As the world goes into phases of extended lockdown, all of us have been forced to stay at home. Home is where we have been trying to work from, and spending our days seeking entertainment , comfort and safety. Which started a train of thoughts ; questions about what is a home, how do I make my home feel more homely? And what do I do if I don’t like the home that I am in?
We might have travelled the entire world, and stayed in the plushest of hotel rooms, cosiest of inns and even been mesmerised in the grand outdoors, but the four walls of home is more than just a place to stay and sleep, if one is to believe the ‘School of Life’ – Homes have a memorialising function, and they help us to remember ourselves. It creates a sense of identity, and that is why we create temples of prayer, that house our idols and ideals; and just like temples of prayer, our own homes embody our values and merits.
What does that mean in simple terms? It means that the chair which is more function than frivolous, and that mixer grinder that was gifted to you on your wedding, and the painting you bought from your travels, which everyone agrees you paid too much for, all these bits and pieces come together to make up your home, and your identity.
So, is the sense of home , in finding the familiar? Or does it lie in our memories of a place?
And what if you move homes frequently? Does it then travel with the people who live in the home?
As an army kid we changed a lot of homes, and I think one of the few objects that reminded us of home were the plates and glasses. Not the fancy ones, reserved for when guests would come home, but the simple plastic ones, which were the last things to be packed up, and the first ones to be unpacked when we reached our new residence. I think one of those plates even travelled with me when I left home for college hostel, as well.
For my son, home to him, even though at four he doesn’t understand the concept, is his black ‘sleepy blanket’. Originally it had been my blanket, but in the tenuous moments when as an infant, he would have JUST fallen asleep, I would lay my blanket over him, as I silently slipped out of bed, and tiptoed out of the room. Maybe, it was my familiar scent that provided him comfort, when he was a few months old, but since then it been washed and rewashed, and now he barely lets any of us touch it, so, the scents and smells have changed over time. But his sleepy blanket is his steadfast companion, on flights, aswell as in 5 star holiday destinations.
And why this undeniable need to call a place, any place, a home? Again , the School of life suggests that it is our need for something tangible, and material, a receptacle of sorts, to store diverse and intermittent aspects of our identities.
While in lockdown, many of us have taken to cleaning our homes, and again the question arises, what parts of it are you willing to let go of, without losing the essence of HOME ? Marie Kondo in her book the life changing magic of tidying, speaks about objects that Spark Joy. In the typical Japanese Zen manner, the KonMari method of cleaning out your home, believes in touching every object, and feeling if it sparks Joy for you in the Present, and if it doesn’t, then thank the object for its years of service and lovingly part with it. Not everything can find a home in your home. But, after you have let go of the clutter, and only kept the bare minimum of things that truly spark Joy, and found a place for them, where they are easily accessible, and also are beautifully displayed, so that you can see the joyful things everyday, is when a home becomes homelier.
And that brings me to the last bit, when you realise that your home may not be providing the warmth, safety, sympathy and the sense of belonging that you wish. For a lot of people, staying indoors , in a home they have ceased to identify as home, can be hugely discomforting right now. Maybe it is a home they didn’t choose for themselves, or have outgrown. If you find yourself in such a situation, now would be the best time to change things around. It could be as simple as choosing to declutter, to making a small corner into your ‘happy space’ filled with all the things that spark joy for you, or if nothing else, find solace in writing your thoughts in a journal, and calling that book your home for the moment.
And yet, many feel homeless, even within the four walls of their homes, and it is only now, in these troubling but insightful times they have realised that they must seek new homes, once we are allowed to step out of our old ones. I wish you courage then, to build a sanctum for all that you value, and where you are valued.
One thing is for sure that we will never again view our homes as just a place to house our belongings, but a place where we belong. As George Eliot says ‘what novelty is worth the sweet monotony, where everything is known, and it is loved because it is known.’