When Does a Place Become a Home?

By Lauren Herber, Editor-in-Chief

I'm sad to leave my saguaros. Courtesy Kimpton Hotels
I’m sad to leave my saguaros. Courtesy Kimpton Hotels

Last week, I wrote an article about the psychology of moving. Writing the article got me thinking about another aspect of moving: home. What makes a place a home? Can you have more than one home? How do you turn a new house, city, or country into a place that feels like home? As I prepare to move to a new city next month, these questions have been plaguing me, among others. Will Chicago ever feel like home? Can it replace Phoenix? Do I even want it to replace Phoenix?

Moving is bittersweet because, in part, of the shift that you experience in your sense of home. When I think of “home,” a list of places comes to mind that have all felt like home to me at some point or another. There is beauty in this because my conceptualization of “home” and what that means has grown with each new place I’ve lived, and the range of emotions that I associate with feeling at home somewhere has expanded. But each time I leave a place that has become home, I leave a little piece of my heart there as well. There will always be a small part of me that longs to go back home to each place that I’ve lived, and to become once again the distinct person that I was when I lived there.

The experience of a new, foreign place transforming into a place to call home is difficult to describe. It happens slowly, but also suddenly. I don’t think I could pinpoint the exact moment that Phoenix or Boston or Madrid became home, but I think that, for me, it happens when I change as a person. When I undergo a personal change, the place that I’m living becomes deeply tied to that new person, and so that place becomes home to my new sense of self. Indiana is home to the girl that dreamed of adventure but was stuck in a small, closed-minded place; Boston is home to the girl that finally learned to form an independent sense of self and to love that self; Madrid is home to the girl that realized she was braver, stronger, and more resilient than she gave herself credit for; and Phoenix is home to the woman that learned the true importance of mental, physical, and emotional health for the first time.

It hasn’t always been easy, but looking back, the transitional process has been beautiful and absolutely essential to my sense of self and to my goals as the woman I want to become. A place becoming home is different in every situation and has to happen on its own terms, but here are some tips for making an unfamiliar place start to feel more like home.

Make it about you. Moving places can provide an escape from many things—unpleasant weather, a bad job, a broken relationship—but one thing you can never escape is yourself. It’s worth it to invest time and effort in bettering yourself, achieving your goals, and becoming the person you want to be. As you grow and adapt, you will start to associate your new city with positive self change, and that city will become home to the new person you’ve become. Before you move, reflect on your life: what you love about it and what you’d like to change. Then make a concerted effort to achieve those goals. If you love being outdoors, do some research on outdoor activities you can do in your new home or daytrips you can take. If you want to live a healthier lifestyle, find out which gyms are close by and offer the best rates. Try to think of your move not only as a change of place, but also as a change of self, and make the most of it.

new home
Get out and discover your new city. Courtesy of Pexels

Get out and walk. Seriously! I know not all cities aren’t very walkable, but wherever you can walk, make sure to do so. A place isn’t going to feel very much like home if you have to use your GPS every time you leave the house. Granted, I might be a little more directionally challenged than most people, but it wasn’t until I walked all around downtown Phoenix and learned how the different neighborhoods are connected to each other that Phoenix started to feel like home. Before I did that, I relied on Google Maps to get me everywhere, from my gym to my bookstore to my favorite brunch spots. Make an effort to really understand the layout of your city and get comfortable with it. It won’t feel as foreign, disorienting, or intimidating once you have a general sense of how to get around on your own.

Meet new people. After all, a place isn’t just made up of a series of buildings, trees, and roads; it’s also made up of the people who live there. Meeting new people when you move is one of the hardest parts of moving, but it’s extremely important. Another reason why places I’ve lived in grew to feel like home is because I met people in each place that I could be myself around—my real self, the self made up of weaknesses and vulnerabilities, the self underneath the mask that I put on to face the rest of the world. Be open to opportunities when you move. You’ll be exhausted, especially if you tend to be more introverted, but try to say yes to as much as you can. Try out Trivia Night at that bar in your neighborhood, take a class, join your company’s volleyball team, seek out local clubs centered around your interests, join that friend that asks you to go see a local band even though you’re tired. At the same time, don’t feel like you have to make a dozen new friends within your first month of living somewhere. Stretch yourself, but be honest with yourself and know your limits.

My place- The Bookshop. Courtesy Lauren Herber
My place- The Bookshop. Courtesy Lauren Herber

Find “your place.” It doesn’t matter what it is: a restaurant, a park, a museum, a coffee shop, a bar, whatever. For me, it was a bookshop. A couple of months after I moved to Phoenix, I was still feeling out of place, disoriented, and lonely, and it was finding this bookshop that reminded me of who I was, why I moved, and what I wanted out of my life. That bookshop became “my place.” I went there frequently, and it was a place that I could go to escape, to reconnect with myself, anytime I was feeling overwhelmed, unsure of myself, or lonely. Now, I associate Phoenix as a whole with that one special place, and I get a rush of feelings of nostalgia, warmth, and comfort—the feelings of home.

Stay positive. This is by far the most important element of making a place a home. Your new city won’t feel like home immediately, and it can be easy to get down on yourself and have negative thoughts, especially if you’re also transitioning into a new job. You will feel overwhelmed at times, you might wonder if you’ve made a mistake, and you might question your ability to be strong and courageous. Be kind to yourself, and try to keep your thoughts and attitude positive. There are many different ways to do this: journaling, exercising, meditating, reading, spending time in nature, or talking with a trusted friend are all good places to start. Each person is unique, so try out different things and find which activities make you feel the most positive, healthy, and loved. Incorporate these activities into your life as often as you can, especially when you start to feel overwhelmed, lost, or lonely.

And never forget, as T-birds, we have something special that others don’t. We have been trained to be adaptable and comfortable with uncertainty. We have a unique bond with both Thunderbird’s campus and all the people who have made it special. Because of this, we know that, no matter where we are in the world, we always have a home in Thunderbird, and, more importantly, in each other.

Our forever home. Courtesy Master
Our forever home. Courtesy Master

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