Defining “Home”


Monopoly houses | credit to ttaudiganiMonopoly houses | credit to ttaudigani

Literally speaking a home is a place of residence, a domicile, yet that hardly does justice to the true meaning of the word. Is anyone in the habit of believing that the two-man ultra-light tent they set up in Banff National Park’s back-country or the garish and gaudy walls of the Pink Palace in Corfu resemble what “home” actually means to them? We pass through hotels and hostels, and often cities and countries, knowing that our time is limited and rarely establish what would normally be thought of as a home, at least not in the literal sense already mentioned, yet what we do establish are tangible and intangible connections; people and place and memories and familiarity. This begs the question, should our understanding of home be viewed as a literal or an abstract concept?

From the literal side, home is wherever we find ourselves. It’s our address.  Where we shower in the morning and where we lay weary heads down at night. It may be that hostel or hotel I mentioned earlier, but it’s more likely to be the place where we get mail and cook meals and engage in all manner of idiosyncrasies. In contrast, the abstract definition of home is about feelings and memories. Where you grew up and the nostalgia you feel when you think back on your childhood or the memories you made as a teenager or adult. You don’t have to presently live there, or even know anyone that does, but in a real sense it remains home to you. From this perspective, home is in your heart and head and not strictly limited to where you find yourself.  Most long-term travelers I’ve met on the road seem to view home in the abstract with a bit of the literal sprinkled in (i.e. Home is Rome, but I suppose also here in London too…).

Recently I’ve been introduced to the phrase, “multibasing“, which, in short, means to have no conventional home, but rather multiple “bases” across the globe that a traveler will split time between.  How, exactly, this differs from a long-term traveler that follows a migratory path (e.g. endless summer, snow birds, etc) escapes me and I view it as simply a new wrinkle added to the current understanding of what a home can be, one that certainly backs my belief that home is an abstract concept. As travel becomes more accessible, I wonder, how much do physical “roots” matter in today’s hyper-connected, media-enabled, ultra-mobile world?   Will the 21st century give rise to global souls who have multiple homes yet a less intense lack of connection to each of them?

For me, being home certainly means  not having to grope for the light-switch or grapple with public transportation, yet I find home best viewed in the abstract. It helps that I “multibase” myself; on most days, my wife and I are separated by about 90 miles of snow, sky, and sublime Colorado scenery. One home is in Boulder, CO, and the other in Colorado Springs, CO.  And a not too distant third is on the road with her. For, with her, independent of location, I find the same comfort and familiarity as I would in either of our physical homes.   My instinct is to shy away from the tired old line, “home is where the heart’s at”, but, hell, it fits –  when I’m with my wife, I’m in a moving sanctuary, one that has no fixed walls or floor or ceiling.

The meaning of home is certainly nuanced and undoubtedly varies with the individual, yet I believe its meaning is more abstract than it is literal.  Do you disagree and find home to be a fixed, static concept?  If you fall into my camp and view home as being an intangible thing, where is home to you and why?

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