There’s no place like home

welcome home mat

We live somewhere while growing up. Learn to refer to it as home. A solid place that is always there. That we keep going back to. We’ll leave for school and work. But always come back.

That’s home.

It’s a place where we can be ourselves. Which may turn out for good or bad. When we go to work or school, out among other people, we’re expected to behave in certain ways to fit in with the larger group. But at home we can relax. Do what we want to do. There’s more freedom to be me.

That might be the concept of ‘home’: That little piece of the world that I control.

I lived in one place all the way until I went to college. Not that way for many kids. Those first years of life might include several moves. So for them, over the years, there are multiple homes.

That’s clearly a very different feeling than if you lived all your life in one place. But does someone who has moved feel less strongly about home? Not really. 

“If you go anywhere, even paradise, you will miss your home.”

Malala Yousafzai

Traveling and home

White traveling, I’ve been blessed with staying with families. It could be for a few days or longer. Of course they would refer to their residence as home. Because it was home for them. 

It amazed me how quickly I fell into accepting their house as home. Kind of made sense though. Because in my traveling world, that was the stable point at that moment. Where I could leave things and come back to. Didn’t have schlep my luggage all the time. It was home and safe.

I could relax and just be one of the family. Now, I didn’t pretend they were my permanent family. But they didn’t treat me as a guest either. I was one of them. Which could include helping out around the house.

It was pretty awesome being welcomed in to another family and made to feel at home.  I’ve been blessed to experience that many times.

Where is home?

Basement apartment interior
My first apartment in America, once I made it feel a bit more like home

Which brings up the question of if we can have more than one home.

When I was in college, each summer I went back to Sweden. On landing in Europe (be it Luxembourg, Amsterdam or Frankfurt), I had a sense of home-ness. Then continued by train to Copenhagen. I’ve never actually lived in that city, but it was sure familiar territory when I arrived. Next a ferry across to Sweden and the final train ride to my hometown. Walking in the front door. That was really home. Within a minute, it was like I’d never been gone.

At the end of summer, I made the trip back to the U.S., landing in Chicago. Being with friends there was a coming home experience. Arriving back in Iowa City, even to a house or apartment I’d never seen, but my roommates had moved into over the summer, was coming home. One minute and it was like I’d never been gone.

It wasn’t that I was being untrue to one home or preferring one place over another. They equally felt like home. I belonged. They were me.

“You can have more than one home. You can carry your roots with you, and decide where they grow.”

Henning Mankell

Going back home

Now decades later, and even though I haven’t been back to where I grew up for years, that is still home in a way. Many things will have changed in town, but it will still be familiar. My life has changed in many ways, yet that place will always feel like home.

I think it’s because so many formative things in my life happened there.

But it’s not just the place where I lived all my growing-up years. There are other places, where I spent less time, but they at some point or other felt like home. 

Going back to one of them, there’s still a feeling of connection. Still like coming home. I’ve been here before. I know what to do. Know my way around. There may be people I’ve known for a long time and who I can reconnect with very quickly, picking up right where we left off. 

“Home isn’t where you’re from, it’s where you find light when all grows dark.”

Pierce Brown, Golden Son

The most temporary of homes

It was even that way in the military. Certainly you would never accuse the army of trying to make barracks on base feel like home. 

We’d be out in the middle of nowhere on tactical maneuvers. Sleeping in tents if lucky. Hurrying and scurrying all day long. Rain or shine. 

In all that, you seriously looked at the barracks as home. Kept thinking how nice it would be to get back home. Even with inspection and polishing. But it was well-known routine. Better than endless marching. 

“When you’re safe at home you wish you were having an adventure; when you’re having an adventure you wish you were safe at home.”

Thornton Wilder

The meaning of home

It’s truly a big compliment and significant step when we start to view a place as home, whether we just moved to a new place or walk into a friend’s house. 

It’s the feeling that you belong. 

That this place is lived in. You feel the energy, care and love of this place. The personality. 

It’s comfortable in the way your favorite slippers or jeans are. Just fits.

You feel welcomed. Accepted. Secure. Able to relax. Whatever was going on before coming here, now everything is going to be okay.

Those are all things we look for in a place to call home. We want it to be a somewhere we’ll always want to come back to, no matter where in the world we go.

Every person needs a home like that. Deserves to have a place to call home.

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” 

Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

But for some, that’s not even remotely true.

I live here, but it’s not home

There are places I’ve visited as a guest and distinctly felt a barrier: Couldn’t be my home. Ever. Might be perfect in an interior decorating magazine. And I hope the people who live here feel at home. Just could never be me.

I’ve also lived in a few places that never felt like home. Somehow, it didn’t quite feel right to refer to the place as home. It was where I lived for a season. No permanency or commitment. No connections. Didn’t feel I quite belonged.

When home ceases to be home

Moving out of a place where you’ve lived, there’s that final moment stepping across the threshold for the last time. As the door clicks shut, you know that you’ll never set foot there again. 

I remember the final walk-through of my mom’s apartment. She’d lived there for 20 years. My family and I visited many times and even lived with her there for a season. It truly felt like home. Was home when we were there. 

Now she’d moved to another town and I was there in the empty apartment for one last check before turning in the keys. 

If I closed my eyes, I could see the now bare rooms full of our family. Of mom’s things. Of life, happiness, also sadness. A lot of experiences over 20 years.

All that was memory now. This place was no longer home and would never be again. To us. We’d never have any reason to come back here. I hoped whoever moved in next would find it as good a home for them as it had been for mom. For us.

“A house is made of brick and mortar, but home is made by the people who live there.”

M. K. Soni

When home is not safe

For too many people the place that should be home is anything but safe or peaceful and certainly not a place they can be themselves. Because there’s abuse going on. Or it’s unsafe to live in. 

Or they’re in a shelter or under a bridge because they have no other place to go. 

It’s not a place anyone will thrive. But they may be so scared or unable to act that they stay there, because it’s the only kind of home they’ve ever known. Even though it’s bad — really bad, they see no other option. 

Every person deserves better than that.

If daring to dream, most would dream of a home where they can be safe and happy.

“What is home? My favorite definition is “a safe place,” a place where one is free from attack, a place where one experiences secure relationships and affirmation. … The people in it do not need to be perfect; instead, they need to be honest, loving, supportive, recognizing a common humanity that makes all of us vulnerable.” 

Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life
4 images: residential street, woman with tea, friends in apartment, old house front
Different aspects of home: A familiar street, being comfortable and safe, friends to do life with, a welcoming front door.

It’s a paradox

For most of us, the concept of home is a place that we want to come back to.

Where I can be me, feel encourage and supported, recharge and be able to go out to take on the world.

Home can be a physical place and people that I live with.

If the above are no longer true, it would cease to be home. 

When the place doesn’t reflect me anymore. When the people that made home are gone. When things have changed irrevocably.

It’s possible to still feel connected to a place or people because they were important in my life at some point. Lots of memories from there. Part of what made me who I am today. Will always be home that sense.

That’s the case for me with my hometown in Sweden. I have no family living there any longer. No place to walk in through the front door and proclaim that I’m home. But I still feel connected to the town. Because it’s so well-known — full of memories.


Maybe that is the main marker of home: We have memories and make memories there. Life happens there. We had or have connections there. It’s well-known. Welcoming.

Clearly that’s not a scientific concept that can be carefully reduced to a list of traits, to be collected and checked off. There’s a lot of experience, of personal connections and interactions involved. People caring for each other.

In the end, home is very subjective. But so important to our well-being. Because if we don’t have a place to call home, we feel, are, estranged. Lost. Adrift on the sea of life.

Home is not marked by physical boundaries or walls. It’s something we make for ourselves and each other.

“The home should be the treasure chest of living.”

Le Corbusier

In the end, maybe the most apt way to put it still is: Home is where the heart is.

And the best greeting we can ever receive is: Welcome home.