“I Daydream About Going Back”: 50+ People on What “Home” Means to Them in 2020

As long as I’ve lived in the US, my mum has told me that her method for coping with the fact that I’m so far away is to tell herself that I’m actually just in Sydney—a three-hour drive from the city where she lives. While I’ve never pretended my mum was only a short drive away, I found solace in the fact that, seat availability withstanding, I was never more than a 24-hour flight away. With the spread of COVID, I’ve felt that home drift further and further away. What was once just two flights away is now a potentially dangerous Uber to the airport, a likely cancelled flight, and eventually, two weeks in government-mandated hotel quarantine. The harder it’s become to get to my family, the less and less New York has felt like home. When the lockdown orders hit New York, I did what I was told—I stayed inside my apartment as much as I could, but I never truly felt like I was staying home.

The intention behind the state government’s “stay home, save lives” message was obvious. But for people who found themselves in unexpected circumstances—countries they were suddenly unable to leave, family homes they only expected to visit for a weekend, and tiny spaces that suddenly became entire worlds—the definition of “home” became something to be contemplated and challenged. Curious about each of these experiences, I surveyed the MR Community. Their answers, below, show just a small sample of the many ways our idea of home has shifted this year.

On Home As People, Rather Than a Place

“My mother is my home. I never thought of her like that until I moved to another country for work with my partner six months ago. I miss her and my grandma a lot. I miss my father, too, but he’s not ‘home.’”

“At the beginning of the pandemic, I always thought home was where all my stuff was, but through staying new places without a lot of my creature comforts, I came to a new conclusion. I learned that home is anywhere my fiancé is, home is wherever I feel safe and loved, and that overall, home is anywhere where I can be 100% authentically myself.”

I split my time between two countries, two cities that I call home, and I really can’t choose one over the other.

“When I think of home, I think of my partner, my brothers, and my mother. I split my time between two countries, two cities that I call home, and I really can’t choose one over the other.”

“Home to me has always been associated with family. I moved around a bit when I was younger, so I don’t have a particular attachment to a certain place as home. It’s mainly a feeling I get being around the ones I love.”

On The Unexpected Things That Feel Like Home

“I’m finding a new fondness for Alabama and the South. I went to visit my parents, and I stood in the backyard and listened to bugs and smelled magnolia trees. It felt comforting in a way it hasn’t before.”

“I live in London with my husband and have been away from my ‘home’ for over five years now. Whenever I think of home, I think of this Mexican restaurant in my hometown in Texas, which my family and I went to weekly for over 10 years. We moved houses quite a bit so no house feels like home, but Benito’s was a staple. Birthdays and graduations were celebrated there. We’ve laughed and cried around the tables. When we couldn’t eat in, we would pick up takeaway and eat at home. When I’m homesick or sad, it’s still one of the first places I think of.”

“To me, home is a mix. It’s the familiar weather and climate of the Pacific Northwest, it’s my chosen family in Washington DC and Virginia, and it’s my husband.”

On Building a Home

“At the beginning of lockdown, my mom asked me when I was ‘coming home’ to my parents’ house—a place that I haven’t lived in 10+ years. I had just moved into my newly purchased condo two weeks before everything was shut down. I decided at that moment that my home was ‘home.’”

“I’ve established a much clearer idea of what I want in a home. Never before had I wished to have a large dining table to welcome our family to sit around together.”

“I was an Afghan-born refugee in Pakistan. We moved to Maine when I was six months old, and I’ve lived in four other U.S. states since then. My parents always told me Afghanistan was home, but I’ve never really lived there. When my daughter was born, I feel like I developed a concept of home—it became where we lived in Santa Cruz.”

I’m back at my parents’ place, where I grew up, and I feel like I’m just a visitor here.

“I think of Toronto now. It’s funny—I’ve only lived in Toronto for two years for school, but being away from it now feels weird. I’m back at my parents’ place, where I grew up, and I feel like I’m just a visitor here.”

“Quarantine has forced me to confront my lack of attachment to people and things—it’s a defense mechanism for me. Since realizing that, and realizing that we’ve made our home efficient but not comfortable, my pandemic project has been making my home into a home I’m happy to live in now.”

On the Discovery That, Maybe, There’s No Such Thing As Home

“Ever since I left Ireland six years ago I’ve felt nomadic, like I’m sitting on unpacked suitcases. Moving between Paris, London, and Madrid, searching for the perfect studio or house-share or the best of a bad bunch of studio apartments. Open borders and friends and family in multiple countries made this displacement feel natural or at least easy. Home is both everywhere and nowhere for me.”

My sense of home became entirely erased.

“2020 has really highlighted how much I don’t have one physical home, in both a painful and comforting way. My family moved from my childhood home years ago, right at the same time I was moving to a new country. My sense of home became entirely erased.”

“I’ve lived away from the country I grew up in for the last eight years, and in a way, the pandemic made me feel kind of homeless. I’m from Norway but used to live in London and now reside in the U.S. I never felt at home in the U.S., but that’s where I have a space that is mine. Norway feels too small and sheltered for me, but my closest friends and family are all there. I have no one left in London, but I miss it almost every day. Not being able to have more than one of these things at the same time is what makes me feel untethered and never quite settled. I’m practicing finding home in myself, but it’s incredibly difficult.”

On Wanting to Go Home

“My perception of home hasn’t changed—it just highlighted the fact that the best place to be or to return to is ‘home.’ One of the best things about being away from home is the joy of returning there.”

“It is very uncomfortable to think about going home. I want it so much, and at the same time, I’m scared to go there. The situation with COVID-19 in Ukraine hasn’t gotten significantly better, and I’m afraid to be stuck there if the borders close again. Thoughts about traveling home have become my guilty pleasure.”

“I was surprised at how big a deal it was to not be able to visit my parents. I thought I’d stepped away from thinking of my childhood home as ‘home,’ but the unexpected severance of that lifeline hurt pretty badly.”

On Home as Something More Complex

“The pandemic has helped me see the reality of distance. Nothing is simply ‘a flight away’ anymore. We have regressed from a hyper-globalized society, where nowhere was out of reach, into communities within a three-block radius. If I choose to continue living abroad, I may not see my family for months, and I may not see my grandparents again before they die. If I choose to go home, I may have to delay my career, adventures, and life experiences by several years. It’s not just about choosing ‘home’ anymore—it’s about choosing the trajectory of my life.”

“I’m a caretaker for my mother, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, so I live with her. As an adult woman who had lived in her own apartment for years, who then had to ‘go back home’ to take care of her mother, my definition of home was already in flux. With the pandemic, I could no longer rely on outside spaces to rejuvenate me and give me a sense of independence. Learning how to set boundaries within a house for my own mental health has become key. My small bedroom in my mom’s home has become the personification of a safe space, where I can shut the door and perform rituals and routines that return me to myself—so I can better show up for my mother.”

Graphics by Lorenza Centi.

Gyan Yankovich

Gyan Yankovich is the Managing Editor at Man Repeller.

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