Home Is An Empty Box


I don’t know if it’s because I moved away from my childhood home when I was nine, or it’s just something I was born with, but I have a deep craving for the feeling of home. That sense of relief when you cross the threshold, close the door and relax, saying, “I’m home.”

Alan and I have moved a lot in our life together. Sixteen times in thirty-four years. Some places we’ve lived in for several years, some only a few months. In all of them, I’ve voiced my desire for it to feel like home.

And when I do that, Alan always gestures to the walls around him and says, “This isn’t home.” And then points to his heart. “Home is in here.”

And I really try not to roll my eyes when he does that, but, dude! It’s not that simple. At least, it’s not for me.

There’s a process we go through to make a place home. Once we’ve unpacked everything and placed our treasures where we need them, we do a bit of problem-solving. Where’s the best place to put the tea things? Where can we hang our keys so we can find them again when we need them?

Our dining room has a bit of an echo. We’ll be buying a rug soon to muffle it, mostly out of deference to our neighbours.

It’s easy to get caught up in this phase of the process, looking for the exactly right rug or chair or storage piece to make life in the new place easier. Perfectionism is a constant temptation and it’s easy to forget that beyond a certain, very basic, point, sprucing up will not bring us any closer to that elusive feeling of home. Home cannot be bought. It’s not in the things we place within it.

Because I think what that feeling is for me and maybe for you as well, is the love we have for the people we share our home with, either on a long-term basis or through the more fleeting visits of friends.

We once lived for two months in rented, furnished digs. The house had been carved up weirdly. The kitchen was dark and not really adequate to our needs. The dining table was a little too close to the stove. We didn’t do a lot of entertaining while we were there, but some friends were visiting from Scotland and we couldn’t not have a dinner party for them. We set up a make-shift bar on top of a stack of boxes. We lit a lot of candles. Alan used the top of the dryer as prep space. And we gathered around that ugly rented table, shifting a little whenever the oven door opened, and we had a wonderful evening. And by some magic, for the space of that dinner, we were home.

We’ve settled in to our new apartment. The boxes are unpacked and we’ve found a better place for the tea things. As we were sitting in our dining room, lingering over dinner, I asked Alan if it felt like home yet. And we agreed that, while it feels very nice, be both feel like we’re staying in an Air B & B rental, rather than our own home. It will change, I know, as we build our memories.

And as Alan poured me another glass of wine, I looked around and thought of all the people who have made this one little apartment home over the last fifty years. How they moved in, unpacked their treasures and started adding up the memories. And then, months or years later, packed their boxes again and moved away.

That this one space can be home to us after having been home to a long line of total strangers seemed amazing to me. And worth considering.

The last place we were in never really gave me that feeling of relief. Having the dog there for six years helped. It made coming home a happy event, each and every time. But after he died, the sense of responsibility that comes with owning a rental property weighed heavy and we knew it was time to move.

Walking through the place after all our stuff was gone, I was barely able to believe we had actually lived there, despite the memories. There was dust in the corners and that weird smell that I remembered from our first walk-through was back. There was no feeling attached to any of it.

We were just one couple in a long line of couples and people and families who had called that house ‘home’ for over a hundred years. And there will be many more after us.

The buildings remain as empty boxes.  We carry our sense of home with us.

It takes time for an empty box to become a home. It takes memories. Laughter. Tears. Connection. Time alone and time with friends. It takes heart.

Which is pretty much what Alan has been saying all along. Just don’t tell him I said so, OK?


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4 Responses to Home Is An Empty Box

  1. Karen says:

    You make me want to return my home to an empty box so I just have the things that really bring me comfort. Perhaps staying in one place too long has caused me to think I need more things than I really do. A cozy, warm place to sit and read or visit, a comfortable place to eat and an inviting place to sleep. It’s a work in progress…,

  2. Pam says:

    My childhood home now gone, I am wondering when I will feel like home. I have a house with all my stuff and am building another one far far away from it. Will that feel like home when I settle in? But finally, you know what they say at the end of life. “I am going home.”

    Thanks Barb. Thought provoking as always.


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