Monday, 22 June 2009

The ties that bind

What makes a house a home? I've been chewing this over ever since we moved, and the answer has come to me -emotional ties.

The thing that turns an anonymous house into one that's your own, one you identify with, is not simply specific things like books or pictures or momentoes or favourite chairs but those emotional ties that get richer and richer the longer you live somewhere.

The more you've done in a house, the more you've experienced there, the more visitors you've had, the more things you've bought for it, the more changes you've made, the greater those personal connections that make the house feel endearing, familiar, cosy, lovable.

Just filling a house with bits and pieces, however beautiful they are, doesn't in itself make the house your own. Which explains why some houses look so spartan and unlived-in even though they're sumptuously furnished with the trendiest items. In the end it's up to us to add all those extra personal echoes that bring everything to life.

Memories in particular increase those emotional ties. The longer you live in a house, the more memories you have of it - both good and bad - and those memories add meaning and significance to your physical surroundings. The day the boiler packed up, that wonderful birthday party, next-door's cat pawing at the door. This is where it all happened.

When you first move into a house, you have yet to build all those personal bonds. You're conscious only that this was someone else's house, full of all their associations and not yours. Step by step you have to strip off their imprint, like stripping off old layers of wallpaper, and replace it with your own. It's a long process, but also an exciting and creative one.
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Of the 115 Romanians forced to leave their homes in South Belfast, only two are staying in Northern Ireland, while the rest are returning to Romania. Despite all the offers of help they received from local residents, in the end it's a victory for the racists who have managed to ethnically cleanse their neighbourhood. The politicians, police and other authorities have trotted out the usual ritual condemnations but never gave the ousted families the protection and security they needed. Jenny has more to say about it here.

19 comments:

Wisewebwoman said...

It takes quite a while Nick to transition a place from house to home and as you say having it out of Architectural Digest has nothing to do with it.
I find framed photos particularly helpful and deciding the special places for favourite books and afghans and wall hangings, etc. And then it is also the humans (and animals) to who their special stamp on a place.
Good luck with all of it, what fun to re-invent yourselves again!
XO
WWW

Wisewebwoman said...

I'm ahead of myself on keyboarding lately it seems:
I meant:
"who put their special stamp"
XO
WWW

conortje said...

I have a piece of art that my sister made and wherever I move to it gets put on the wall which immediately makes the place feel more like home to me!

Grannymar said...

The people in the house make it a home for me. If the welcome is warm I care not about what they have on the walls or shelves.

Nick said...

www - Indeed, it's the humans who put their special stamp on a place. Any number of objects on their own are only a part of the process.

Conor - I didn't know your sister was an artist, that's brilliant. I have a painting by an artist I knew when I was much younger, and it always reminds me of him.

Nick said...

Grannymar - Absolutely, a genuine welcome is worth more than any quantity of fashionable knick-knacks.

Suburbia said...

Gosh, I have never really thought about it like that but now you have mentioned it I think it's so true. I am trying to remember all the things we have done here. I would not be sad to leave this house and perhaps it is because there has not been enough laughter here.

Good luck with all your happy memory making :)

Nick said...

Suburbia - I think the more happy memories you have of a house, the harder it is to leave it. That's why it can be so hard for older people to up sticks.

Of course in your case there are many unhappy memories and you'll be quite ready to leave.

Hullaballoo said...

I miss Bobo's house in Yorkshire, it was the smell which made it so homely. How can I miss a house I never lived in?

A house becomes a home for me when the smell is of my possessions, the wax on the furniture, the flowers, the incense, the toiletries and freshly laundered washing.

Baino said...

Any of my homes have been homes when filled with children, people, music, laughter, friends. I don't care much about what's in it or around it . .the people make it a haven.

Nick said...

Hulla - Interesting that for you it's smells that make a house homely. I don't notice smells that much, especially as my sense of smell is very poor.

Baino - I think you're saying much the same as me, isn't it emotional ties that link all those things you mention? And it's funny, haven is how Jenny describes this house as well.

Brighid said...

Home is were I make it with my little box of treasures.

nick said...

Brighid - I'm sure the importance of the little treasures is that they have all sorts of emotional ties connected to how and where you acquired them....

Liz said...

That's made me realise what's missing from rich sister-in-law's sumptuous house. It has everything except memories.

Our home has a tendency to scruffiness but it's full of us and children and dogs - even when they aren't here.

Lovely post, nick.

Nick said...

Liz - A house without memories must seem very incomplete. Good point about the memories of the occupants still being there when they aren't. And of course all the memories of a thousand things that have happened in the house over the years.

rummuser said...

We lived in eight houses before we bought our own. It was a brand new one and we were the first to move in. On an earlier occasion too, we had rented one place where we were the first ones to live in it.

So, what you say resonates with me. A home, like the one that I now live in now, also brings a lot of memories up now and then. And, the people who pass through the home too, influence the aura of the place.

Nick said...

Ramana - The longer you live somewhere, the more memories are attached to it. And you're right, visitors always leave their traces as well.

K8 the Gr8 said...

Good luck in the new house!!

We've been looking forward to moving into this house for so long, it already seems like home. Even when it was a pile of bricks and scaffolding it was home.

In our case, we love it because of its potential for memories. The door is perfectly new and white now, but I can almost see the spot where my now 4-year-old will kick a dint as a frustrated teenager.

Nick said...

K8 - Thanks! That's true, in your case you've got all the memories of it being built as well as simply moving in. And I can easily envisage that dented door as well!