To Feel at Home

People all have an innate urge to feel at home. Someone like Susan Clayton, an environmental psychologist, may say that this urge one of the things that makes us human. Just over two months ago, I started a business and one part of what I do, is stage vacation rentals, which spawned these thoughts of home. How do we make an empty house feel welcoming, temporarily acting as that place where visitors feel grounded, like they belong? How do we make this house a home?

As people we’re really good at making anywhere feel like home.

But to me, some newer buildings seem less conducive to our inhabitation, appropriation, or in other words, that sense of belonging. When first built, a house in Lakeview or Sunset Ridge feels awkward, uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because that brand new houses smell more like the plastic packaging in Walmart than your grandmother’s kitchen. Or maybe it’s that they all look the same.

Until you get to know it and make it your own, it’d be easy to mistake your house for the one around the corner. But then you fill the house with all your stuff, and it’s more yours now, right? Your friends in Halifax have the same couch. That’s okay, we both went to architecture school where they trained us to wear black and buy replicas of mid century modern furniture. Wait, the teacher in Vancouver has that couch too and so does the guy who works on the rigs in Fort McMurray.

We do our best to make each place our own, but as a culture, we’ve let popular media and advertisements define our sense of home. Your home is an outward expression of who you are. And as a culture, we feel pressure to make our home look like something out of Dwell, or Downhome.

Think back to your fondest memories, the times when you felt most at home. For me, they aren’t glamorous and definitely not pretty. I still chuckle at one of my first memories when my mom stood on top of the dining room table, broom in hand, squealing and flailing trying to ward off the mice. We lived in a dilapidated 150 year old farmhouse in rural New Brunswick. It was overrun with mice and we were allergic to the cats that are supposed to keep the mice away.

At age 12, we moved to Nova Scotia chasing a dream that two people in their mid 30s with three young kids really couldn’t afford. They bought that split level house on Sunset Terrace in a picturesque town with good schools. Now everything would be perfect, but it wasn’t.

I never felt at home in that house on Sunset Terrace, because no one ever loved it. The financial burden of that building meant broken things didn’t get repaired. Resentment grew and the house that was supposed to bring us together drove us apart.

It’s not the couch or the vase or the rug that make us feel at home. Those things are just decorations. We all need to express our personalities, and sometimes, inanimate objects can help us do that. But truly, the things that make us feel most at home are memories we create. The memory of sitting around the wood stove during White Juan lasts longer than the fact that your walls match your pillows.

If all of this is true, why is it that houses in Southlands or Kenmount Terrace are still selling? Why is it that we mistake many peaks on a roof for character or charm?

It’s the things that aren’t quite proper, it is what is unique and what we remember that makes us feel at home.