No Place Like Home
There are a thousand insights from this prolonged period of being home-bound. Many of them are related to the concept of home itself — a place usually so familiar its practically ignored — becoming new again as it takes on so many functions over the course of this Shelter-in-Place stretch.
Where I would formerly be closing my front door at around 8am each weekday morning, gone for 9, 10, 14 hours, I am instead padding around my kitchen making my coffee. Novelty while I’m working comes from discovering the path of sunlight across my walls throughout the day, hearing street activity below. I may spend a while making small adjustments to a drawer’s layout or moving a piece of art to a previously unconsidered location. Through these seeming mundane moments, I’ve fallen into a meditative trance with my home. Though I was already a person more fixated on the phenomenon of “home” than most, this experience has taken my focus to new depths.
I live in a small apartment, about 400 square feet, and have spent the last two years obsessively combing thrift stores, Craigslist, Dezeen, Pinterest and untold online retailers for compelling décor solutions in such a small yet important space. I Marie Kondo-ed the shit out of this place over a year ago and have maintained and tended to these sparks of joy in every closet, drawer, cabinet, wall and surface ever since. I love it here. I love all the meaningful pieces and how everything speaks to each other. The Chinese brocaded bolster pillow and the rich brown leather sofa. The two adjacent tree paintings in very different styles. I love the way the mirrors bounce ambient light around and create such different moods. I love how every area is used and enjoyed, how it’s always evolving.
But for all my domestic fascination, it occurs to me now that I didn’t actually spend that much time here. I slept here almost every night, and thus had most evenings and mornings here, but I was out every day for hours and hours. There was my time at the office, my commute, meetings in San Francisco or Berkeley, teaching and assisting classes with IMPACT Bay Area, dinner with friends, my thrift retail therapy, hiking or one of many urban adventures. Meaningful things, mostly, but all entailed travel.
In fact, even when I could have hunkered down at home, I avoided it. I suppose I had some anxiety about needing to be productive that always got me out the door. Even on weekends, I had a hard time really sitting still. The holidays that I spent alone here last year coincided with a break up that had me spiraling into emotionally dark places. I was out of practice with savoring my free time, a skill I once developed as a latchkey kid in the 90’s. Come January, I was relieved when I could go back to work and my routine.
My home has long been my sanctuary, and also my largest expense, but it wasn’t until this Shelter-In-Place that I leaned into a broader definition of what my home could become. As I quiet my mobile activity, I actually notice more opportunities for my wild, weird, uncontained self to emerge. I get to dawdle with my things, bullshit with friends and clients alike on the phone in my kitchen, eat a spontaneous & sprawling lunch on gilded china. Spend the afternoon painting, looking, dancing, moving. Write. Play loud music. Play nothing. Enjoy the calls from mourning doves outside.
Home used to be a place to rest in the evening. Now home is a place for everything.
Work, or whatever resembles work these days, but also every meal, exercise, hobbies, creativity, learning, phone calls and video connections. My interest extends outward — I’ve loved the glimpses into other people’s homes. The art they sit near, the weather out their window, the cups they drink out of, their pets and families and surroundings. We are all testing the limits of our homes and seeing how they function with the way we actually spend our time. I hope we make some adjustments that help us make better homes both now and always.
Shrinking my mileage each day has allowed my sensitivity to expand. I get to check in with what it feels like to hear what I’m hearing, see what I’m seeing, notice the quality or temperature of the air around me. If I want to change my clothes mid-day, adjust the breeze drifting to where I sit, play a certain song or start soaking dried beans, I can. There is something really powerful in that immediate ability. Knowing I can change something makes it safer to feel it in the first place.
I know the fact that so many others are in a similar (motionless) boat makes it easier to slow myself down, but I also realize this is a better pace for me. I actually don’t want to be so busy I don’t have time for “making”, whether that’s art or music or a meal. My cooking has gotten so much better with regular practice. These projects benefit from a certain relaxation of expectations, ie. unhurried time. And if I don’t need a lot of expensive stuff to be happy, I don’t need to prioritize making money or shopping. Making a change now might mean regaining years for the endeavors I find more important. I can see a healthier balance with what elements make up my life. And though this moment is particularly uncertain and unprecedented, the reality is that life isn’t predictable at any time. That’s certainly a case for slowing down and enjoying what I have right here, right now.
Home is incredibly personal, and the ones I love the most are those that thoughtfully reflect the nature of their inhabitants. As much as I love good design (and I can be a real asshole about it), professionally staged homes unsettle me. They are too vague. I want whoever lives there to be very involved in the homemaking process. I think they are worthy of the attention and energy required to create and maintain. To find the right pieces, to invest in good quality, to break with convention and do what makes us happy. If that means juxtaposing an antique marble ashtray from my grandmother with a beer koozie from Gumby’s Cigarette & Beer World (a remnant from high school circa 2002), so be it. Our home is worth taking care of and tending to, being authentic within, developing good habits around maintaining, even when we are the only ones in them.
They can be so many things to us — respites, inspirations, motivations and reminders. They can be supports to our learning and prayer and reflection. They can tell us where we came from and who has been a part of our story, remind us where we’re going and who we want to be. They can help us settle and integrate our experiences. They can be funny and forgiving, showing us our imperfections and also our best angles. They can allow us to drop all masks and just be ourselves. They nourish and heal and sustain us. And though we may take them for granted, we absolutely break down without them.
What are you noticing about spending so much time in your own home? When was the last time you went through the box of old photos? Really looked at the books on your shelf? When did you last put on your favorite albums from your childhood, your teens, your twenties? When did you last cook through every pot, pan, appliance and utensil in your kitchen? Put on a candle and do some feel-good stretching on your living room floor? Turn off the tv for a moment, put your phone on a charger in the other room, and sit with yourself, in your home. Look at your home from different perspectives. Breathe it in, admire it, thank it for all it does. We have worlds within our homes, within our rooms, within ourselves.
A never-ending adventure awaits.
[Photos my own]