Or, to put it in vernacular terms: Home is really your stuff.
Since I haven’t actually had a place to call my own this past year, my sense of home is invested in the stuff that I own (and have accumulated over the years) which I lug around with me – the very mundane but non-trivial things like my clunky pair of Rockport shoes (the same brand and make of shoes I’ve always worn); a T-shirt from Berkeley that I sleep in almost every night wherever I am, and my lime-green wallet, that I bought some years ago in Japan and which (to my credit) is still in a good condition.
In the apartment in New York, it’s the random little objects as well that make me feel at home; that allow me to do familiar things I would do if I were in Singapore – a teapot that my mother gave me (from Shanghai) for brewing Chinese tea, my favorite mug to drink the tea (or water) in, the small plastic tupperware box I use to keep all those coins that always seems to accumulate.
Reassuringly, many of my friends (whom I interviewed this year) felt the same way about their own “little things”:
L in Singapore: “But you know, it’s funny, little things like the other day I was having cereal out of a bowl that I’ve had since college. It was like my first bowl that I bought myself. Like a dish, right. I didn’t plan on bringing it. But there was this…we still laugh about it. We were trying to show what was to be sent to Singapore and what was to be in storage. And Locus comes in and boxes your stuff and all of a sudden we found like a Brita water filter and some random things and we’re like, it came with us… ok! But these cups and glasses that we brought, actually, are very reflective of our style and things that we bought for home. And the fact that they’re here… I think it’s nice. It’s not like everything is foreign; that we just like created a new Singapore life. It’s like we still brought some stuff back from the past. I don’t know. It’s a point of continuity.”
J in Shanghai: “Actually, a lot of it is… my stuff. Like, you know…some of these things that I display and all these tea-sets that you see there. Those are things that I carry around with me. And the minute I find a new place and I start displaying all these things and putting them in a place, it feels like home again cos they move with me everywhere.”
M in New York: “I have a memory box, which I funnel my attachments into. Inside, there are pictures, ticket stubs, notes, letters. Little things, like… a rock from New Zealand. Like seriously random stuff. I don’t know what’s in there ‘cos I never look in there, but you know, I would put a rock in there. I’m pretty sure there was a New York City token, from the ’90s, before Metro Cards, you know.”
All these little everyday things one accumulates are more extraordinary than they would appear. They are like magical talismans, able to summon up these familiar feelings from beyond – nostalgia, sadness, delight, surprise. Or like little memory-bombs, exploding in a burst of image, sound, emotion and sometimes traces of scent that represent the most memorable day-to-day instances – the essence of home! – in each and every city or apartment one has lived in.
They reassure one that even though one is in an unfamiliar place, home is still possible and everything is ok; that you’re never far from home because home is, in actual fact, accompanying you wherever you go.