The idea of "home" in my head looks nothing like where I actually live

Updated Sep 12 2017
Guest post by JM Hoover
Our home.
Our home.

We're coming up on four years in this fixer-upper and I've realized that when I picture, "home" in my head it looks nothing like where I actually live. Apparently, I'm not the only person who has this problem. I was talking to a friend about this yesterday and she also felt a disconnect between "house" and "home."

So that begs the question…

What IS the home that I'm imaging, and how can I make my house more like it?

When I picture a "home" I imagine a 2000 square foot cookie cutter suburban house, with builder beige walls, that is neat as a pin and sparsely decorated.

If I've never been to your house and you tell me you're watching a football game or a movie or something, I'll picture you in a greige room with a Pottery Barn sectional, tasteful chevron blankets, and decorative wicker baskets. I'll picture your kitchen with granite counters, dark wood cabinets, a huge kitchen island with trendy bar stools, and stainless appliances that are shined to perfection.

None of the rooms in my house even remotely resemble these rooms I've described. I've never lived in a house that's been decorated like this. If you gave me a million dollar budget and an entire Pottery Barn catalog to choose from I would never, ever come out of the other side with rooms decorated like this. You can check out my Pinterest boards for the evidence. This is great but it isn't what I'd pick.

Julie, do you want beige?

No.

Dark cabinets?

No.

A tan sectional?

Maybe… er… no.

One of those tall kitchen tables and bar stools for the island?

Not really. No.

So why is this somehow the gold standard for me? How in the world does this read as "home" when I've never had a home that looks anything like it?

My friends and family don't have homes like this either. They have eclectic and funky houses, classic style, beach themes, cottage chic, or just a mish-mash of joyful mess, that somehow works perfectly. I've been to houses like this but I've never had any lasting impression of them. What's the deal, brain?

Regardless, whatever we have going on isn't working for me. Too much clutter, too many tools, too many holes in the floor… besides the obvious approach of "patience" I don't know how to make myself more comfortable.

I'm a little concerned that my nomadic lifestyle may have made feeling settled in one place an impossibility.

So, in the mean time, I find home not in the space but in the details.

Home is in a fluffy cat sprawled, belly up, on the clean laundry.

Home is in the gold finch pecking at the seed in the feeder, next to the window where I do my work.

Home is the hammock in the back yard, with the perfect view of a full moon.

Home is a teenager chopping vegetables at the kitchen counter, and the fragrance of frying garlic.

Home is a pile of shoes by the front door that belong to the friends that we love.

Home is a jumble of keys, a pocket knife, and a flashlight on the ottoman.

Home is a 17 year old pooch snoozing on the rug in the living room.

Home is the morning light making my scratch and dent orchids glow on the kitchen window sill.

Home is the not a house, or decorations, or a spread in Southern Living. It is the jumbled and chaotic entropy that let's you know that this is a dwelling and not a movie set. This is a place where people create, work, sleep, and love.

Imagine yourself home. What does that look like? Does it look like where you are? Does it look like your house?

  1. Ahhhh, I hope my dogs live to the age of 17! They're 12, 11 and 7 now and I'd be thrilled if they all had a good quality of life for that long. 🙂 (Totally OT, sorry!)

  2. Two songs influenced my ideas of home. "Our House" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and "Butterscotch Castle" by Captain & Tennille. Although I love to decorate & express myself in my house, for me, "home" is a feeling I want to create, not a look to achieve. I think it helps that I grew up in a region where using hand-me-down furnishings from older relatives, mixed with flea market finds was considered normal. While I love HGTV, I don't know how people can really live in such pristine dwellings. I always want to see the rooms 6 months after the designer has left – when the fridge is covered with children's art, toys are scattered throughout the house, dishes are in the draining rack and laundry is being folded on the kitchen table.

    I love the line about "scratch and dent orchids". It made me think of all the plants my cats have sat on, knocked over & generally beat up over the years.

  3. Ah, I so feel you on this! I HAVE been to homes that look Pottery Barn perfect and always feel a little inadequate when I return to our place with my funky (but oh-so-comfortable couch) and thrift store furniture. But like you, I think even if I had the budget, I would never actually decorate my house that way…its just not me. I continue to find myself drawn to quirky designs and decor. I've been working on accepting that!

  4. Amen to all the above. The stress of always being dissatisfied with physical belongings because they are not "pottery-barn" identical is tiring and fruitless. I have fought this for years. Sometimes it wanes, but it but it never disappears entirely. It resurfaces every time I visit the home of my sister in law who lives as clean, orderly and neat as I can only dream of. I always find myself checking their cupboards for stuff. I mean, where do orderly people hide their stuff? ( And does anyone but me do this when visiting neat freaks?)
    Anyways…I realise that they just don't have that much stuff. And while that must be sooo nice, it is also kind of boring to me. I mean where is the sewing machine, the craft table, the paintbrushes, music instruments, the weird tasting spirits brought home from travels, the odd souvenirs etc. I could keep on going. I feel inclined to ask them what they do at night when the kids have been put to bed and they are stuck indoors. But that seems somewhat impolite. It is the same with the magazine spreads. There are no knick knacks, and no kids (Do kids even live in those homes. Sometimes i feel sorry for them when reading that in fact there is a kid crammed in somewhere). I think the parallel to diet coke and slimming is very acurate. I comfort myself in our friends who tend to say that they feel as much at home with us as they do in their childhood homes.

  5. I've been in too many of those "Pottery Barn" houses to consider them home. I've always found that the more "together" the house, the less together the family. I'm sure that's not true for every family in such a house, but I've just never found a "Pottery Barn" home that felt like a home. They all felt like showpieces designed to reassure everyone how happy and healthy the family inside was.

    Because of that, when I think home, I think of handmade quilts. I think of people spending time together. I think of homemade meals and washed mismatched dishes (because no one cares if they match) and clean spaces that you want to relax in. I think of books, books, and more books.

  6. I've never encountered this, I did encounter the period of time it took to make my house feel like home. My house was a beaten down 1950s bungalow that had been a rental for approx. 10 years. It had been badly renovated so ALL the 1950s charm had been ripped out (and no dishwasher or range hood had been put in..) It was also painted a dark beige on the walls, with peach coloured trim, which made the spaces feel even smaller. It took a long time for it to feel like my home, rather than just my house. Though by making it mine; painting it (all the walls and all the trim), replacing some light fixtures and door knobs, and eventually after meeting my husband, we fully renovated the bathroom and kitchen (in black and white retro style)! My house is now my home 100%, where I want to escape after a long day, where I entertain friends and family, where I got ready for my wedding and had my first look, and finally stands proud as a 1950s bungalow!

  7. I loved this article.

    Having lived in 6 rental properties over the last 7 years, it's hard to find a way to make your home feel like "home", especially when most rental properties have those standard cream/beige walls I loathe, and sticking a hook to a wall is about as much as you can do to customise a place (and even then, you need to make sure your lease allows it). Within such limited freedom and a limited budget (and a house often shared with housemates), I had no idea what my idea of home even looked like beyond "it has my bed in it".

    So I started a pinterest board to explore what I loved, and what I could actually include in my home to make it feel like "home". After a few weeks of pinteresting, I realised that I actually prefer artful clutter to spartan neatness (I attribute this to my first partner's home, where every surface was cluttered with candles, half-read books, objects of interest, incense sticks and mugs with coffee dregs). I like a house full of lanterns and art objects. Amidst all my pins of stormy grey living rooms and bedrooms, I found that a picture of a bright colourful kitchen with teapots on display fills me with joy because this is exactly how my mum decorates her home. So I try to recreate the tiny details in my own home/s, even when I can't achieve the big ones.

    You're absolutely right that "home" is the little things. Having just moved again in the last two months, the first thing I did was make sure there's a cupboard devoted to tea and tea paraphernalia, and my beautiful yellow angel clock is on display. I might not be able to paint the walls the gorgeous slate grey colour I love, but I can definitely buy some nice ceramic soap bottles for the bathroom and ensure there are plenty of candles and lanterns about. I set up the space so I can follow through with my daily rituals of drinking tea from my favourite mug, having plenty of comfy places to read books, and having my favourite coat hanging by the door.

    Due to my country's real estate market, I might never be able to own a house. I will quite likely be renting for the rest of my life, or at least for a few more decades. I can only hope I can break the cycle of having to move once a year, but I don't know for sure. But so long as I know what makes me feel At Home, getting settled in every new place feels much easier.

  8. This made me think of a song sung by Miss Clavel in the Madeline computer game I had when I was younger (which was mostly just video clips from the tv show. I'm still outraged that my dad paid $30 for it)

    https://youtu.be/CmyLgNh3AZE?t=10m20s

    It's a sweet, albeit repetitive song that has stuck with me over the years.

  9. I've been fairly well trained to see greige homes as "adult" homes. There is a part of my brain that thinks you're not really successful–you're not really DOING LIFE–unless your home looks like a museum with a lot of armchairs. Everything has to always be in its place, everything has to work properly, everything has to have accents and touches and style. Even though I absolutely do not function thatta way, it's just the vision of Having It All Together that I've had painted for me/painted for myself. I actually get frustrated with myself for not having that.

    For me, those catalog homes are nice places to visit, but they're not where I thrive. And so I have to remind myself that I'm holding myself to a standard that I don't even want, that would actually be detrimental to the me I wanna be. You're so right–home isn't a grand vision or a Pinboard.

  10. I would love to have that home!! Gorgeous. Mine is a hideous 1970's attached condo, really. Hate it. If I had that house in the woods, I would extend the porch to be a wraparound and add french doors on that left side. That's my dream place.

  11. Thanks so much for this article! I absolutely feel the same, although I adore the photo of your house (it is actually my dreamhouse.. from the outside, at least.. but well, I am german and houses surrounded by trees can't be bought here.. except when you're a millionnaire).
    I often have the feeling of being torn between what I really like and what I think an adult like me has to have or doesn't need in their home. I really find it hard to find out what I want, what fits my appartment, what is available in shops and not too expensive. Maybe Pinterest and all the "curated home"-Instagram-Photos are to blame a little? 😉

    • Unfortunately true, such a house would be wayyyy over the budget of any normal person in Germany (I'm German, too). I'm lucky to be able to rent a very nice flat, and here you can basically decorate a rented flat the way you want, as long as you give it back in its original state (or better) when you move out. So with a very very moderate budget, a couple of inherited things (a lovely wooden table, brass lamps, cabin trunk used as a couch table), some stuff from ebay and a lovely photo wallpaper that looks like a world map on old parchment I was able to create a very nice stylish living room that looks like a cross between an irish pub and the interior of a pirate's ship. And with a bit of paint I turned my bedroom with its rubbishy old wardrobes into a nice calm greyish-blue space of relaxation. (Yes, you CAN paint cheap wardrobes with normal wall paint, and yes you CAN stick wallpaper on the doors of said wardrobes, it just won't last forever).
      But yes, if I were to buy my own place, my standards would be a little different I guess, and I would want to make it ALL MINE from scratch…

  12. I actually feel like my husband could have written this. Me? Not so much. My definition of home is not the space I live in but the area surrounding my space, be it the sidewalks that randomly jut up (thanks, Minnesota weather!), the scores of college kids waiting for the bus, or grocery stores I can walk to. My husband talks about buying storage stuff and painting the walls while my brain leaks out of my ears. The one thing I did speak up on was getting a sectional for that far off day when I have two husbands.

  13. I have the same view of home as you! When I picture a home, I picture the granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances and the sectional and greyish or beige tones in the house. I think a big part of this is what is shown on tv and in magazines. Most of my friends who have bought homes are doing this style in their homes. Which is great if that is what they love.

    I'm more of a vintage mish mash gal. I love to have an eclectic space. I'm all about treasure hunting and finding unique items to put in my home.

    Right now though, I'm living with my parents. My view of what I would like my home to be is not matching with what I had envisioned for myself. But I'm making the best out of it.

    My view of home has definitely changed over the years. As a child I always dreamed of owning a huge victorian home. And having a constant stream of friends and family visiting and entertaining people. But now, my view of home is just having my own space. A space that I can call my own. I would love to own a small cottage or trailer. I would love a large space, but the money required is just too much. I would much rather have a smaller space and be able to make the best of it and have money to do other things.

    I'm glad you mentioned the part about looking at the details. That's kind of how I am looking at things now too. Most of my friends are married with kids, and are living the life that I thought I would be living too. So I've been kind of bummed out because I live with my parents. But if I look at the details in my home, I'm already on my way to living the life I want.

  14. I second the idea that people think of that particular look as home because of tv ads and magazine ads.

    My idea of home is more about potential than anything else apparently. Now that we own our own place I've found that I feel most at home when I'm planning: bookshelves for the great room, a raised garden for the edge of the back pad, the larger garden plot to feed our growing family. Those sorts of things are the things that make this place feel like home to me.

  15. I think this really depends on your values and your time spent at home. I know people who truly value a clean and minimalist aesthetic. If they live that way, they feel happier and healthier so good for them! But I don't. I don't like doing it, it doesn't make me happier and I have too little time to do it. BUT I finally broke down and paid my mom's friend to be my interior designer- she specializes in reworking your existing furniture and stuff to be more efficient and nice? Pretty? Something. It didn't do much but you know what it did do? I realized I love old furniture and new fabric. I love old China and new linens. I love old rugs and new curtains. I grew up with antiques in a museum-like house and while I love clean lines and lots of space, I buy unusual items, I crave ornate, I love texture. I want my home to look like a Traditional home magazine, or the suite from Pretty Woman, minus the pink! That is a ridiculous statement so I'm trying to mix new fabrics into my old sensibilities. In the meantime, I'm embracing my newfound granny tendencies.

  16. I feel this. My fiancé and I are working on building a home together, and he’s very “everything has to match and look good” while i just want to live there, you know? We’re looking for a solid middle ground, but as long as we have us and our cats, it should always be home, right?

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