The Cost of Feeling “At Home”

Photo by Eduard Militaru on Unsplash.

What makes us feel “at home”? Is it the proximity to where we grew up? A zip code we know better than our phone number? Or is it just the place where we sleep every night?

The answer isn’t the same for everyone. Home. It’s a word with more weight than most words ever have to bear.


We just moved to a new place (I can’t call it home yet) and I am straining to feel comfortable here. It’s quite small. Most of our stuff is still packed in boxes, in the basement, waiting to see when it will get to come out and join us. We are always running into each other and into our furniture. My knees are bruised and my mind wants the kind of wide open physical space that allows it to think clearly.

We moved into a rental apartment. There are cheap blinds on the windows. They have some missing slats and they don’t fit the windows well, so they allow people to see in, even when they’re closed. I desperately want curtains, both to cover the blinds and to give us privacy, but also because they will make the space we are living in look more like home. The problem is that curtains aren’t that cheap. I’m not set on expensive curtains, but any window dressing operation is going to require some money. We would need to buy curtain rods, put them up, and then buy matching curtains for multiple windows to give the space a sense of cohesiveness. Money is tight, and when you have to choose between groceries or window coverings, you go with the stuff that keeps you alive.

But there’s that certain way your breath catches when you recognize how completely not at home you feel in a space. You’re more anxious, easily agitated. It’s as if the space knows you don’t love it, and you don’t intend to stay. You become enemies, if it is possible to be an enemy of four walls.

There are other things we are putting off. Shelves, for example. Our landlords told us that we’d be docked a couple dollars for every hole we put in the drywall, so each time I imagine our pictures or belongings up high, I see a red line running through the money sign. We need our security deposit back, and we need it back in full. The walls remain bare, and the basement remains overflowing with boxes. Every day, I descend the steps, on the hunt for something I need that our main living space cannot accommodate. I hate it. I tear open cardboard flaps and throw items around with a moderate rage. I shouldn’t have to scavenge for my belongings like they are buried treasure, I think.

We need new couches, too. Our current couches are so ugly that I try to keep people from entering our home. They are pilling to the extreme and are stained from too many meals atop them. They remind me of the bad parts of college — children who have struck out on their own, and whose living spaces showcase their inability to do so with any style or grace. But the couches provide a place to sit, and that is enough. For now.

I am fixated on the curtains, though. Curtains block out the light when one needs to sleep, and they block out the dark when one doesn’t want to be aware of it. They bathe the blaringly white blinds in soft tones, in warmth. They fill the space they inhabit with a kind of beauty — and beauty, while unfair, always seems to equate itself with good.

We haven’t made a solid decision. Maybe the decision will be based on the length of time we decide to live here. If we re-sign the lease, should we go for it? Six months in a place that doesn’t feel good isn’t so bad; a whole year or more of feeling ill at ease might be too much to bear. It’s similar in all things, yes? When discomfort is fleeting, we can handle a massive amount of it. When we know we are staring it down for the long haul, the smallest amount feels like it will break us.

In the meantime, I stay out of the bedroom until the very last moment of the day — and I leave it the moment I wake up. It looks too sterile in the sunlight. I dart in and out of rooms quickly, I prop up pillows to cover the small breaks in the blinds so that I feel, if nothing else, safe in my privacy. I try to focus on the fact that we are well-fed and want for little, in the grand scheme of things. And I watch a lot of HGTV. Sometimes, focusing on the ideal — even when it’s in someone else’s possession — feels a little bit like having it yourself.

Kelly Green is a writer living in Wisconsin. She loves dogs easily, humans with some effort. She can be found at and on Twitter @kellygreeeeeen. (That’s six e’s, because her name is anything but unique.)

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