Reality Check: The Essence of Home

What makes a house a home? You’ve seen the decorative signs that say home is where the heart is or that love makes a house a home. What does that really mean?
Feeling that we are loved is one of the basic needs that Dr. Glasser identified in Choice Theory. We want to feel that we belong to a group that matters to us.
You might be satisfied with belonging to a group that has just one other person. Or maybe you need more people—a family group, work group, church group, or social group—to feel that you belong.
Is that feeling of belonging enough to feel that you have a home?
For example, let’s say you’ve downsized. You sold the big house and moved into a more manageable living arrangement. Does it feel like home?
You may still have the same social connections and belong to the same groups as before. Does the feeling of being at home travel with you? Or does it take something else to make that new space your home? Is home where your family is? Is home where your cat or dog is?
If you go camping, at the end of a day’s exploration, might you say, “It’s good to be home” when you get back to your campsite?
A place as temporary and fragile as a tent can sometimes feel like home whereas a safe, comfortable hotel, nursing home, or even a mansion, may feel nothing at all like home to you.
What makes a place a home?
In his excellent book, “Being Mortal”, Atul Gawande discusses some of the types of places where we may live as we get older. For many, whether of necessity or choice, a nursing home is the destination. Does it feel like home?
If a tent can feel like home when you’re camping, why wouldn’t a stable, substantial building like a nursing home feel like home?
Or perhaps you have made arrangements to move in with your son or daughter. You know you are welcome and cared for. Does that make it feel like home?
Even in a wonderful place that’s safe and clean, with caring people and things to do, some of us never feel at home. Why? It’s just not home.
One of Gawande’s examples clarified the essence of home in a way that resonated with me. He said, “Home is the one place where your own priorities hold sway.”
To put Gawande’s statement in choice theory terms, I’d say that home is where you feel that you have control. It’s home if you can decide when to get up and when to go to bed. It’s home when you can choose where to put your stuff, how warm or cold to keep it, and whether to shut your door or leave it wide open.
Home is where your choices matter. It’s where you can do what you believe is best for you. At home, you can keep your old magazines if you want to. You can arrange your books alphabetically or not at all.
Whether it’s a huge house or a tiny room, home is where someone else is not in control. No one is rearranging your possessions, demanding that you drink your tea, or forbidding you to have a cat.
Even when others are well-intentioned, when they believe that they know what’s best for us, we feel controlled.
But not at home. At home, we have freedom. We have control. It’s home.
If you need to move, how can you make a new and perhaps very different place feel like home?
I think that the essence of feeling “at home” has to do with feeling that you have some control over what happens in your space. What do you think?

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