A Roaming Gnomes Complicated Feelings on Home

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Like me, my friend Naomi has recently moved to a new home. Her new home is in Singapore. Our friend Pauline and her family moved from Cleveland to Chicago, and our other friend Amelia recently bought a new-to-her-home in Cleveland. Naomi had the brilliant idea that we should all write a little something today about this shared experience of making a new home.

Naomi once sent me beautiful earrings from India, so I make it a rule to always say yes to her.

What makes a place a home?

I’ve thought and written about this before. When I moved away from my hometown in Iowa to a suburb in Central Florida, I was determined to replace an old home with a new one; I assumed furniture and a change of address would do that. When that small Iowa town was wiped out by a tornado, I realized that home has very little to do with where you sleep at night.

Florida did, however, eventually become our home. That was clear to me when we said goodbye to it last year so that we could move into a travel trailer hitched up to our SUV.

While living without an address made me feel homeless in a sense, it also taught me about how people create a sense of home.

When we moved in with my in-laws this spring, I learned that home means being able to sit on your couch in your underwear on a Sunday just because.

So I moved to Pittsburgh with the people who mean the most to me, rented a duplex, and bought a couch. I have admittedly spent very little time on my couch or in my underwear here, but it still seems like I should have all of the ingredients to make a home. As Jared so aptly put it a couple weeks ago, “Besides you guys, I don’t really feel like I have a home.”

Ironically, it’s been an abundance of ties rather than a lack that has left us feeling so adrift.

Parkersburg is home because that’s where we came from, but Florida is where we figured out who we are. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is the city we chose as our own after exploring an entire country. It’s here in Pennsylvania – and man does that feel strange to type – that we’re hoping to feel most at home now. Or at least, eventually, because I know these things take time.

But how do we do that?

We’ve filled the house with furniture, but we’re always aware on some level of the temporary nature of this place and these things. That’s a lesson you can’t unlearn.

Instead of just staging a rental, I’m trying to add personal touches, things I make that can move with us and perhaps carry a sense of home with them.

I’m trying, too, to weave myself into the fabric of this community. I’m volunteering, exploring the neighborhoods, and trying to get out and meet people as often as possible. I suspect these things are more relevant to home than any handmade wall art or throw pillow.

I can’t stop thinking about the people who are my home and about what happens when half of us grow up and move away for school or work or wanderlust. Maybe this is why I’m more concerned with making somewhere home; it will soon be my responsibility to provide a place to go back to for my own children. Part of me is terrified that it will no longer be suitable to roam once my children have left the nest.

I’m not ready to say that this is the place where I will live forever and ever. I’m not ready to give up on my dream of living abroad or renting a New York City apartment. And how can somewhere feel like home when you didn’t start out there and you don’t plan on ending up there?

I’m tired of feeling transient, but I’m not ready to give up wandering. I want to feel like I belong somewhere, but not feel stuck anywhere.

I want to be home. I do.

I’m pretty sure.

I think.

Sorry, Naomi. Turns out my feelings on “making a home” are a lot more complicated than I realized.

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  1. Naomi says:

    Mine touches on friendship too .. it is such a vital piece of the moving recipe.

    (http://singapore.naomihattaway.com/2012/09/on-making-friends-and-moving/)

    Home is such a hard thing to define. The classic “home is where your heart is” is true, but so small. Like you said, it’s more than the fixtures and the decor, but at the same time it can create that “homey” comfortable feeling.

    Sigh.
    Naomi’s most recent post: Box 53b

  2. the muskrat says:

    I noticed you left me out of the above list of folks who have moved recently, and I assume it’s because I didn’t leave the state. However, moving to a new ‘hood also requires reaching out and trying to establish new roots, friends, routines, etc. This is especially true in Atlanta, where traffic is so bad that a move of only 15 miles can mean 1.5hrs, so we pretty much never go back to our old ‘hood: its restaurants, bars, or our old friends’ houses.

    The new place has not felt like home, mainly because I was allergic to the house itself, and it has continously proven to have issues that require expensive fixes. However, we joined a local pool and local supper club recently. And, thanks to our dog’s propensity to run away when supposed to be taking a shit in the backyard, we’ve met more and more of the folks on our new street. Thus, despite disliking the house (for now…it needs more work), we’re starting to like the ‘hood more and more as we meet people we like. Thus, home is where our people are (and not necessarily just family).
    the muskrat’s most recent post: muskrat does dallas

  3. Becca says:

    I look at my children leaving home completely differently. I’ve always looked at it as the time that Crys and I will be able to move around, explore and go see those places we haven’t been able to because of being tied to a high school.

    The closer it gets the more excited I get to finally have that freedom, while hoping that Crys is still willing to explore with me. I know where we are now isn’t really home, other than we all live together here. I always thought home was meant to be surrounded by family, and our chosen family is about an hour north.

    Thank you for your awesome words today!!

  4. Carly says:

    I am just now starting to find that it’s the friendships, the people, and the comforting memories that tie me to places. There is also the mystery and unfulfilled potential of ALL the other places everywhere that draw my attention away from “home.” June 12 marked my 2 year anniversary of leaving Denver to move to Pittsburgh. Can that even be right? I feel like I’ve been here so much longer than that. I just met someone last week who seems like a mirror image of myself…and lives in my neighborhood. I’m keeping a list of local friends on my whiteboard in the kitchen now, to remind me of all the great people who live here. Another really wispy and elusive piece to the puzzle has been mindfulness about our location. Being present, being here, not living in the future and making decisions based on what-ifs, could’ves, should’ves, maybes, next times, and the like. Because it can ever be home if we never allow ourselves to BE there. And just because we allow ourselves to BE here, doesn’t mean we can’t change our minds later. Very tough for me to live that advice, but it feels so good (and dangerous) when I do.
    Carly’s most recent post: Big Productive Weekend, Pt 1 (Kitchen Progress)

  5. Joy says:

    I hold that I have a few “homes”.

    First and foremost, it is wherever I reside with my husband and children, be that an extended unexpected hotel stay (damned volcano!), or whatever else.

    Second, there are places that hold my heart, where I have lived and loved and grown as a person. I will not likely ever live there again, but it is a “home” for me.

    Third, there are places that I have only visited that resonated deeply within my soul, and I feel such a sense of belonging there that a small piece of me resides there forever. Oddly enough, the small town that I grew up in does not hold this for me. My parents no longer reside there, and I was never really happy there, either. I don’t go back.

    Friends are certainly important, but I found when we moved overseas for 8 months, not for work, that it was more difficult than we had imagined to integrate into the community, thanks in large part to the internet, and the instant connection we managed to maintain with a great many friends back home. It was really interesting for us, that state of having a foot in both places, yet truly immersed in neither. And now that we are back, we are not yet truly immersed here again, because we still have ties to there! :) Thinking of what makes “home” certainly lends to a lot of philosophizing, and is so individual, isn’t it? We have lived in this small town for 14 years now, and we still have our eye on the exit. This is home for now, but certainly not for always. But, this home grants us the opportunity to leave for other places periodically for up to a year at a time, so…

    Yes, I have many homes, and they are dear to me. But “HOME” is where my husband and children are, without doubt.

    Thank you for starting this conversation! I may even have to start up my blog again, to continue fleshing out these thoughts. Thank you for that, too. :)

  6. does renting, and being unable to make whatever changes you want to the structure, make a difference? like if you want a nail someplace or a wall painted or a tree removed or whatever and are unable to do so because the place isn’t owned by you, does that make it feel less like home after owning homes (and an rv) since you were 19?
    hello haha narf’s most recent post: Adventure in Tahn

  7. Poppy says:

    I have a few places I feel at home:
    My grandmother’s house, even though she is no longer living.
    My best friends’ house in Vermont, even though I haven’t been there in over a year.
    My brother’s house.
    Dave’s parents’ home.
    My home (but just inside, not in the neighborhood itself, even after 4 years).
    My mom and stepdad’s home in Tennessee.

    Home is where your heart is. Or, at least for me.
    Poppy’s most recent post: perfect

  8. Racheal says:

    I’m not sure how it happened, or when it happened. I’m not sure when I went from WTF AM I DOING HERE *panic* *panic* *PANIC* to holy cow THIS IS HOME!

    I am not sure when this place became comfortable and fit so perfectly, was it while I was stretching and molding and trying to find my sense of who I was here and struggling not to get lost in a sea of faces and the insane business of the city? I longed for home, the first year I moved here, I longed for the familiar, I longed for knowing which back roads to take and the comfort and ease of a local. I longed to be a local and not feel like I stood out or didn’t know how everything worked. And the truth is, there is no easy, no timeframe, no exact formula….it is a slow but also too fast process. An agonizing unsure but so damn rewarding process. In time, you adapt, you change, you grow.

    I think the hardest part for me was figuring out who I was in this strange place. Figuring out where I belonged, learning who to trust, who to strike friendships with and who to stay away from. Learning a new culture and embarassing myself silly when I made an awful social faux pas because I just didn’t know..and then being patient enough to say, you know what, I will learn this and it will be okay and this is just temporary.

    But most of all, I was committed to making this work. I gave myself 5 years and a way out just in case, but I was committed from the start. And so I do what I do best, I threw myself all in, and swam swam swam….furiously, retardedly, awkwardly, painfully, survival, fight fight fight swam.

    Because I wanted the roots you talk about, I moved because I wanted these roots for my children. I wanted them to know their grandparents and their aunts, I wanted them to know the language and the culture. I wanted them to have roots.

    P/S Please tell your friend Naomi that if she ever visits KL (20 mins flight from Singapore) and needs someone to just show her around or play tour guide for the day, we’d be more than glad to! :) We are finally “home”, and part of being “home” is that you know all the secret places!

  9. Petunia says:

    “Ironically, it’s been an abundance of ties rather than a lack that has left us feeling so adrift.”

    That absolutely hit the nail on the head. I have intense ties to people and places in various parts of the globe, and deciding to prioritize meaningful connections to people important to me means being constantly pulled in different directions. Where to go this holiday? This vacation? Where to move next? It feels so complicated. I deeply crave roots, but like you I am not yet ready to let go of the wanderlust that has defined my life thus far. Let me know if any of these issues become clearer for you, I could sure use a few pointers ;)
    Petunia’s most recent post: Teaser

  10. Megan says:

    A single home necessary? I kind of like the notion of having many homes because there are many places where there are people you love. And love, I think, is the key. Or at least part of it.

    Home isn’t a place. It’s a feeling.
    Megan’s most recent post: If You Ask Me…

  11. Liz says:

    Out of curiosity, what was the name of the Florida town you lived in? I won’t be surprised if it starts with a P. (Parkersburgh. Pittsburgh.)

    Lovely post, as always. That cheesy old saying, “home is where the heart is,” is so, so true.
    Liz’s most recent post: Excerpt: “Frankie the Vigilante” Work in Progress

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