What does home really mean?

“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.” – Paulo Coelho

For me, movement has always been a part of life. However, whenever I have found stillness in the midst of all of this movement, the question has always arisen: what is home, really?

The uncertainty around the concept of “home” has been something that I have been thinking about for most of my life, but something that came up more recently as a bigger question.

Home as a blank canvas

I moved around a lot from a young age, coming from Bulgaria to the United States as a child, and then living in several places around the US as I grew up. I spent my childhood across both countries, with school-years spent in the US and summers spent in Bulgaria. “Home” had no fixed meaning, although Bulgaria was the place that I associated with carefree fun, and the US was the place that I associated with work and school. I often felt somewhat unanchored, with no fixed roots anywhere.

As I grew older, attending boarding school, and continuing to feel like I was in perpetual motion, I made up my mind that I would “find the place that would be home.” I figured that the world was big, and I had only experienced a very small portion of it. Home could be anywhere, right? I took a “blank canvas” approach to the matter – I could paint my canvas in whichever way I chose, creating my home as I chose to define it, wherever that may be.

So, I began to travel quite extensively and to pursue opportunities to live and work in different parts of the world. During my university years, I spent extended periods of time living in France, Italy, the UK, India, China, and several other countries. I continued this exploration as I entered my early working years, living in New York, Los Angeles, New Zealand, Bulgaria, and then moving to Germany, France, Singapore, and back to France for some time, before finally returning to the US (where I currently live in San Francisco).

At first, the travel and various experiences were fun and exciting. However, as the years wore on and I kept moving, I began to feel oddly restless and somewhat homeless. Although the places were interesting, none of them felt fully right. I kept thinking that “this place just wasn’t right for certain reasons, but there is still so much to try, eventually I’ll find the place.” I traveled and lived in over 80 countries. However, it seemed like every place felt somewhat off for some reason or other (although I felt more at home in Europe than in many other places). I began to realize that maybe a perfect place simply didn’t exist, and I was looking for something that couldn’t be found.

Creating, rather than finding, home

What I’ve come to realize is that maybe we don’t find home, but rather, we create it. “Home” can be anywhere. It is not a place, but rather, a mindset.

When we don’t have any strong connections, as fun or as pretty as a place may be, it simply does not mean much. A home is defined by the people more so than merely the location, and that starts with ourselves. We are our own homes, with the need to feel fully comfortable with who we are and what we do. After all, we can’t escape from our own minds, so the feeling of “home” has to start there. Over the course of time, as we find people with whom we want to surround ourselves, we may begin to feel a more full sense of comfort, stability, and eventually home. In realizing that this is what it takes, we may realize that we can find like-minded individuals – and therefore, home – in many more places than we initially believed.

Beyond that, as I’ve seen very clearly, every place has its positive and negative sides. It is difficult to just go to a place and feel immediately that it is the right place. Instead, that feeling grows over time. Rather than finding a home, maybe we actually create home by choosing a place and deciding to accept it for both its challenges and its strengths. Over the course of time, as we choose not to escape in the face of the difficulties that inevitably arise, it begins to feel more like home because we have chosen to make it home. Overcoming the challenges is what makes it our own.

I believe that by giving myself a “blank canvas” approach, I have given myself the enormous freedom of choice, but also the incredible burden of responsibility. In the desire to find perfection, we put extreme pressure on ourselves to sort through the options and “find the best one.” However, maybe in the pursuit of future perfect, all of that pressure takes away from being happy in the present.

Freedom to embrace the present…because home can be anywhere

All this to say that I’m starting to believe that maybe when we fully surrender to the reality of the present, we can actually be happy in many places – far more than we may believe from the onset. Of course, we should still listen to how we feel, in terms of things that make us happy and unhappy, so as to guide our choices. We should still pursue our larger goals and make changes when we feel that we should. However, maybe we should not hold out “being happy” just for the future, or simply in the pursuit of a new place or goal. Rather, it is important to also live in the present and find fulfillment where we are now.

And you know what? That realization also dissipates the fear. It means that we are capable of being happy and finding home in many places. It is simply about accepting that maybe there is no “perfect place” or “right answer,” and seeing that no matter where we are, or where we choose to go, it can eventually become home if we want it to become home and invest the time to make it home. It means that maybe we can let go a little bit, and it’s okay.

It is the understanding that things will all fall into place somehow, and this provides freedom to live on the edge and ride the waves of life that will take us to where we need to go, without so much rigid planning.

In the end, what is home? Maybe it is just ourselves – and eventually, the people and places that we choose to accept over time that also become a part of us. The world is our canvas, but we don’t have to worry about painting every single stroke perfectly, because it will paint itself, as long as we follow what feels right.

So, I’m telling myself to let go, be flexible and let myself experience without being so afraid of not following a plan. I will trust that things will somehow fall into place.