A House is Only Four Walls (Part 2): How a Place Becomes a Home

The word “home” is simple, easily defined. It’s a word we learn at an early age without much thought. For me, it’s a word that’s meaning has evolved throughout my life.

In college I started calling so many places home that I would get weird looks mid conversation.

“Home? New Jersey? But I thought you lived in Pennsylvania?”
“Your room is at your dad’s place but you don’t live there?”
“You live with your grandparents, but not because they’re sick?”

I spent most of my college life living in Philadelphia in my grandparents’ basement; this was the place I slept, ate, and spent most of my time. My childhood room had been moved to an apartment outside of the city that I only went to once a week. And in the sense of conversing with college students and referencing “back home” or “my best friend from home” meant a small Jersey town that served as a mailing address.

Of all those places, I would say my real home was my grandparents’ house. When I moved in, unpacked, and was immediately summoned to my uncle’s around the corner to dog sit, it was the most at home I’d felt in years. In a way it’s like living with your parents again, except there are less rules (excluding the time my grandmom almost wouldn’t let me go to a bar at midnight for my 21st birthday), and more politeness on your part. They would make sure I was awake in the morning by a decent hour unless instructed otherwise, they would save me a plate for dinner, they would ask me about my day, and they would lovingly annoy me to no end—it was home.

Regardless of my personal feelings about which place felt like home, anytime I mentioned “home” as a place you probably had no clue which I was referring to.

Fast forward to me, right now, sitting in an apartment in Paris that I’m moving out of in a few weeks, recently “evicted” from my grandparents’ basement, and staring (yet again) at a stack of empty boxes with mixed emotions—it’s adventurous in a way to never be settled, but taxing.

What’s my idea of home then?

To me, a home is a place you long for after traveling, your warm bed, a nice shower, maybe even the chaotic return of family dynamics. But for me…those things are all in different places and continents.

Half of my heart is with my family and friends, in houses on both sides of the Delaware. Because I am not physically there, these spaces don’t lose their importance in my life, in a way they become more important as the tethering poles always reminding me of what I left behind and reminding me I always have a place to call home.

There are places that are filled with so much family love, I can’t help but steal some of it for myself. That’s right, Aunt Judy and Uncle Ernie, your home has become like my own. I don’t have a bed there, but I like their couch. I’ve done lots of crying on it during tough times, followed by a nice homemade meal and yelling with my cousins across the table. I’ve baked countless cookies and cakes in that kitchen, laughed until my side hurt, and invited myself over on numerous occasions.

Being there gives me the feeling I think a home should be. The chaos of a family is something I’ve always enjoyed and even craved. Not surprising given I grew up in a big family where cousins seem more like siblings.

Yet it’s interesting because after a long visit to the US, Julien and I look forward to returning to our small apartment, to bask in the quietness and slip back into our daily routines.

If half my heart is in the US, then the other half is here with Julien as we build our life in France. Regardless of how long we plan to stay in France, in our present we believe it’s important to have a space to call ours, to decorate and furnish, to host friends, to call home.

People keep asking if we plan on buying property. To me, ownership does not improve the quality of your home or the experiences you have in it. When I first moved to Paris we lived in an apartment the size of a closet, but it laid the foundation for how we would live and interact daily. Our second and current apartment is warm and cozy, owned and fully furnished by a friend, but that did not make our Thanksgiving dinner any less important to our guests. And our third apartment, the one we move into soon, has been a labor of intense love with cleaning, re-wallpapering, painting, all to make the space our own.

I once said home is where your books are, but sadly most of my books have been sentenced to live in a cardboard box for an indefinite amount of time. I’m slowly growing a new collection on this side of the Atlantic that’s been traveling and growing since I first arrived in Paris.

We know we will need to dedicate at least one or two boxes to books. A change from the handful we owned a year ago. It’s interesting to watch our collection grow book by book in their differing languages. It might be more interesting to know we own the same book in two different languages, as well as a nice collection of French children’s stories to aid me in learning the language.

You can always think of the cliché quote, that home is a person not a place. Maybe my home is spread out all over and that’s okay.

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