How to make a house a home

I heard a song the other day (video, lyrics) that included the line “Somehow we have forgotten how to make a house a home,” and I got to thinking about what exactly it is that causes that transformation. For sure it is not simply filling a house with stuff; some houses are so crammed full of possessions that they have all the ambiance of a junk shop.

When I finished my graduate school coursework in the spring of 2004, I still had to complete a 100-hour independent-study internship by the end of the summer to fulfill all the requirements to get the degree, and I didn’t know what would come after that either personally or professionally. The rented house I’d been living in for the past two years had just been sold and the new owner was practically camped out in the backyard waiting for me to vacate. I didn’t want to leave the area before my internship was done, but I didn’t have a job yet, so I didn’t want to commit to renting another house. So I packed everything up, sent my dog to live with my parents for the summer, and moved into an apartment across town on a 90-day lease. I unpacked just enough furniture and other items to get through the days reasonably comfortably and ate most of my meals standing in the kitchen. It was a long, lonely “Summer in Exile” during which I felt as if I were homeless even though I had a thoroughly decent roof over my head. It was in a nicely renovated prewar building, spacious and well appointed, but it lacked everything that could make it a home. I’m a single person so I have to make my home wherever I am; nobody is going to do it for me.

These are the things that I have found make the difference between occupying a property and actually living there.

  1. Having a pet (or at least a plant). Any living thing under your roof gives you a reason to be there every day to care for it. And having a dog or cat or hamster or ferret or budgie greet you when you come through the door can make any day better. For me, home is wherever my dogs are.
  2. Putting art on the walls. Whether it’s an original painting or a cheap but colorful poster, displaying your art says “this is my space.”
  3. Cooking and eating meals there. “Good food and a warm kitchen are what make a house a home.” (Rachael Ray, Good Housekeeping, July 2010)
  4. Spending leisure time there. It’s good to get out of the house, of course, but staying in to relax can be so delicious. Furnish your home comfortably so you have places to rest when you’re there.
  5. Inviting people in. It doesn’t have to be a big party, just one or a few friends over for drinks or dinner or to watch the Super Bowl together. Having space to share is a blessing.

Making a home means caring for both the physical structure as well as the emotional/spiritual contents of that structure through attention, appreciation, and careful stewardship. Keep the plumbing and electrical systems in good working order, keep rooms clean and uncluttered, repair anything that is broken, and remove anything you no longer need. Keep nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. Admit only whom you choose. Fill your space with the essence of who you are.

 Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place. ~ Rumi

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