What does it mean to you?

During our recent weekend chat, a friend of mine mentioned that she likes her home to be spick-and-span. She said emphatically that she wants her home to be like a temple– pristine and beautiful. She then tossed the question to me, what does my home mean to me? I sheepishly responded that I am not particular about the upkeep of my home. But the question got me thinking.

What does our homes mean to us? And how much do our interactions with our homes change depending on its meaning?

For an immigrant, home for a long time means the home left behind…. the sights, the security, and the warmth locked in some recesses of mind. The treasure chest of cherished memories can be re-opened only at leisure. The beautiful experiences are then caressed and put off wistfully.

While earning a livelihood and being busy attaining one “last” goal after another, one does not even realize when the abode in the immigrated land, transitions into becoming the home. For me, one such moment was when I was feeling low about leaving home behind while coming back from our annual India trip. My kids were excited about coming back home to their way of life in the USA. In that moment, I realized that my idea of India being home cannot be assumed to as theirs. I have an obligation to make their idea of home mean all of what home is supposed to be– a warm, loving, secure refuge from the world. Is it not the same for all of us and perhaps something more to each of us?

As one reaches their middle age, one’s desire for novelty goes down, and one looks for order and consistency. We get set in “our” way of doing things. With that comes the need to have an orderly home. A lot of us love having perfect, beautiful, and curated homes.

After all, our homes are a reflection of our identities, our aesthetic tastes, and social standings as well. Home is one’s last rightful territory– tending to it becomes one’s source of joy and purpose.

The onset of Covid-19 suddenly brought more focus to our homes as they became our office, school, and our only safe haven. With nowhere else to go, it also brought the challenge of cohabiting the space all of the time. Every family member needed to adjust to a new routine, and find their favorite space for learning, working, and taking breaks during the day. With no household help and increased workload, suddenly work distribution became immediate and in focus.

Now, every living space needed to be cleaned more frequently. I started missing our maid who we agreed should not work at our home for both of our families’ safety. I think of her as my companion towards the smooth functioning of our home, someone who does not enjoy the perks of living in our home but contributes to the upkeep of it. Though initially reluctant, my kids started helping out with cleaning under the changed circumstances.

For kids, home is where memories are created, their identities are formed and a blueprint of their future adult lives is conceived. Teenage kids, waiting to take off to more interesting places, hardly pay conscious attention to their homes. In modern times, the utilitarian mindset about the time spent on activities not bringing either intellectual reward or pure fun makes kids feel that time spent doing household chores is a waste.

A few years ago, my husband’s aging parents moved into our home. They wanted to live life worry-free, not needing to manage and run a household in the last phase of their life. At that stage of one’s life, one sees the temporariness of a lot of things, and in some way, one is preparing for the final home.

My father-in-law, who has dementia, struggles with associating related household objects and how they could be stacked or organized. He tends to put soiled dishes back in cabinets. He could be blissfully oblivious to food being dropped after a meal or a bathroom spill after its use.

Our home is in a perpetual state of disorder and imperfection, and I am okay with it. Far from being beautiful or aesthetically curated, I only strive to keep the place hygienic and safe.

What I know is that just like everyone else, our home’s walls are witness to our shared joys, aspirations, contentions, and disappointments.

For me, I view my home as a temporary abode where all of us are getting shelter. In Hindi, the word for a temporary abode is “dera”. I see myself as a temporary caretaker who tries to maintain it to the best of my capabilities.

This change of mental construct of what ‘home’ is has freed me up. This temporary abode will continue to get dents and scratches as time passes just as we will continue to wither with time. When the time comes for us to move on to new adventures, a new family will make this ‘dera’ their home to whatever they want it to mean to them.

We create meaning through the mental constructs of our realities. Sometimes a shift in the mental construct leads to simplifying and clarifying our approach to life.

Technology leader building software to solve business problems, mother, wife, budding writer