“There is a magic in that little world, home; it is a mystic circle that surrounds comforts and virtues never known beyond its hallowed limits”
– Robert Southey (English Poet and Writer of prose. 1774-1843)
Here I sit at my rickety card table, courtesy of Goodwill of Tacoma. It’s the only table in the house at the moment, and I’m glad to have it. But I find myself cranky and out of sorts because we’re on our third week now of camping out in a mostly-empty house. It’s a lovely house; built in 1956, it reminds me of my grandmother’s home in Watsonville, California. As my husband says, (wow, it still feels odd to say that – I giggle a bit each time I refer to D as “my husband”) this is a thoroughly middle-class house, and we must make it ours. We’ve begun the process, repainting a few rooms and repairing some leaky plumbing, and trimming up some unruly bushes and vines.
But I find myself out of sorts and cranky because we still have two weeks to go before our stuff will arrive. Our pots and pans, our towels, our books and tchotchkes and electronics and furniture – all of this is sitting in the Port of Tacoma, not yet released to the movers. I want my stuff! And I feel like a silly twit for being in such a snit over mere stuff! I mean, all my basic needs are met, and we’ve been able to improvise temporary solutions to problems posed by lack of stuff – hanging laundry in the tulip tree because I don’t have drying racks or clothespins, for example, and sleeping on the new couch. I must be spoiled indeed to get so hung up and stressed by this temporary separation from my material possessions. That’s not the sort of person I want to be.
But dammit – I want my stuff! Familiar surroundings over which we have some control – that’s a deep human need, I think. Of course, there are people who enjoy travelling light, moving from place to place with just a backpack and really soaking in the new surroundings. Do they not have this need to control their environment, I wonder? Or have they evolved beyond the reliance on stuff to feel comfortable and safe? I enjoy travel too, but I enjoy it most when I have a comfortable “home base” – hotel room, flat, RV – in which to spread out and organize my stuff. I hate, hate, hate living out of a messy suitcase.
Even homeless people carry around familiar stuff – often quite a lot of it – and set it up “just so” to comfort themselves, to protect themselves from the crazy, noisy, intrusive world that swirls around them – and inside their troubled heads.
I did a quick Google search for “the human need to control one’s environment” and found only some dry, scholarly articles. I also searched “the importance of home” and found mostly right-wing discussions of “family values” and their role in raising children. A search for “nesting” led to articles about how pregnant women tend to sort and organize their belongings shortly before giving birth – not what I had in mind. A search for quotes about home turned up thoughts about the people who live there – not quite what I’m looking for. No, what interests me right now is the importance of home as a place of stability and comfort, a place where we feel safe and in control. Right now I’m focusing more on the actual building, and all that it contains – the yard, the home base, the shelter, the stuff, and why it’s so important for our peace of mind to arrange that to our liking.
Homesick – that’s what I am. I expected to be homesick for Germany, for Europe, for the friends who are still living there. And I do miss that place and those people – but what I’m missing most right now in a bone-deep way is the feeling of “home” I got from having my nest set up to my liking. I think we’ll be happy here in this new house, this new city. But I don’t yet feel nested here, and I really want to feel that way. I want familiar things around me. I want my comforts and conveniences, the physical ones that made me feel safe and well taken care of. And that feeling of being off-center and on edge because my stuff is not here – that bothers me, dear reader. I do not want to be the sort of person who defines herself by her belongings, yet without my belongings I feel cranky, unstable, dissatisfied.
For his enlightening book Material World: A Global Family Portrait, photojournalist Peter Menzel photographed families around the world with all their belongings laid out in front of their homes. (If you haven’t yet seen this book, you really should. Then take a look at his What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.) In global terms, what we have in this house right now far exceeds what many of those families have. We have enough clothing, for example, to wear a fresh outfit every day for three weeks without having to do much laundry. We have a skillet, two pots, and a wok. We have dishes for four people, and we’re only two people. We have a fridge and a microwave oven and big, new, comfy couch. So I feel like a silly twit for whining about wanting my stuff.
And yet, I know that I’ll breathe a huge sigh when the stuff arrives and I can set up my nest. I obviously have some spiritual work to do, but I think this need to furnish one’s nest is probably a very human need that we all share.
How about you? How attached are you to your nest?