What does ‘home’ mean? #674

#674 in a series of true experiences in real estate

For years I’ve been thinking what constitutes home. People’s impressions, memories, reactions to, and choices of home are most interesting to me.

Home is an idea, a concept. Home is also a place where you sleep, come in from the rain, a place where you can close the door. Some homes are intricate and rich; some are plain, not fancy.

Many homes are filled with possessions, but there are people who own little. People live alone in their homes or they live with family or friends, and sometimes with roomers they rent to.

Home can be a single room, a palace, a lean-to, basement or bungalow. Many people lock their doors, and some have security doors, intercoms, gates and dogs to keep outsiders out.

While some people are compulsive about keeping their living spaces clean and tidy, others commonly live in disarray. There are people who caulk the tubs and sinks and others who don’t notice the mildew on the ceiling and walls.

Some people live in the same dwelling for all of their lives, but most of us have lived in several. How we choose them and the ways in which we live in them differ depending on our focus and circumstances. How we remember them later may change over time.

A few years ago I went back to see the house where I lived when I was a young child. I had thought about that house many times since moving when I was twelve years old, and I was curious to find if my memories of the house were accurate.

I had remembered the layout and many of the building details: the California cooler where my mother kept potatoes and my sister and I played hide-and-seek, the built-in buffet in the dining room, and the spot where the kitchen table stood and where my mother sat us for hours as she curled our hair with Toni Home Permanents.

But – and this struck me – the house seemed so small. Our family of five had all lived there quite comfortably, slept, ate, played in the house. On seeing it again, it was surprising to me that we had. We must have been on top of one another all of the time. The hallway, for example, that connected the two bedrooms was where we had played hopscotch, the linoleum marked with white chalk, but this hallway seemed minuscule.

Had I been asked about my home when I was living in that house, I probably would have said that I lived on Coolidge Avenue, that my mother, father, brother, sister, our cat and I lived there, and that we had a big flower garden. Maybe I would have described the bedroom that we kids shared; I might have talked about the neighbors, their names and in which houses they lived.

But I wouldn’t have said the house was small. I wouldn’t have thought to say anything about the age and condition of the roof or the appliances. Nor, I think, would I have commented that the house provided us protection from the elements and sanctuary from the outside world.

As I look every week at houses for sale, talk with owners who are changing homes, watch as buyers select houses, I think often about what home is. I enjoy thinking about this, like picturing how people live in houses, what might make them become home.

I find myself wondering about the same questions over and over again. What is it about certain houses that makes so little impression that I can barely recall them after I’ve been inside them? What about other houses, invites me to stay, even those that I have been inside only briefly, and causes me to treasure their memory years later? If I lived in a house that calls so strongly to me, how would my life be changed?

A lengthy search has rewarded me with books containing collections of memories and experiences of home written by a number of people. This passage, included in “The Poetry of Home” by Charlotte Moss was written by Florida Scott-Maxwell. The writer does not reveal the location, size or architectural style of the building described. We don’t know if the writer has bought or is renting. But, unmistakably, this is a description of a cherished home.

“After a time of trouble I found a likable flat which was to be my home. I had had a long need of one, so it was also my dear shelter. My daughter and I moved in one evening with two suitcases, two beds, three pots of bulbs, a kettle and tea things. We lit a brilliant fire in the seemly little grate with the dry slats the builder had left after making a big opening between the two public rooms. I lay in the firelight peacefully listening to pigeons on the roof…I listened, looked out on the trees beyond both windows and I was free and happy…It was already so precious to me that its surface was almost my skin.”

What does home mean to you? Do you immediately think of the place where you are living now? In your mind, can you run through all of the places where you have lived? Do you “see” the street faces or do you “see” instead the insides of the buildings, go to the kitchens, the gardens, the places where you slept, or where you ate?

Were these places where you stayed for a time, or were they, for you, home?

This entry was posted in Information for Both Sellers and Buyers. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

  • Sign up to receive our newspaper columns: