Home is where my stuff is
“But mostly, it’s the place where all our stuff is.”
–Lisa Simpson, referring to her home in Springfield
I lived in the house I grew up in for 23 consecutive years. I never moved out while in university and never experienced living in residence, nor did I have any inclination to rent an apartment with a bunch of strangers. My house was my home and I never had the desire to leave it.
Until I did.
When I was 23 years old, I decided it was time for a change, but I didn’t move out to rent an apartment or to backpack through Europe. I moved out to go and live in South Korea. I wanted to test my ability to leave my home and my family and every single one of my friends in a big way. I wanted my first move from home to be as far away as possible.
After securing myself a teaching position at a school in Korea, I felt exhilarated and overwhelmingly excited. I finally had a (literal) ticket out of my house and the change I so desperately longed for was in my grasp. But after a short while, amidst all of my excitement, I began to feel nervous. No. I was more than nervous. I started freaking out.
The first great moment of panic began when I started packing. I am a certified packrat (hoarder?): I have every tooth I have ever lost (save for the few I have left scattered all over the world), the stitches I had removed from my forehead when I was 10, the old napkins with chocolate sauce on them that I used on my first airplane ride, four old retainers, an old shoe that an old man on the side of the street fixed for me (to remind me of the kindness inherent in strangers), and a hundred more unforgotten treasures. So how was I – a girl who had never left home and who believes in the sacredness of everyday objects – not going to bring everything I owned? The answer: with great difficulty.
I packed and repacked my two gigantic bags over and over again, at times removing items and at other times putting more items in. I had friends come over and try to master this giant Tetris puzzle, each time trying to make more space for me to cram more things in. I eventually managed to pack my bags in a way that somewhat satisfied my desire to simply put my entire room on my back and call it a day. I brought the teeth, left the stitches. Now all I had to do was board the plane and say goodbye to everyone I loved.
After many, many tears and hesitations, I did it. I made a wish and tossed a penny in the fountain at the airport and boarded the plane. I was the saddest I have ever been and the most nervous. I knew I was doing what I needed to do, but as the plane flew me farther and farther away from my home, I grew more and more fearful of the unknown. Although I knew I was doing the right thing for myself, it didn’t feel right. I kept waiting for some otherworldly sign to tell me that everything would be okay and to bring me some sort of peace. And then it came. Not in some beam-of-light-shining-through-the-ceiling-of-the-airplane sort of way, but it came nonetheless.
As I was sitting and crying into my kimchi soup, I was mentally trying to work out how I would organize my new apartment, how long it would be before I got an Internet connection so that I could contact my family and friends, and how I would find my way to work every day. And then I answered all of these questions with this: “Don’t worry about all of that now. You’ll figure it when you get home.”
Suddenly, I stopped crying and smiled; I wasn’t referring to my home in Canada and it wasn’t a mental slip. I meant to say “home.” The small apartment in Korea which I had not yet seen would be my home. It would be my home for the simple reason that I would fill it with all of my stuff – all of the things I surrounded myself with from the house I grew up in, all of the items that were the most important to me and that were tied with invisible string to the people I loved most in this world. I didn’t leave those things behind; they were with me on that plane and they would be with me in that small apartment.
Five years have passed since that airplane ride and now I’m older and have moved out of the house I grew up in for good. I bought my own house here in Canada and it is—of course—filled with all of my stuff. And so this house I bought is now called my home. But it wasn’t at first: not when I signed the mortgage and not when I first stepped through the door. It wasn’t until I unpacked all of my things from big brown boxes and laid them on shelves that I built myself a home. Because, like that first move to Korea, I have left the building I grew up in, but not my home. That lives in a series of everyday objects.