To me, home is not necessarily a physical place. It is more than that. When I think of home, I think of multiple places, people and states of mind.I think I love having many homes, some of them physical, others psychological. I can’t tell you really what home is but I can tell you what home means to me.
1) A house
It’s the first thing that comes to mind when we think of “home”: a building with furniture. It doesn’t have to be one house: there is the house we were raised and then there is the house where we moved when we grew up and the house we are raising our own families.
2) A geographical place
Often, when asked: “So where is home to you?”,we answer with the name of the city or country we were born in. But it doesn’t have to be that way. During my life, there have been many wonderful cities and countries I called home if only for a few months:
- Warsaw, Poland: where I was born and spend the majority of my life
- Cologne, Germany: where I lived with my parents for two years, learned to speak German and made friends.
- Hamburg, Germany: where I studied, met my husband, and moved in together
- Winnipeg, Canada: the first time I ever moved in with my future husband
- And now, The Hague, the Netherlands: where I live and raise children
- Airports: because they’re awesome
- Hotels: I felt that hotels are also kind of homes. Yes, they are temporary, but give us a home if we need one.
3) The people I love
Home can be a place, but if you look at the city list above, you will see that the common denominator are the people: my parents, my brother, my friends, my husband, my children- they are all home to me, no matter where we live.
I was surprised when I read that TCK’s often keep souvenirs and things from wherever they’d lived. But I think I get it. They try to keep something from their old homes. And when we moved from our previous home in Delft to our new home close to The Hague, we brought our furniture with us (obviously, as the home wasn’t furnished) and we have since bought new things. Some because it was necessary, other we bought because it reminded us of our heritage. Now, there are also pictures on the walls. But we try to keep stuff to a minimum as we like space a lot!
5) Memories and impressions
There is this famous scene from “In Search Of Lost Time” where the protagonist finds the lost time by eating a madeleine that he remembered from childhood. I think the same can be said of home: when we think back to the time we were children, we often associate home with smells, tastes, sounds and visual memories. When we move to another house, the first things we miss are the memories that the new place doesn’t yet have. We also tend to take objects from one place to another: photographs, souvenirs, jewellery, and more. And this brings me to my last point.
6) A conscious decision
It is no coincidence that in English, we talk about “making a home”. Making a home requires effort and it is a conscious decision, to say: “this is our home” and act accordingly. And I don’t mean buy furniture, or hang pictures on the wall. I mean living your life in it, creating memories and catching moments. I mean reading books, cooking, playing, sleeping and laughing and crying. Especially when moving to another country, this decision has to be made consciously: “we’re going to live here. Let’s make the most of it”.
7) A state of mind
In Japanese, there is a word ibasho: “A place where I can be myself”. For most of us, including myself, that place is our actual home. However, it is not always fixed. It doesn’t go wherever I go either, but rather I know immediately I’m home wherever that happens to be.
In her book, “Global Mom”, Melissa Dalton-Bradford writes: “Home means something more than a where. It is not a structure, not an address, not a city, not even a country. I am beginning to wonder if home is a place at all. Home, perhaps, is a disposition of the soul an acknowledgement that I share with another soul a certain intimate narrative.” Home is a story we tell together.
I think that in the end, what we refer to as home is a combination of many things and it is a pity if we narrow down to just a fixed place in a fixed country because then the many meanings of home elude us.
I am not saying that it is better to have many homes, or live in various countries. I am just saying that this makes you more receptive to all the nuances that the word “home” actually invokes. Because in the end, we all have many homes, just not everyone knows it yet.