Last week I wrote about Territory and Third Culture Kids. I wrote about how, while TCKs tend to avoid territorialism, I wonder if there isn’t something to be gained by learning how to do territory – how to build safe spaces. I suggested there are three kinds of safe spaces we can build: a physical safe space, a safe community and a safe self. Today I want to further explore how we can build a safe physical space, aka HOME.
Home is a word that can be both beckoning and threatening, and offers both hope and grief. The experience of feeling “at home” is not necessarily a familiar one for many TCKs. After all, many of us lost not one but multiple homes as children, and the promise of impending loss may have impeded our ability to attach ourselves to place, to feel truly “at home”. Even as adults, many of us resist decorating our intimate spaces, citing anti-materialism or minimalist tendencies to mask our underlying belief that we won’t be staying long, so why bother making ourselves “at home”.
Others of us feel completely intimidated by the prospect of building home, finding that the process demands a certain externalisation of our identities – décor acts as an extension of the self, of one’s identity. And that’s fine, except that it’s made a lot harder when our identity is a challenge to express to ourselves, let alone in the language of colour, lighting and scatter cushions!
A safe place is one where we are known. A safe place is one where we have investment and a voice. A safe place is one where we know how things work. A safe place nourishes us. A safe place reminds us of who we are. A safe place allows growth as well as protection.
Who doesn’t want this? How can we build a Home that feels like a safe place, especially when we live in the very real knowledge that this might not be our “forever home”, or we struggle with externalising an internally felt identity? It feels like a pretty big job… so let’s break this down.
How can you make Home a safe space today?
Identify a corner of your home that you feel calm and peaceful in. Maybe there isn’t one, so create one. It doesn’t need to be big, just a little niche that you can come to when “out there” feels overwhelming.
Now, can you gather together 5-7 objects that reflect chapters in your story? Perhaps they are ornaments or items from other homes, other places that are dear to you. Perhaps you can add candles or incense whose scent feel cosy or reminiscent of other times and places. Add pictures or images (print them off to make them ‘physical’ that remind you who you are, and where you have come from. Maybe you are a quotes person – add words that ground and inspire you.
Arrange these in a way that pleases your eye. If you don’t feel able to leave them out when you aren’t in your space, find a basket that can keep them safe until you can get them out again.
Now, you know how comfort food works… when you are feeling little or vulnerable or overwhelmed, we reach for the food. Now reach for this space in those moments. Or build them into your daily routine, beginning the morning there, with a journal or some music. Or retreat to them for rest, reflection. Drink your favourite drink there, slowly just being at home.
In this way, you can create a small safe space in your home today – you have conquered a corner of your habitat and made it HOME.
How can you make Home a safe space this week?
Does your home feel unwieldy or resistant to your efforts to ‘own’ it? You aren’t entirely sure it works, in the sense that systems don’t seem to flow or you are fighting to make it work for you? It isn’t serving you or the needs of your life?
Take 10 minutes to jot down, room by room, what doesn’t seem to work. Note the areas of particular chaos, or which activities in each room feel frustrated. Which closets raise your blood pressure just with the opening of the doors? To which cupboards to things go to die? Which walls are depressingly bare? List them all, room by room.
Now tackle one. Just one. Bend it to your will and make it yours. Make it work for you. Decorate it, fix it, reorganise it. Throw stuff out, buy new stuff to change its look. Then do another one from your list next week, and so on. You can gain territory one foot at a time, and one area at a time too.
How can you make your Home a safe space this month?
What are your favourite colours? Are any of these represented in your home? If not, can you find a way to introduce them? Pictures, paints, throws, candles…
Do you spend time in your home? Or do you avoid it and go out as much as possible? Introverts and extroverts will have different needs here… but it is possible to be out a lot because home nurtures and launches you “out there”, or because coming home feels depressing and unstimulating.
Can you commit to some time this month introducing some stimulating activity in your home? What do you enjoy doing? Can you find a way to creatively engage with your home space to build positive memories into the very fabric of your intimate spaces? Can you invest in your yard or garden? Can you build a reading nook or give over some space to nurture one of your hobbies? Can you build a memory wall with photos? Can you use your home to host friends for a potluck meal or games night?
Making home a safe space is crucial for Third Culture Kids, as it acts to counter some of that pit of stomach unease when we return from work/our travels, whatever our “out there” may be. That feeling of emptiness or stuckness is often what drives us out again. And “out there” is great, stimulating, where we feel competent and useful and purposeful… but fear of Home is a sad motivator.
Let’s build Home as a safe space. Let’s invest in our most intimate territory. Then, and only then, can our going “out there” be truly construed as a choice, rather than compulsion. We can choose to stay and nurture self in our safe space “in here”, or launch from our safe space to express self “out there”. And there are times, for all of us, where going “out there” feels more limited. This might be due to disability or chronic illness, work or family commitments or just a sense that now is a season for settledness. For these times of increased “in here”, we need to retrench into our safe spaces. We need our Home to be a safe space.
You make so many good points, Dr. Rachel. It was was both instructive and fun to consider your suggestions, and to see where they have and have not been applied in my own life. I’m very big on being surrounded by my “stuff.”
During this same on-line session that I’m reading your post, I saw this:
“BORN TO WANDER
Michelle Van Loon
Born to Wander is about defining and embracing our biblical call to pilgrimage. Weaving together personal stories with keen insights on the themes of pilgrimage and exile in Scripture, Michelle Van Loon will help you understand and own your pilgrim identity, reorienting your heart to the God who leads you home.”
I take it that Michelle is speaking to Christians in general. The thought occurred to me that TCKs often are more “pilgrims and wanderers” than the average bear. Therefore what we have of a “home” is more important in some ways than it may be to others outside of that experience.
Speak on, Good Doctor!
Time to retreat to my space! 🙂
Thanks for reading, Dan! And for your kind comments and insights. Yes, wanderers seems like a good fit for many of us, and home-building all the more significant for it… Enjoy your space!
Every single one of my homes since I was 16 looked more like somebody was “camping indoors”.
Living out of a suitcase is a phrase we often used growing up!
I’ve been feeling a strong sense of longing recently, either for something lost or something that will be lost eventually. I was struggling for the word to communicate it but this sums it up beautifully:
I personally connect more with the Welsh term “hiraeth”, but I wonder how many TCKs feel this beautifully conflicted emotion in connection with their relationships, with people and place, past and potential?
Yes, and thanks for the link too! Finding the right word that expresses where we are at is such a powerful way of making our feelings more ‘real’ somehow, and validating the experience of feeling them. I wonder if you feel this longing for a lost something, or for something that will be lost more at certain times of the year than others? I know that the summer, or start of a new school year, can be a trigger for this for some of us – as it signals the time many of our moving/new school start transitions took place…
That’s a fascinating point and one I hadn’t considered – yes, moving usually coincided with the summer holidays for me and there’s the added weight that this will be my daughter’s last year of primary school, and that transition for me came with the clanging realisation that I was “settled” now and there would be no more easy escapes from difficult friendships or new environments to explore!
That’s a lot of realisations ‘clanging’! It makes sense that certain times of the year ‘echo’ more of the past than others… and this one is resonating with realisations for your future too. I wonder what you can do to honour/mark this realisation of settledness – something that would validate your feelings too? A little gift to ourselves at these times, something that says, “I see you” can be really precious and grounding.
Not a bad suggestion… Something that includes a recognition of my settledness in my current home might be a good idea too – I got really anxious last year because we decided to get a dog and the level of commitment it symbolised (to both animal and house) made me panic.
Yes, recognising settledness is a great idea. When I realised I’d been in my home for 5 years together (a new record for me!) I had friends over for what I called a belated housewarming and gifted them 5 point star coasters I’d crocheted… just a little thing but it meant a lot to me. Recently too a friend gifted me a ceramic house that glows beautifully when placed over a candle… really reminded me of the value of the home I’d built…
Oh, glowing houses are AMAZING for that sense of cosiness… my maternal grandmother had a living room full of Audley lamps in the 70s/80s and I loved them unironically and completely.
Oh these are wonderful!