What makes a house a home?

What makes your house your home? Is it the stuff we fill it with? The people we share it with? The street it sits on?

We are now at Moving Day minus eights days and counting. So far things are going well – roughly half our possessions are in boxes, a quarter have been dumped at the tip or the local hospice shop, and the remainder lie scattered about the house on various floors, ready to trip me up when I go to the toilet in the night.

I’ve always thought of myself as a seasoned housemover, and scoffed at people getting stressed by the seemingly simple task of packing. What’s not to love after all about the chance to reorganise your books? Every time I have moved house before, I have relished the opportunity to start afresh, with nice clean skirting boards and carpets, to be temporarily distracted from that permanent sense of mild boredom by the dilemma of how best to arrange the sofa and television.

I have moved house a lot in my life, and have lived in over 20 different houses, so maybe that’s why in the past I have taken it so much in my stride. I’ve never had the time to get too attached to a house, or to accumulate an attic full of broken Christmas decorations. Moving has never been a wrench – it’s always felt more like leaving a house than leaving a home.

I’ve also never moved before on my own and on such a grand scale. The only other time I’ve moved and not had a partner or parent living with me was when I moved myself and Bee, aged 19 and 2, from temporary bunk beds in my mum’s spare room to a tiny two bedroom house on the other side of town. Barely having any furniture at all meant it really didn’t feel like moving. We basically popped a few suitcases and a beanbag in the car and there we were. Fortunately it was the week before Christmas, and we coped very well without a fridge or cooker, keeping our milk nicely cool outside the back door and making up our sachets of Pasta ‘n’ Sauce on a one ring camping stove.

This time though, this time feels different. Different and scary. We have been here for five and a half years, by far the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere, and our fondness for the house has grown along with the piles of dust and patches of damp. We moved here when Bee was 10 and Belle was just three – she doesn’t remember living anywhere else – this is her home and as far as she is concerned has been all her life.

I’ve been wanting to move for a long time, waiting for my window of opportunity between GCSEs and A-levels, but in the build up have attached such significance to the move that it feels almost like our future happiness depends entirely on how well I pack the plates, or which room I decide to put the futon in. When we moved to our outside fridge house, there was just a week between me popping into the letting agents’ on a whim and us moving in. There wasn’t time to even think about it, let alone overthink about it.

People talk about the difference between a house and a home, the emotional as well as physical attachment you have for the place you live that imbues it with a sense of safety, and security, that transforms it from a pile of bricks to a familial sanctuary, but I think it goes further than that.

This move is a move to a new city, and in my head this new city has come to represent a move into a new life, a life full of possibilities and opportunities. Half my sentences begin with ‘When we move to Bristol…’ – as though physically shifting ourselves 40 miles up the motorway will automatically be followed by an emotional shift in outlook, an increased sense of well-being, a shifted perspective on life.

No pressure then.

You can see why the whole thing is inducing a sense of panic can’t you?

I have lived for a long time in a house that feels like home, but in a town that feels empty. I used to think that once you were inside, it didn’t really matter where you were, that you could be in your own world, but now I’m not so sure. Yes it’s important to feel safe and happy in your home, but what about the wider context? Surely your neighbours, the road, the town, the country – they all influence how you feel about where you live and ultimately how you feel about your life?

Could you put your dream house or home down in the middle of a desert, a city, an island, and be equally as happy? Of course not.

Just eight days to go. Eight days until I can untense my shoulders and stop shouting unnecessarily at people. Eight days until we can start our happily ever after. That’s how it works right? I just need to make sure I do a good job of packing the plates.



  1. Beth
    24 June, 2011 / 5:34 pm

    Definately pack the plates well! If you want a good excuse to eat out or do takeaways for the first week though pack them well but mislabel the box!

    Moving when you feel attached to a place is really hard, even if you are genuinely excited about moving somewhere new. When you stop noticing the smell about the new house you’ll know it’s a home because then it will smell like you (not in a bad way, obviously). Putting my pictures up made a big difference too because I had chosen each and every one of them so I could then feel like I was staying.

    And, from the experience of moving a few weeks ago, anything that you think ‘I will need that almost straight away at the new place so I will put that somewhere really safe’ you will not be able to find so write a memo to yourself where you put them.

    • 25 June, 2011 / 7:13 am

      Totally agree about the pictures. In fact, I have already been to the new place and put some up!

      The smell is so important to, as we have such strong memories associated with smell don’t we? I will always remember the smell of my Gran and Grandad’s house when I was little. It was a weird, fusty mix of Embassy No 1 and Gordon’s gin.

  2. 25 June, 2011 / 10:40 am

    You reminded me of these lines from Thomas Hood:

    No human creature stirred to go or come,
    No face looked forth from shut or open casement,
    No chimney smoked, there was no sign of home
    From parapet to basement.

    A bit negative, but he gives us clues about what makes a house a home!

  3. 27 June, 2011 / 12:43 pm

    Good Luck! I am moving in four weeks… just down the road but still, it is a big thing to do. Don’t focus on the house you’re leaving but the home you are going to have and you’ll be fine.

    Unless you hate it. In which case you can just move again right?!

  4. 27 June, 2011 / 5:44 pm

    I think that this is a really great and interesting post about the difference between a house and a home. I have lived in lots of places and nowhere (as a grown-up) has felt like ‘home’ yet. Where we are at the moment feels as close as we’ve come…but not quite. I don’t know what that indescribable ‘thing’ is, but we’re still searching….

    Anyway, we used movers – the days when I used rented transits and ‘mate-muscle’ are loooooonnnng gone. I wrote a post about it once…

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