October 8, 2020 | Narrative
am i home?
musings on a space-based emotion
The first home I knew lasted the longest. This home, located on a quiet street on the outskirts of Boston, changed as much as I did over the past 18 years. It shaped my conceptions of the word “home” as much as I changed its walls and furnishings. It was there that I learned what makes a physical place a spatially-based sentiment. When my parents and I began our efforts to make the house a home, the backyard was cracked cement and a chicken coop. The house was one-story, with four rooms and an unfinished basement. There was a dog I was allergic to (which no one knew yet) and a porch where I bounced in a small baby bouncer that hung from the ceiling.
But soon enough, this house changed, and the ways it was a home shifted along with it. Soon, there were two brothers and a new level added to the house to maintain. The basement was finished. The walls were painted (for the first time). The first dog died, and when we tried to adopt a second, she was quickly returned as my allergy became apparent. After that, I became a much less cranky child, less sniffling and more eager-eyed.
We almost moved once, but I vetoed the idea because I wanted to stay in the same middle school district as my friends. I later regretted the choice when I grew to resent the house that had become my home. As I grew taller, the floors started to feel cramped and the corners felt worn with dirt. I asked my parents if we might reconsider moving or if I could study abroad. These plans were swiftly rejected and the same home remained. Then I began to realize that I, to some degree, had the power to change it. When a flood ruined our kitchen at age 11, I helped my mom plan to redo it. Around the same time, I painted my walls bright purple, revitalizing the childish pastel pink. I got a new bed frame, drew some art for the walls and thought I had the coolest room ever—for a year.
Soon, those walls were bright blue, then pastel blue, but the pink carpet I hated never changed until just this month, when the smell and dirt of 20 years became too much for my parents and they finally pulled all the carpets out. I wish 13-year-old Alisa could know that one day she would get exactly what she wanted.
Yet, when the carpet did change, I wasn’t even there to care about it. It had been two years since I physically lived in the house after moving away for college, and many more years since I had actually felt at home there. Sure, I had found ways to make it home-like—putting my favorite art on the walls, keeping it tidy, spending time with my family—but it didn’t feel like a home that I put time into, and more importantly, I just didn’t feel an emotional connection to it. My family continues to live in this house, calling it home, but my childhood room fades away into a guest bedroom as I more consistently define my own boundaries of home and the sentiments attached to them.
When I moved into my new apartment this fall, I realized that unless another worldwide disaster hits, I hope to never make my family house the place I consider my emotional “home.” I would like to keep visiting, of course. But I would also love to believe that I am actively defining my own concept of home and what it means to create one. I hope that this will continue to lead me farther away from the physical space that defined the first 18 years of my life.
However, entering a new period of home-making is no small task. Whether moving to college, switching dorm rooms or moving into an apartment, there are vital questions that must be answered about what home is to you. For me, there were clear stages in my ability to create a space that felt like home. My first dorm room consisted of hand-me-downs, scattered postcards, and magazine clippings. I haphazardly bought storage containers from Target as I tried to check off the basic list of college essentials. My first self-invented home worked, but it still lacked that emotional connection I yearned for. Often that first year, I would stay out late at libraries or at friends’ to avoid the glaring sterileness of cinder blocks and tiled floors.
Since then, all of my homes have been more fitting—more distinctly “me”—but alarmingly brief. My second home, a two-month long sublet, was lovely in every way aside from its brevity. It was my housemate who made that house a true home as we cooked dinner, tended to our many plants, and worked hard to maintain the space we had sought out so carefully. After that, I spent five months living with my boyfriend, creating a space that was livable but retained the essence of a house filled with boys who didn’t want to put much effort into the space around them.
When I moved out, I put greater effort than ever before into curating my new dorm room and soon enough, nearly every surface was covered with knick-knacks, memories of cherished moments, and small things that truly mattered to me. Yet, that home was short-lived too; quarantine and Covid-19 sent me back to my parent’s house prematurely.
My perception of home is changing again, as I once again move out and unload my belongings into a new house I’m subletting for six months. I am beginning to wonder why I care so much, why I carry so many objects with me from place to place. Does dedicating time and effort to unpacking, arranging, and taking care of these things create a home for me? Even if for only a few months at a time, compared to the long 18 years my first house claimed?
I think it does. I think so a bit more each day as I clean my own dishes, vacuum my own rug, clean my own sheets, and accumulate more knick-knacks than I could have ever imagined. I have only lived on Brook St. for about a month now, but I know the familiar sounds that greet me at night. I know how long it will take me to reach the mini-mart or Bagel Gourmet. I just bought a desk chair off Facebook Marketplace that fits my desk perfectly. When I spend time in this house, I am at ease with the routines; I am familiar with my housemate’s schedule and when my cat will demand attention. It might have taken a few frantic days to unpack all the boxes I stuffed with candles and posters, books I didn’t ‘need,’ and more. But now, when I look around me, I feel so proud of the space I have created out of the scraps of furniture and objects that I am always on the lookout for. I know I am home.
My mom’s biggest grievance about me is that I will buy things I don’t need as long as there’s a good enough deal and I assume future me will like it. She tells me that I can figure those things out in the future. Yet, now, as I move again and again, I am so grateful for the things I carry with me from space to space. It almost feels like a home is a puzzle assembled with the things I furnish it with, and my presence simply completes the picture: laying on my bed, sitting at my desk, reading in the sunlight of the window. There is more to home than the objects I fill it with or what the space looks like, but these comforts make settling into a new space much easier. They make me feel like I can be home anywhere, so long as I can find a table to present my shrine of memories and a pillow to rest my head on, and that’s enough for me.