I’ve been thinking a lot about home lately. I’ve just put my apartment on the market and am preparing to say goodbye to the 450-square-foot studio I’ve called home for the past five years. I’m ruthlessly getting rid of most of my stuff over the next two to three months (inspired by The Shed Project) and I’m headed out on a road trip—indefinitely. When I told a friend about the trip this week, she asked me how long “indefinite” was. I said it was more than three months and less than two years. She said that was a good book title. I agreed. (Look for More Than Three Months, Less Than Two Years in a bookstore near you sometime between 2012 and 2015 when this particular new chapter of self-discovery in my life will most likely be drawing to a close).
I’ve always felt like I was blessed with extra in the home department. My mom still lives in the house I grew up in. When I go visit her I often sleep in the same bedroom I slept in when I was a baby and all the way through high school. That house, the lawn, the driveway, the salt marsh behind the house, and the woods surrounding it all contain my childhood. That house in Maine will always be home.
My maternal grandmother still lives on the farm where she raised her kids and where she’s been based since she was nineteen years old (she’s now eighty-four). My uncle lives on the farm where he and my mom grew up, too. (My grandmother lives on the same property in a wood cabin she built for herself when she was in her sixties.) Four generations of Northrups have called Ellicottville, NY their home, and even though I didn’t grow up there, I am one of them.
My mom’s best friend, Brenda, whom she has known since they were toddlers, lives in Sag Harbor, NY, and she jokingly calls her home my “country home” because I spend so much time there. I know where all the dishes go. I know where the spare linens are kept. I know exactly what coffee she likes to drink and where to get more when it runs out. Brenda’s house feels like home.
My paternal grandmother grew up spending summers on the coast of Maine in a seaside town called Kennebunkport, put on the map by the infamous Bush compound. Her mother and grandmother before her had done the same. There is a big blue “cottage” overlooking the ocean there where we used to visit my grandmother all summer. It’s filled with chintz and carved wooden ducks and the same beach towels Grammy wrapped my sister and me up in when we were two and four. It smells the same as it always has. None of the furniture has changed since my dad spent his summers there growing up. Now that my grandmother isn’t alive the house still sits there, and welcomes us when the weather gets warm. When I go there and see the toys I grew up playing with and smell the familiar smells of the ocean mixed with baby powder and moth balls, I feel home.
I’m about to let go of my home and go on the road. I feel the same way about this as when I wake up and suddenly have to get a haircut that day. I become obsessed that my hair must get cut that day and I don’t care who does it but it must get done. It’s an inner knowing that there’s something waiting outside the tiny island of Manhattan to be seen, felt, experienced, and met by me—and that it has to happen now.
I am deeply aware that a central reason that I have the privilege of consciously choosing to be homeless is because of how much “home” I have that has nothing to do with where I sleep or store my stuff. I’m blessed to actually like spending time with both sides of my family. I have an incredible community of friends who span the globe and welcome me with open arms when I find myself in their respective hometowns. I have a network of people I work with who feel like family. I’m so grateful to feel like I belong amongst so many groups of people and in so many places.
As I shared my plans for this new chapter of my life with my friend as we sped through Paris in the back of a taxi, she noted that it will be challenging for me not to have a home. Having been so caught up in the excitement, adventure, and freedom of it all, I had forgotten to consider this. She gently reminded me that I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to space (my words, not hers.) In my five years in my apartment with a whole bunch of houseguests and a few boyfriends, none of them has ever managed to make my bed the way I like it. My socks and underwear are folded just so and lined up perfectly in their little drawer separators. But obsessive bed making and organizing my sock drawer within an inch of my life—these things do not constitute home. And though I’m scared of, and frequently nauseated by, my impending adventure, I have come to the conclusion that home is not a place. Home is a sense of belonging, of shared experience, of safety, and of love. I can just as easily feel at home on a train from Paris to London (where I’m currently sitting as I write this) as I can in my childhood bedroom.
So in a few months I will say goodbye to my physical home and I will say goodbye to New York City (which, to be honest, has never really felt like home, anyway). Grounded by my deep roots and set free by my lack of significant physical possessions, I’ll drive around and see what is to be seen and feel what is to be felt. And even though I won’t have a physical address for a bit, I’ll be home all the while.
Where do you feel most at home?
How do you make yourself feel at home when you’re not in the actual place where you live?
Who are the people and where are the places that define home for you?
What does home mean to you?
I genuinely would love to know what you think so leave a comment!