From an early age, my mother told me that home is where the heart is, which is sort of surprising for someone who only moved three times in her 87 years. Statistically, she’s not the norm. According to the latest numbers, the average American will move approximately 11.4 times during the course of his or her lifetime.
This past week I had to make the difficult decision to place my mother into assisted living. She loves nature, so I found her a beautiful place surrounded by a forest and birds chirping outside her window. Frankly, making this transition is not something I ever thought I would have to do; however, it was necessary because of her loss of mobility—and her home was not conducive to someone with ambulatory problems.
When we pulled up to the lush senior-living community and stopped in front of the building, she looked at the path leading to the front door, with seniors lining the pathway up to the building and enjoying the fresh air. The first thing she said was, “I always thought I’d die at home.” Her comment took me by surprise because she isn’t the type of person who easily shares her feelings.
Much of the fear of relocation among seniors has to do with the unfamiliarity of a new place. You’d think that as you get older, “new” won’t be so intimidating, but instead, it becomes overwhelming and confusing. During our youth, we more easily adapt to change.
Over my past six decades, I’ve moved more than a dozen times, and even though this number seems high to me personally, statistically it’s normal. As someone who prefers to stay in one place, whenever the thought of moving has come up, I have pondered several questions: Why do people move? What are the effects of moving? Where is home?
I’ve noticed that the older I get, the more difficult the act of moving is, both physically and psychologically. The fact is, the longer you live in one place, the more you accumulate and need to get rid of, which is stressful in and of itself; but outside of the decision of what to keep and what to toss, the act of moving simply becomes more stressful.
In her 2010 article in the New York Times, writer Sarah Kershaw examined why some people move more than others. One person she interviewed claimed that he moved a lot because he was always looking for a better and more reasonable place to live. While moving might signify a new beginning or a fresh new start, it might also symbolize disappointment and loss. Some psychologists believe that those who have a compulsion to move a lot are seeking external change to compensate for internal problems or challenges.
In his blog “Where is Home?” writer Mark Matousek wrote about how he began to explore the idea of home from a spiritual, philosophical standpoint after interviewing a group of homeless individuals. What he learned was that homelessness is a state of mind, which many of us have experienced but perhaps are afraid to admit. I agree with Matousek when he says that “home is where we find our balance, the pivoting point that connects us to the heart.”
One study done by Gillsjo and Schwartz-Barcott (2011) involved seniors who said that their idea of home had to do with childhood, community, and places of worship. The researchers concluded that there was no established definition of home, but rather, it is a place where people feel attached, comfortable, and secure.
Whether you change residences frequently or not, it’s true that home is where your heart is. Some people suggest that home, like the Buddha, lives inside of you. Essayist and novelist Pico Iyer, in his Ted Talk called “Where Is Home?” stated that home has more to do with a piece of your soul, not soil. In his discussion of home, he said that more than 220 million people are not living in their homes. He used himself as an example, as his family of origin was from India, but he never actually lived there so he didn’t feel that he earned the right to call himself “Indian.” He raised many questions, such as: “Is home where you pay your taxes?” In the end, he concluded that home is the place that goes deepest inside of you. As such, he said that his home is Japan because that’s where he’s lived for more than 25 years. “Home is not only the place where you sleep, but it’s the place where you stand,” Iyer said.
When searching for a place to live or a place to call home, it’s important to figure out what you care about, and figuring this out might involve daily meditation or the practice of mindfulness. There’s no doubt that home symbolizes safety; and it’s also a place to develop a sense of community and interconnectedness, something that has fallen by the wayside in recent years.
As Dorothy famously says in The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”
Gillsjo, C. and D. Schwartz-Barcott. (2011). “A concept analysis of home and its meaning in the lives of three older adults.” International Journal of Older People Nursing. 6:1. pp. 4–12.
Iyer (2015). “Where is Home?” Ted Talks. March 19, 2015.
Kershaw, S. (2010). “The Psychology of Moving.” The New York Times real estate section. February 26.
Matousek, M. (2016). “Where is Home?” The Huffington Post. January 7.