What it means to live in a place

I want to share a visual tour of some of my house with you this afternoon, including some of the kitchen and living room. I believe it's important to feel a sense of home and place wherever you live, even if you know you won't live there forever. In our case, we likely won't live here beyond our year-long lease, but why shouldn't we feel connected to a place we'll be living in for twelve months of our precious lives?
When we first moved here, I rented a book from the library about the history of this neighborhood, and it helped me see that I was joining a community that had a long history of identity. Spaces that are actually places in people's memories and identities often feel, look, and even smell differently than spaces where people pass through without identifying strongly with that particular place and community. I felt that sense of community responsibility and identity for this place the first time I drove through this area of town, and reading a book about its history confirmed that feeling for me.

I live in this place with a desire to understand what it means to be a member of this community and how to contribute to the perpetuation of that sense of identity that makes a place special. When people care about the land, people, and history of where they live, those places can continue to be safe places where people are not just residents but neighbors who contribute to the civic life of the world around them. In all three communities I have lived in during my short 23 years on Earth, I have been introduced to or sought out the people and parts of town where civic engagement, care for one's community, and sense of place were strongest.

I have to thank my parents for instilling in me the sense of not only responsibility or interest but necessity to be an active, contributing member of my community. I grew up with a dad who was actively involved in so many aspects of our community that we couldn't walk down the street without at least one person stopping him to say hi. Anyone who knows me knows that I have followed in his footsteps to be involved in as many parts of my community as I have capacity to join, and much of the work I do for my jobs is community organizing. In a society where isolation in houses away from neighbors has become a frightening norm, I try to push against that and seek out the places where I can join others to create a happier, healthier world. Work that changes the world often starts with a community of engaged people working together. We all know the Margaret Mead quote by heart, right?

In this new community that I joined only a few months ago, I have started within the confines of our own walls and extended into our garden to contribute to the creation of a sense of place and connection. I hope to continue to extend that relationship with this place into the rest of the community as I become more settled in this city. I must admit that I have only met a couple of my neighbors on my street, and it seems like it will be up to me to walk around the neighborhood more and be the one to say, Hello neighbor!

Here's a small peek into what I've done to make this house into more of a home, the area within these walls into not just a space but a place:

What you're seeing (from right to left): The can on the far right is our bacon grease catcher. Sorry, vegan and vegetarian friends--we love bacon! The mug next to it holds our drying utensils and silverware after they're washed. We try to rarely use the paper towels you see here since we have a ton of cloths for cleaning up or wiping our hands, but we do have them on the counter just in case. I discovered this veggie painting while thrift shopping with my mom--it was only $5 and it fits in perfectly in our kitchen! The mason jar next to it holds some homemade jam from Green Guy's dad and step-mom. The rustic-looking grinder was a gift from Green Guy's mom, and it's used to grind and store coffee. I'll admit, I often buy my coffee pre-ground and just pour it in there because the manual grinding takes forever for the amount of coffee I drink.
The white stuff in that old fashioned milk bottle is white sugar. I received that bottle from the grand opening of the Alviso Adobe Community Park in Pleasanton when I was in high school. It's a replica Meadowlark Dairy bottle, which provides for me a special connection back to my hometown and childhood. To the left of it is a jar of egg shells for planting seeds or crushing to add to the garden or the worm bin. Click on the photo for a larger view so you can see a hand-drawing of a chicken that I made. Next to that in the smaller jar are a couple of dried tea bags that I plan on giving to the worms. The pitcher is used for watering the garden since I haven't yet found the right watering can.
Wine bottles, reusable bottles, knives, a smaller sugar bowl, our spaghetti holder that used to live in my mom's kitchen when I was little, chopsticks, and our fruit/onion/potato/lime/acorn squash/anything that doesn't go in the fridge bowl. Many of the items in our kitchen came from family members, and using those items provides a chance to think about our loved ones. Feeling connected to a place can also mean feeling connected to people when you're in that place.
On the other side of the kitchen is this turquoise wheeling cart from my aunt, who saw that I'd pinned it on Pinterest and mailed it to me for my birthday! We've got cut flowers from the backyard in a vase, an Ansel Adams photograph of Half Dome in Yosemite, a jar of seashells from places we've visited, vitamins, our cocktail bar, and some odds and ends. To the right are my bags of shredded newspaper, cardboard, and dryer lint for the worm bin.
On the kitchen windowsill over the stove are my green onion plants, regrowing in water and dirt. The water-filled jar on the right is sitting on top of a jar of thread so that the sun will reach it.
We've got arugula growing in the living room.
Nasturtiums and tomatoes are also growing in the living room.
This nasturtium plant died, and it looked like a little sprout was coming up after it, but it's been like this for quite a few days.
A tiny little seedling of either cilantro or tomato. Welcome to the world!
The living room windowsill is teeming with seedlings, who are about to join us in the world as active members of our garden community.
Our shoe rack in the living room that also holds arts and crafts supplies, a seabiscuit from the Bahamas that I dove for while snorkeling, a pumpkin to celebrate the changing season, a rock from the mountains where my family has been visiting for generations, and a photograph of my great-grandfather Papa with his camera in a forest in the mountains.

Thanks for taking a peek into our humble abode!

I want to end this post with a couple of quote from a truly delightful, insightful, and inspiring book called Staying Put: Making A Home in a Restless World, by Scott Russel Sanders.

"My nation's history does not encourage me, or anyone, to belong somewhere with a full heart. A vagabond wind has been blowing here for a long while, and it grows stronger by the hour. I feel the force of it, and brace my legs to keep from staggering. [...]

"I believe we can only be adequate to the earth if we are adequate to our neighborhoods. At the same time, we can live wisely in our chosen place only if we recognize its connections to the rest of the planet. The challenge is to see one's region as a focus of processes that extend over the earth and out to the edges of the universe; to realize that this place is only one of an infinite number of places where the powers of nature show forth. [...]
"The word house derives from an Indo-European root meaning to cover or conceal. I hear in that etymology furtive, queasy undertones. Conceal from what? From storms? beasts? enemies? from the eye of God? Home comes from a different root meaning 'the place where one lies.' That sounds less fearful to me. A weak, slow, clawless animal, without fur or fangs, can risk lying down and closing its eyes only where it feels utterly secure. Since the universe is going to kill us, in the short run or the long, no wonder we crave a place to lie in safety, a place to conceive our young and raise them, a place to shut our eyes without shivering or dread."

What do you do to make your place on earth feel like home? What places are vivid to you in your memory, even if they no longer exist in the real world? What do you think about all of this? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Green Gal


  1. Hi, Green Gal. By the time I was 23 I had lived in 10 different locations spanning four states. Then I lived in seven more locations and added one more state before arriving at my present location. My wife and I just celebrated the 30th anniversary of the purchase of our home. We raised our kids here and I’ll probably die here, but not for a while I hope.

    When I was a child, some of our moves were quite sudden. I came home from 6th grade one day and found a moving van in front of the house. Four hours later, the family was in the car heading to a new home. The next week I was in a 6th grade classroom 500 miles away. But my family was with me and I knew that as long as they came along, where ever we ended up was home. The structure we lived in didn’t matter, it was being with family that defined home.

    My Dad didn’t encourage accumulating possessions, because it was too expensive to ship the stuff when moving. Most of what my sisters and I owned got left behind with each move. However, I did come up with some inventive ways to save my most prized possessions. My comic book collection once followed us to a new home wedged into the springs beneath our sofa. One time I threw away half of my clothes so I could line the bottom of each dresser drawer with books. I kept just enough clothes to securely cover the books. I thought the look on the mover’s faces as they hefted the extra heavy dresser onto the truck was going to reveal my deception, but I got away with it. My Golden Nature Guides to Fossils and Pond Life made the trip from St. Louis, Missouri to Columbus, Ohio in my pants. I was slightly uncomfortable during the trip, but I wasn’t taking any chances that my two favorite books would be left behind. No pun intended.

    As a result of my childhood experiences, I never got in the habit of decorating any of the places I lived. I did get involved with every community of which I became a part. I always felt that you should know about the place where you live and you should do what you can to make it better.

    I’m glad you are enjoying your new home. It’ll be interesting to watch your garden grow.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Steve! I can't imagine moving that often and having to narrow down my possessions to such a few items. I think I would do what I could to save as many of my books, too. I also agree that home is where family and the people you love are--I think that's a huge piece that I forgot to mention. Thanks for commenting!


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