I recently moved and I’m struggling to say goodbye to my previous home, my grandpa’s house. It was home for most of my life. I’ve created so much of my life growing up there: made so much art, strengthened friendships over many birthday parties and it’s the place where most of my memories of my grandpa live. Detaching the idea of my home from my grandpa’s house feels painfully impossible, like slowly pulling off a stubborn bandaid.
When I first visited my new apartment, this new place, it was just a big empty cold box. The voices of me, my husband and the realtor created an ear-slamming echo throughout the place. Envisioning a future outside of my old place, my Heavy Heirloom, made it hard for me to see this big white box as a home.
But we moved into this new place anyway, and it quickly became our place within a few days. It’s got lots of natural light, with a layout similar to our previous place. And even though it has all the elements that were inside my grandpa’s house - the art, plants and swan tables - it doesn’t feel like home yet.
But Jonny Sun helped me see the difference between place and home:
“Living in a place feels like it’s bookended by parallel experiences. You move into an empty space feeling uncertain about it, and slowly, you let the space hold onto that uncertainty so you don’t have to. And when you leave, you leave it again as an empty space, taking back the uncertainty that you were storing in it. It ends with an empty room, the same way as it began, although you’ve changed in all the time in between…
Everything echoes here now in this new hollowness. There is nothing left to absorb the sound, and nothing left to absorb me either. Now I’m not part of the space; I just bounce off the walls, echoing until I leave”
- Jonny Sun’s essay Moving, from his book Goodbye, Again
Place is physical.
While studying places as an architect, I became fixated on what makes a place beautiful and desirable. And over time, I realized how beautiful my grandpa’s house was. The arched portals, original built-in cabinetry, and high ceilings were all standard details when grandpa’s house was built, but they’re extremely desirable today. They’re “too expensive” or “too complicated” for modern construction, where the motto is: build-it cheap and fast, sell it for way more than it’s worth.
On top of that, there are so many personal DIY touches my grandpa added, like faux ceiling beams, built-in planter boxes, and the whole screened in backyard patio. I thought that my grandpa’s beautiful additions made his house feel like a home. They are what keep me attached.
But when I look outside of my situation, I notice that it's natural for people to outgrow the places they live. Look at the birds: a bird crafts a bunch of found twigs into a physical shelter, and uses it as a nest. This twiggy little donut is used only for a short period of time. As soon as the baby birds grow up and fly away, the nest becomes just a pile of twigs again, left to decay, or to be found by the next generation of birds in need of a nest.
A place can be willed into existence anywhere, for any purpose. Pillow forts and the back corners of the schoolyard are places that held childhood social activities, like used for board games or gossiping. And they were enclosed in physical structures, but they’re temporary. The pillow fort eventually collapsed, their cushions returned to the sofa. The schoolyard holds a new generation of children each year.
All places are physical and temporary. Like everything material in this world, nothing is permanent and the lifespan of a place is uncertain.
Home is emotional.
I started thinking about other things that make a place a home, like having complete control over what’s inside it, where it’s located, and who’s there with you. Home is a place to live in and create anything within, from food and art, to conversations and memories with others.
Home is meant to be a psychologically safe place, and that security comes from within. It's personal, it’s intimate, it’s emotional. Our hearts and minds take us there, they define and determine the place we call home.
Each day I’m getting slightly more excited to make a home in this new twiggy little donut we found. Honestly, this new place is pretty cool, and I know that someday it’ll feel like home.