I moved out of my bedroom — an L-shaped alcove with three large windows and enough space for a four-poster bed — on a night when the heater, normally audibly asimmer, fell silent.
It was January.
Just weeks earlier, I had plans to move out of my apartment altogether, the first in a series of steps toward leaving New York City. For a variety of reasons, however, those plans had fallen through, and though I was relieved, I was also suddenly without a bedroom — my roommates, under the impression I was leaving, had already made plans for who would take it.
Luckily, I was able to move into one of the apartment’s smaller rooms, a task accomplished in minutes as I tore books from shelves and sheets off the bed, throwing everything in heaps in the hallway. Once it had all been stuffed into my new space — essentially a white box big enough for a bed and little else — I plugged in a lamp, found a seat atop a mountain of sweaters, and exhaled, watching in a daze as my breath turned to fog.
Now, nine months later, the tiny room is straightened and sorted, everything in its place. The beauty and the curse of having limited space is that near-obsessive neatness is the only way to remain sane — and as a consequence, I’ve gotten rid of many things. I have a few books. Photos. Artwork. A triangular rock painted to look like a slice of pocket-sized pizza (a treasured gift). But many things — most things — that I’ve held onto over the years are gone.
There’s something soothing about having only what I need. And, strangely, the space — still white, still tiny, still spare — still feels like home.
Last winter, while working on an assignment for Airbnb, I discovered the company slogan — ”at home in the world” — and found myself curiously moved. For a 30-year-old, unmarried and continually in transition, "home" doesn’t quite exist in a tangible sense.
But I feel it.
One of the joys — and certainly the most memorable challenge — of my last decade has been learning to be comfortable in the world, with its jolts, its miracles, its beauty and its terror. Much of that has to do with learning to be comfortable in my own skin, and with realizing that while physical surroundings may change, what’s at the center — what makes home feel like home — remains. You can always come home, my dad said to me the day I left for college. No questions asked.
I realize now home has only a sliver to do with place.
On the plane, returning home from a family vacation in Amsterdam, I finished a book and found myself overwhelmed by what felt like everything — the story, the altitude, the fleeting time we have with family. Tears streamed silently, inexplicably, down my face, and I let myself feel surprised for a moment before I remembered: oh, this.
Shortly after my January plans to leave New York were shelved, I went home to California to spend time with family for a couple of weeks. My parents had recently made a move of their own, selling their house and many of their belongings in favor of a much smaller home.
Bedroom-less again, I slept on the couch; our dog, Henry, curled at my side, nearly falling off.
It didn’t look like home. But still, some things were the same, and the new space carried comforts of the familiar: the smells of mirin and dashi and soy; the muffled sound of music coming from my dad’s headphones; old books in stacks under the coffee table, the spines of which I’ve gazed at since I was old enough to read.
I remembered being younger, five years old, tucked in bed in another house — my family’s second in a series of six moves total — listening as my parents got ready for bed. I couldn’t make out their conversation but the sounds of their voices made the room warm and my eyelids heavy.
Twenty-five years later, on the couch, in the dark, I listened to the same sounds and forgot myself. Forgot my grown body, and the dog, and the newly-painted room. I closed my eyes. Realized I could have been anywhere and known it was home.
You can find my previous POV entries, here. Thank you so much for reading, as always. Photo by Max Wanger.