Friday, January 28, 2011

Where Is Home?

Home. A topic I've thought about a lot since the beginnings of my sabbatical adventures in 2004. What does "home" mean...I mean, how do YOU define it? What do YOU mean when you say "I'm going home now"? What defines, in your mind, where you live? Is it where you cook? Sleep? Read? Eat? Do laundry? Meet friends? Relax? Clean house? Some people never do those things in their "home" but nevertheless certainly know where their home is...some people do those things in places that they know is NOT their home. So how do YOU define the concepts of "home"..."living" in a place..."occupying" a residence..."residing" at a location....?

As technology has allowed us to "unplug", many things that meant "home" a couple decades ago are now "ethereal" or "virtual"--waves in the atmosphere. Our phone no longer has a fixed location. Neither does our answering machine, computer, internet service, television, alarm clock, etc.

Home was once where we gathered, stored, processed, prepared, and ate food. Now we eat in the car, or at restaurants, or at our desks. Every office has a microwave, and likely a refrigerator. Food comes ready-to-eat from the grocery store, the convenience store, gas stations, soup kitchens, friends, home delivery.

Coffee shops have become our new "living room" for hanging out with friends, reading, doing homework, catching up on email, even paying the bills online. Our mailing address may be a post office box for security.

We may never shower at home if we begin each day with a workout at the gym.

Sometimes we "live" at our job, or in our car, more than anywhere else.

Is "home" where we pay rent or a mortgage, or have some other contractual agreement giving us the right to use that space? Is it where we are obligated to pay for utilities (heat, electricity, water, etc.), or where we enjoy the utilities themselves, regardless of our financial responsibility for them? Is it where we pay taxes? The address on our voter registration card? The "primary residence" listed on our homeowner's insurance? Where our pets stay when we can't have them with us?

While I was "traveling"..."transient"..."homeless"..."a pilgrim"...or whatever during my sabbatical, I struggled with the inevitable casual questions from strangers, "Where are you from?" and "Where is home?" a lot. Was it the place I awoke that morning? Where I would sleep that night? Where my parents live? Where I would return to at the end of my travels? My "permanent address" which was a P.O. box? The best answer I could come up with still defines "home" to me: "I live between my prayer covering and my shoes."

But then, again and again in my Christian journey, I hear/read/feel "This world is not my home." And the further this radical pilgrimage takes me, the less I feel "at home" in "the world"...and I see that others sense that regardless of "home", I certainly am not part of their culture.

On the one hand, renting an apartment in town where I kept most of my clothes, did my laundry, stored food and prepared meals, took showers, had most of my bookkeeping and papers, and slept much of the time--was not sufficient to prove to the county that I wasn't "living" or "residing" in the tent camper at my farm.

On the other hand, I am paying all the utilities on a house now, while not allowed to "live", "reside" or "occupy" that house until it has "all the necessities of daily living" which include (according to the Powers that Be) a kitchen range. So I am "living" in another space, which has pretty much no utilities/amenities. And I wouldn't even use a kitchen range if I had one, at this point. I own numerous electric non-kitchen-range cooking devices: microwave, crock pot, rice cooker, roaster, toaster, teakettle, griddle, skillet, and two hot plates (some would include the clothes iron, as well...and the most "cooking" I do these days is warming up pre-cooked food on the defroster vent of a vehicle).

I continue to struggle to understand the various conflicting legal applications of this question, "What defines home/residence/living/occupancy?" If I use my definition of "living between my covering and my shoes", then I am frequently in violation of what I am told is the law, since I spend a lot of time in places I am not allowed to "live". That includes both public and private places...Is being "private space" part of the definition? If home is private, how can authorities tell us what kitchen appliances a space must have in order for anyone to sleep there?

A huge part of my Christian testimony is integrity, honesty, and obedience. I am struggling to keep "legal" with all the various interpretations of "living", "residence", occupancy", etc...but the authorities will never give me one definitive "test" I can apply (or they will apply) to determine whether I am "living" in a place or not. So I never know what I can or can't do. All I know is that I can't afford a lawyer to track it down for me...and so far I haven't managed to do it on my own.

So, I want to know: How do YOU identify where someone lives? Please respond by email, FaceBook or comment on this blog. I would like to compile these answers in a future post, but I want to respect anonymity as well. Please let me know if you wish to be credited; if not I will use anonymous excerpts, summaries, and compilations of various responses.

Thanks so much for sharing your insights!


  1. Can I respond more than once? :)

    In New York, I finally got a judge to rule that I could occupy my loft since it had plumbing. The judge thought it was a great idea that he allow me to provide security by living there. He made a specific point that his ruling gave me no reason to believe I could remain living in my loft.

    Some thoughts about what is a home?

    A home is where I control enough physical space to surround myself with positive influences and keep negative ones out (as I hope it is in heaven)

    A home is where I delight my senses and enjoy my physical self (as I hope it is in heaven)

    A home is where I nurture plants and animals to sustain each day (as I hope it is in heaven)

    A home is where I anticipate having a future and interact with those I feel committed to love and protect - along with my dog and cat. (as I hope it is in heaven)

    A home is where I anticipate a forever home and a forever community of trust (as I hope it is in heaven)

  2. I'd always heard that "home is where the heart is". I used to interpret that to mean, where family and loved ones are.

    I now feel that home is where I can feel totally free. Free to be me, free to do as I please, free to come and go as I wish. I don't always feel at home in my house. But, when we go to the cabin - as I drive into that tree-lined, winding driveway, I often feel a sense of relaxation come over me. A lifting of burdens, a lightness, a happiness. I really feel as if I am "coming home". That seems to truly be where my heart is.

    It makes no logical sense - since there is no ownership of that property, I shouldn't have the "right" to feel so at home there. And that I don't always feel at home in my house, which I do own, and which contains the bulk of my possessions, my pets, my husband, and many of the things I love. Yes, I'm materialistic, but I also mean the memories that gazing upon the objects invoke.

    So, I guess, home for me would be anywhere that gives me that feeling of total comfort and contentment, the feeling I belong.