What does home mean? As I’m trying to answer this question, I find myself house and dog sitting somewhere south of San Francisco. A short stop, while traveling through the U.S. heading down to Mexico. I’ve lived abroad for over a decade, but I’m not sure if I can call that traveling. Although it did span a few different countries, cities and many houses. Being from the Netherlands, I find it strange to think of myself living there for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in a very privileged situation. Holland is a perfect country to fall back on in case I need to. But if I see it as my only home, I can’t tell. A great refuge it is for sure.
What constitutes a home? What do we mean by home? The phrase; home sweet home, comes to mind. Or; home is where the heart is. All these lovely sayings are nice, but what is it? Many people lose their homes every year, as others choose to abandon theirs. Should we be so focused to label a place as home? Can we call the heart home? How does this concept affect our happiness? Can it add to it or is it a source for disruption? Let’s ask the Stoics and see if they can help us.
Traveling to find our home
I’ve written a post on traveling, which kind of connects to this one. When we go away, we leave our home. Some do so for a short term, knowing that their comfortable life will be waiting for them. Others, like myself, pack everything and set sail. Speaking for myself, it is a sense of exploration with restlessness. And I’m still trying to reign it in to rid myself of this urge.
“I find some people who say that a certain restlessness dwells naturally in the hearts of men, prompting them to change their dwelling-places and find new homes; for man has been given an inconstant and restless mind that lingers nowhere, but travels far and wide, dispatching its thoughts to all place known and unknown, roving, intolerant of rest, and delighting in new environments.”Seneca, Dialogues and Essays, Consolation to Helvia, 6
I’m still working my way through this, and maybe Seneca described me there. Should I then embrace it? That sense of restlessness is something I feel many ties. I try to have my reasons on why I want to travel focused on the right things. But I could try to follow my own advice more often. Like this quote from my Why We Travel post.
“How can you wonder your travels do you no good, when you carry yourself around with you? You are saddled with the very thing that drove you away.”Seneca, Letters From a Stoic, Letter XXVIII
Home is where the mind is
The Stoics would begin with changing the phrase mentioned before to; home is where the mind is. And I’d go a long way with them there. Before we get there, let’s examine what the home means. When we are raised, we get this picture painted of what the perfect life should look like. We should buy a house, have a family, have possessions, create a social life, have a good career, etc. When we have these, our lives will be happy and we will be well.
The Stoics tell us to look at them as preferred indifferences. If you wish to aim for these, by all means, go ahead. But remember what they are. They are externals and not under our control. There are too many variables to ensure that this is the life we can have. And even if we manage to achieve it, it can be taken away from us.
A cause for anxiety
Why are these so important to us? Well, a house, family, career, and a social network, provide us with safety and comfort. In this setting, we know what is going on. While when we travel, everything is new and scary. We decorate our house the way we want to, so it reflects who we are. Remember that everything around us is a mirror of who we are. These possessions might, however, reflect something we think we want. As we live there, this is what we’re after, some of us at least, to create an image of how we see ourselves. And having a nice home is a wonderful haven of peace. If you have it and can get it. But it can also be a source of anxiety.
Sometimes, in order to achieve all these things, we over-stretch ourselves. Leaving us exposed to forces we are not be able to endure. For example a mortgage we struggle to pay. Which means we have to stay in a job we might not want. Returning to that home after every hard day at work, might feel like rest. But when the home is where all the stress originates from, then there might be something wrong. That’s why we need to ask ourselves what does home mean? When I think of a home, I picture peace and quiet. Familiarity, routines, and safety as well. But where can we find that?
Find your home in exile
It’s an idea, something we fabricate. And if we want to find our true concept of home, we should break down all the external views and focus on what matters to us. If these ideas don’t match with our current situations, then even while in the comfort of our created oasis, we can feel far removed from being at home. Sometimes to find our home, that’s exactly what we need. To be so far away from it, that we can see it by its shadow. The negative image left might show us the piece that is missing.
Many of the ancient philosophers had to deal with exile. Emperor Domitian banished Epictetus and many other Stoic philosophers because they favoured his opponents. Which led Epictetus to go to Nicopolis, where he remained and taught philosophy. And when answering a question regarding the Cynics, he gave an example on how to treat with exile. One that we can adopt in this topic.
“In the first place, then, you must purify your own ruling faculty, and hold to this plan of life… Exile? And where can anyone banish me to? Not beyond the universe. But wherever I go, there will be the sun, the moon, the stars, dreams, auguries, communication with the gods.”Epictetus, Discourses, Book three 22.19-22
A consolation to us all
Seneca wrote a letter to his mother, Helvia, while he was in exile on the rocky island of Corsica. Although he gives us hints that he is not completely enduring it the way he tries to console his mother. He does show us what the most important things are that we take with us anywhere. They can help us endure anything. Marcus Brutus, the famous conspirator against Julius Caesar, inspired Seneca. He was known as a Stoic Philosopher.
“Two most beautiful things will follow us wherever we go, universal nature and our own virtue. This, believe me, was the will of the great creator of the universe, whoever he was, whether a god with power over all, or incorporeal reason, the designer of mighty works, or a divine spirit permeating all things great and small with equal energy, or fate and an unchangeable sequence of causes that cling one to another; this, I say, was his will, in order that only the most trivial of our possessions should fall under the control of another. All that is of the greatest worth for a man lies outside the power of his fellow men, and can neither be given or taken away.”Seneca, Dialogues and Essays, Consolation to Helvia, 8
Seneca continues with a little more.
“And so, eagerly, with heads high and unfaltering steps, let us hasten wherever circumstances take us, let us traverse each and every land: no place of exile can be found within the universe, for nothing within the universe is foreign to man.”Seneca, Dialogues and Essays, Consolation to Helvia, 8
What does home mean? Home is us and it is all. We are part of everything and can thus claim everything to be our home. Whether we are free in the homes we find ourselves, that is up to us. A physical home can trap us when it binds us to external factors. We can also get too attached to our possessions and the fear of losing them can have a hold on us. While we should remember, that all that we need is found within us. We have our reason and logic, our virtues and values. If we stay close to them, then we can never find ourselves without a home.
36 thoughts on “What Does Home Mean?”
Another deep dive topic!
I have moved way to much since I was little, so I detached myself from calling meaningfully any physical place home. It felt like everytime I did, we moved so most of my young years I felt homeless with a place to live. For years I lived at two places at time – and nowhere. Everything important was always on me or in my bag over my shoulder.
When I stayed abroad for a first time I came to realization that at least to me – home is a feeling. Feeling inside of me – home feeling, feeling of being safe, held, supported, calmness.
I don’t need buildings, I can feel at home in the middle of the parking lot or in the woods by the fire .
Beautiful perceptions of being home. The mind & heart connection.
Thank you very much, I love it that you highlight that connection.
“I felt homeless with a place to live.” That’s a great way of putting it and it’s great how you menion that it home is a feeling. That’s how I view it as well. Feeling at home with yourself will allow you to find a home anywhere. Thanks for sharing.
Such a thoughtful post and I love discussing the concept of home. I think it was be a place, a person, something your soul resonates with!
Thank you for your kind words. Home should be something you resonate with, I agree. Perhaps your soul itself.
Great outlook! I agree that we do tend to get too attached to our materialist items. Your right home is where we feel most comfortable.
Thank you for your comment. Our home could indeed be there where we feel most comfortable without getting too attached to externals.
Love the outlook you share on what a home signifies. For us, we were blessed to end up in a home we consider an endgame goal. For my husband, it almost came too quick and we talk about why we still feel anxiety for something that we feel so blessed to have. One thing is for sure that our home may change but being together with people you love is a huge plus.
That’s a wonderful way of putting it and thank you for that. It’s amazing to read that you feel that you have you endgame goal home, but as you mention, as long as you have each other, that’s even more important.
Interesting and thought-provoking post! I am happy that you are enjoying your life as a nomad. As one who enjoys travel, I get that. For me it is the connection with family that keeps me rooted in one place to call home.
Traveling is a way of learning that the world is my home. That’s something I’ve been realizing as of late. And the connection to my family and friends makes that bond even stronger. Thanks for sharing your insights, they were great to read.
this was a very thought provoking post on the definition of home. thanks for sharing!
Thank you for your kind words.
I really enjoyed it. I moved from one country to another and I found home to my new country. For me it was never a matter of “leaving my home” instead it was all about finding my new home 🙂
For the record, I’m Greek and I moved to Sweden 14 years ago.
I’m very happy that you found your new home, in a sense that’s what I’m looking for as well. Although I don’t think it exists for me. The world is my home I guess. Thanks for sharing your insights and it seems that Sweden has indeed become your home.
Interesting notes about the concept of home.
This is such a great explanation as to what home really means. Thanks so much for sharing!
Thank you and I’m glad you liked it.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I’ve had a home. As a child, I never felt homesick and I’ve never missed my family. I also hate my hometown for the racism it made me endurance. Since leaving my hometown, I’ve had to move around a lot, as is the problem with private renting. I’ve yet to see a landlord that has property that’s fit for purpose. With some landlords basically being slumlords.
It’s very unlikely I’ll ever be able to own my own home, so home is simply where my bed is. The place I’m likely to sleep better than anywhere else and the place I’ll spend most my time
Thank you for sharing your story. The idea of home rings differently with the experiences you’ve had. And whether owning a home is what we need to feel home is another question. But the way you ended by seeing it where you’ll sleep is an approach that resonates with me.
Fantastic post, with a lot to think about. Interesting what you say about the Netherlands not really feeling like home but more of a refuge for you, should you need it. I’ve never lived in another country, nor really done much travelling but I’ve also never felt a particularly strong connection to where I am / was born either. I’m moving to another county next year as my partner and I have finally bought our own home, so I wonder whether that will conjure up more feelings of home in terms of location.
Thank you for those very kind words. How interesting that you are moving to another country next year, I’m sure that will be quite the experience, but a good one for sure. But even moving within your country can give that same feeling. It would be great to see how you experience goes. I’d love to read about it.
It’s good to question and it was lovely to read about it. And I agree Holland is great but is good to go to other countries as well.
Thank you for your insights. I always appreciate them very much.
For me home is where my loved ones are. My loved ones are my home. I have never lived in another country but we have moved a couple of times as children and I always settled in so well when we did, as I was always with my family we made a place feel like home. Thank you for sharing your experience and your thoughts.
Thank you for your views and being there where your loved ones are is a great way of feeling home. It’s important to have that idea clear and know what it means if you can identify it.
Oh my gosh this is such a good article. As someone who’s moved around a lot, the conversation of what home truly is has always resonated with me.
Thank you very much for your kind words. I’m happy to hear that from someone who has also moved a lot.
I think about this as I have been moving a lot lately with so many life changes. I guess for me, home is more of a feeling than it is a place. Sometimes I just feel “at home” when I’m with certain people.
It’s great to read your insights. I share the idea that it is more of a feeling and also that this feeling can come from being with certain people.
Very interesting that I should read this post a day after we have placed our house on the market. We don’t know where we are going to, but the reason is due to money and the stress of finding the mortgage payments each month. It took me a long time to feel comfortable in the house I am in, and it was only through accepting myself that I felt that. Your words have now given me an answer, that home is within me, and wherever I am and will be, is home. I love that the universe is ours, some great quotes and advice here. As ever, inspiring and insightful. Thank you.
Thank you, Zac! And I’m happy that my post helped you with the idea of selling your house. I think that’s a brave decision and one that more people should make if they are struggling with monthly payments. Instead of having their house be a chain around their ankle, you are cutting yourself lose. Home is wherever you make it home. And from what I read and hear, I can tell that you are more than able to make everywhere a wonderful home. I greatly appreciate you sharing your experiences.
This was quite an interesting post to read about your thoughts on what home means. I’m from the US and I’ve lived in Denmark for the past 6 years, and I haven’t felt at home here because I was in immigration limbo for so long (the family reunification process is ridiculously complicated and drawn out here).
It’s amazing to read that you liked my thought about home. Sorry to hear that you’ve been in uncertainty so long and without your family. That must give you a special view on what home is. THank you for sharing.