community based on micro-solidarity. We help each other out. We share things and thoughts and skills. And we try to truly connect with the bigger community of the place we live in — which is an island in our case. But you can do this too, even when you live in a busy city. If you have an elderly neighbor or a family with a newborn for example, ask them if you can support them by doing the groceries or maybe just listing to them for a while. Hang up a sign offering help. Share your freshly baked cookies with others. Volunteer somewhere in your neighborhood. Join a group of something you enjoy. Get to know the houses and streets and if possible also the people surrounding you. Take long walks, study the light at different times of the day, notice the animals and trees living in your area.
Do the things you have the possibility to do. It might not be much, but it is never too late to try. Connect to the place and the living beings all around you. You are never alone. If you immerse yourself and start showing love and kindness, you will find true belonging. And with that, you will suddenly feel like home.
What does Home mean to you?
This question is one you should ask yourself in a quiet moment. Be honest with your answer. What does home truly mean to you? Is it a comfortable sofa, your book collection, the place where you can look like a mess, the arms of a loved one, the town you live in, the dance group you are a part of, your pets, the place where you can fart freely, your garden? There is an endless amount of possibilities to answer this question. Ask it. More than once. And then, strive towards creating that space for yourself as best as you can.
The Home Within
For my bachelor thesis I wrote about digital nomads and what home meant to them. Most of them had given up the classic lifestyle of long-term renting or buying. They travel and never stay too long in a certain place. For many of them, home is nothing external. It is something within. It is the knowledge of finding love, connection and adventure no matter where they go. It is the reassurance that they follow their heart by living like this. It is a constant journey of self-discovery, reflection and improvement in the fields of independence and self-love. They have taught me that home doesn’t need to be a place, but that it is a mindset. Everywhere can be your home if you make it one. If you carry your home within, as a place you can always retreat to and find comfort and love, you will never be lost.