What Makes a Home?


I had a conversation with one of my nieces the other day (Hi, sweetie! Love you!). She moved recently and we were talking about the feeling of home, how it’s been so elusive in my life and feels to be in hers at the moment.

How do we make a place feel like home? Is it just a matter of time, which makes us feel powerless, or can we help the process along a little?

I’ve been thinking about it since then and I think we can do things to give ourselves that feeling of home. Rituals are our friends here. If we get in the habit of doing something the same way, over and over, it will signal to our brain to relax, to breathe, to feel at home.

Alan and I take our shoes off when we walk into our apartment and we leave them under the little dresser in the entryway. This kind of follows the “a place for everything and everything in its place” rule even though they’re still mostly out in the open. We put them away in the closet when people come over, to make room for our friends’ shoes (though they’re welcome to leave them on). There’s something relaxing about kicking off your shoes. And putting them in the same place, however randomly chosen, is a way of marking your territory, of telling yourself, “This is my home and this is where my shoes belong”. It’s a slightly different feeling from kicking off your shoes at the home of a friend. And after a few times through the routine, it starts to feel like home.

We also tend to change into comfier clothes when we’re at home and not planning to go back out. Jammies rule. Or, if you’re a little more formal, you can take lessons from Mr. Rogers who would (remember) change out of his outdoor cardigan, hang it in the closet and put on his indoor cardigan. I always liked the slight smile he’d have as he slid his arms into the sleeves. He was clearly happier and more relaxed in his indoor cardigan.

I have two tea mugs (the extra for sharing if a friend comes over) that I always drink my tea out of. They’re made by a local potter. They have no handles and it just feels so good to wrap my hands around one and sip tea out of it. As an aside, no handles is a great way to go for mugs for hot drinks. I haven’t burnt my mouth on a cup of tea since I got them. If it’s too hot to pick up, it’s too hot to drink. Bit by bit, day by day, these mugs have come to mean I’m home. When I’m out for the day or we go away for a weekend, I actually find myself craving tea from one of those mugs and no other. They’re my home mugs and nothing else is quite as good.

We also have a traditional dinner that we make when we’ve been away awhile. We’re usually tired from travelling and there may not be any fresh food in the fridge, so we boil up a pot of spaghetti and serve it plain, with olive oil and salt and pepper. I inhale that first mouthful and my knees go weak. I know I’m home, all the way down to my belly.

The deeper meaning of home, that deep connection, does take time. You need to commit to a place, to take the time to build layers of memories, to just be there in the everyday, every day. But to help that process along, to stake up the little plant of your self, before you can put down proper roots, I can highly recommend coming up with a few easy, sustainable rituals of your own, from playing a certain song to lighting a candle. Special meals, your comfy slippers. Whatever gives you pleasure and helps you relax can help you to feel at home until where you are becomes home.

And, in those cases where you know you’re not in the right place, not someplace you can stay, no ritual will be able to fix that, but they can bring you some comfort, some sense of peace until you find the place that’s right for you.

Please let me know, what rituals do you have that signal home to you? My niece and I would be most grateful for your input!


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2 Responses to What Makes a Home?

  1. Michaela Murphy says:

    As always your post is timely. Having recently moved we are trying hard to make this house feel ‘homely enough’. We know we will be making big structural changes / building an extension so the brief is to make it feel homely enough without spending toooo much money. Rituals sound like a great way to help that along. I’ve noticed that in a new house with a totally different configuration to our old house we’re having to find new homes for everything and lots of things haven’t found their ‘click’ point yet. I’ve been feeling a bit out at sea with it so I think rituals could really help me feel grounded. Thank you for sharing your insights, keep em coming 🙂

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