I tend to say that I can feel home almost anywhere, and I guess, that's mainly because I usually didn’t spend much time at home… till now. I used to travel a lot, and now I am narrowed down to the cycling distance around the flat. I am questioning what is my “home”.
“Home” is a fascinating concept that doesn’t even translate in all languages. Of Germanic origin, related to German “heim” and “Heimat”, it can refer to your house, your community, your homeland. For everything that it captures, we tend to agree that “there is no place like home”. Our environment directly impacts our well-being and happiness. Home provides us with a feeling of security, a sense of belonging and to some extend defines our identity. Let’s explore the different layers of “home” and what you need to feel “home”: in your house, your community and where you live.
Seeing your house with new eyes
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes”. Marcel Proust
I can’t help but add the original version as Proust’s words have a slightly different flavour in French:
« Le seul véritable voyage, le seul bain de jouvence, ce ne serait pas d'aller vers de nouveaux paysages, mais d'avoir d'autres yeux. »
Let’s start this journey within the four walls you currently spend a lot of time in. Seeing my house with new eyes is usually what long travels taught me in the past. There was nothing better than sleeping in my own bed after several months backpacking. How can you use this perspective today to feel more grateful about what you have? All the small pleasures you can associate to your home like a glass of fresh tap water or the smell of the freshly baked bread out of the oven.
Home has the safety of the things you know; it might also hold the discomfort of the things that you might know too well and don’t want to see anymore. Looking around, I notice all this clutter that isn’t essential and doesn’t bring me any emotion. It is time to get rid of this cloth I don’t actually like and this kitchen supply I never use, not even in quarantine.
Who is your community?
In current times it might be helpful to remind yourself of the multiple connections that you have in your life, no matter where they are in the world: the family you grew up with, your childhood friends, your university friends, your new friends, your new family.
While this crisis gave me an urge to reconnect with some of my old friends, at the same time, I realized how I was becoming more aware of my direct neighbourhood, checking in with the neighbours from time to time, making sure that we can support each other. This week, I noticed some flowers in front of the old lady’s door downstairs, I don’t know from whom they were or if they meant to celebrate a special occasion, but I felt really touched by the action. Just like our human ancestors couldn’t risk getting excluded from the tribe in the plains of Africa if they wanted to survive, our primal need of belonging to the group becomes more apparent in times of crisis.
Your homeland - where is home?
For some people it might be a very easy question to answer. It isn’t for me.
Home might be where you were born, where you feel you have roots and a sense of belonging. What are the different layers of your home? The village where you grew up? The city where you studied? Where your family lives today? More than ever, I am aware that I live in a country where I only speak the language a little (“een beetje”), and I feel disconnected to my home country, as I cannot travel back. I see myself as a “citizen of the world” but I also feel like a “citizen of nowhere”.[i]
What I am realizing is that home is also the place(s) that define(s) you. I lived in different countries, and somehow, I still feel home in all the places I lived, because all of them contributed to shape me into who I became. I am open and energized by crowds, that’s how Paris shaped my personality spending time in this vibrant diverse city. I feel European, influenced by different histories, especially the French and German culture, after living in Strasbourg. I love creativity, keeping things “weird” and “alternative” and this is what my times living in Portland and Berlin brought me. I turn to the sunlight like a sunflower, consider that I have nothing to hide; that’s what living in the Netherlands is teaching me. While most of these places are not my native country, they have all become my homeland.
Home is where you are becoming who you want to be
Traveling finds its essence when you have a place to go back to, movement when you can recover and reach a sense of stillness, home when you can appreciate how it reflects the world around you.
When looking around my flat again, I notice some objects that bring me joy. That picture of my brother and I as kids that reflect my playfulness, that small furniture that I got from my grandparents that show me where I come from, this nice little statue I brought back from a life-changing trip in Senegal is a reminder for my distant friendships, this plant I just received from a friend who decided to move to a new home, reminds me of the people around me and the temporary nature of things. A couple of books on my shelf are getting my attention as I know how they too, like the places I have lived, shaped who I am today. The world is in my house, maybe I don’t need to travel anymore?
I encourage you to question your surroundings. What do you see around you that defines you? Home, more than ever, is where you can start your inner discovery. What do the objects around you mean to you? How can they be a constant reminder for who you want to be? Maybe it is a yoga mat for the fit and flexible person you will be, a mirror for your honesty, a candle for the loving person bringing warmth to others, headphones for your focused mind that doesn’t get distracted anymore, a plant growing in all direction reminding you that you don’t need to be perfect. What’s your object?