Our Once and Future Home

photo by Stephen Crowley at Unsplash

In the past two decades, our experience of home has been eclipsed by overwork, long hours commuting, the rising costs of housing and the stress of daily life. As a result, Americans are nostalgic for what home used to be — a place of intimacy and sanctuary.   

In the 1940’s the Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung predicted that the modern world would hound us to distraction. Caring for the home, he said, anchors us in our senses and in rhythms of daily life.   Equally important, it contributes to our regeneration and renewal.

An evolutionary psychologist, Jung believed that being a householder is what makes us human. We’re going to unpack that statement over the next few months, showing how home shapes every aspect of our lives. But first we want to make some bold predictions.  

Home is about to become the buzzword of the decade, thanks to these important trends.

Stealing Home

photo by Julien Whitfield at Unsplash

The Puritan work ethic has turned out to be the greatest enemy of home. As we edged toward double shifts and at 60-hour work week, Americans work harder then their peers in other developed countries —  fast approaching the Japanese who coined a word (karoshi) for death by overwork. In the past few years we’ve spend more time at the office than we do in our own kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms.  The result of our diminishing sense of home is a dramatic rise in anxiety and stress.  Clearly we need more personal days, more parental leave, more time at home to safeguard our mental health.

Proponents of the four day work-week believe shorter hours will make us all a bit more sane and even close gender pay gap. In the past decade, we’ve also seen the rise of at-home businesses, contract work and artisan ventures. These new versions of the cottage industry will require different organizational skills, as well, as we manage family and friends, creativity and commerce,  all in one place.

Now with the advent of Covid-19, working from home is the new normal—and we’ll be getting to know the contents of our rooms again.  Appreciating that home is the source of commerce and creativity as well as a source of intimacy and self-renewal. 

New Technology

photo by Max Delsid at Unsplash

While robots in the workplace stoke our fears of depersonalization and displacement, we’ve welcomed AI into our homes with ease. Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant now set the timer for the roast, dim the lights and play the dinner music. We also have “life hacks” that tell us how to cook an omelet, swab a sink or mop the floor.  Yet we’ve forgotten that household tasks have a larger evolutionary purpose.

Home is where we become “makers” and learn how to shape the world around us with our hands. The Slow Food movement reminds us what it’s like to have a deep relationship with our dinner–telling the story of our food from soil to plate. Now it’s time for a Slow Home movement to help us take a hands-on approach to our daily maintenance.  To perform our housekeeping tasks with mindfulness, view polishing a table as an act of communion, and value time-honored crafts like mending a cushion, making a stone wall, or restoring a piece of furniture.  We also propose a link between home-ec and home ecology: Teach a generation how to keep the house, and they will be better stewards of the family, the community and the natural world.

Shifting Populations

photo by Pixpoetry at Unsplash

Last year, more people were uprooted by war and civil unrest than ever before. And thanks to climate change, more dwellings were destroyed by devastating fires and floods. These events require us to expand our notion of home and hospitality. Some questions we’ll be asking in the months ahead: How do we safeguard our homes against natural disaster?  What is our responsibility as citizens and neighbors? How do we care for those who are displaced?

We’ll also interview visionary architects who are designing high-rise apartments called Vertical Forests and underwater habitats called Sea-scrapers, in an effort to create sustainable communities.

Reinventing Home will report on these big shifts—but we’ll also get up close and personal, examining the texture of our daily lives.

Reimagining Our Living Space

Here are some of the homely topics we cover with a Jungian twist, a nod to mindfulness, and a flash of whimsy:

  • Order vs. Hoarder:  What’s Behind Binge-purge Cycles in the Home?
  • Homecoming from The Odyssey to The Wizard of Oz
  • From Kondo to Community: Creative Ways to Pass on Your Possessions
  • Renovating with a Shaman
  • Home as the Backdrop for Intimacy and Bonding
  • When Things Bite back—Why Appliances Rebel and How to Get on Better Terms with Them
  • Men Care for the Home:  Advice from Thomas Hardy to Dave Barry
  • Aphrodite’s Feather-duster:  The Mythology of Housekeeping
Valerie-frig-alone
The refrigerator as a wooly mammoth
The vacuum cleaner as a purring cat

In our article and interviews, a wide range of experts offer novel suggestions on how to renew our love affair with home.

  • Psychologists tell why home is our primary attachment—and sets the pattern for our experience of intimacy.
  • Poets describe the soul of ordinary things, sharing odes they have written to bath soap and extension cords.
  • Scientists explain how dust bunnies underneath the bed connect us to the Big Bang and the formation of the galaxy.  (You’ll never look at those fuzzy particles the same way again.)

A Note from the Editor

painting by Robert Kipniss, The Old Print Gallery, New York NY

For over thirty years, I’ve been writing about these cultural trends and I’ve also learned a lot about reinventing home. To date, I’ve lived  in London and the Greek Islands, and nearly every neighborhood in Manhattan.  My favorite homes include a 1790 stone farmhouse in the Hudson Valley (complete with family ghost), a loft in an old felt factory in Western Massachusetts, a Georgian apartment in San Francisco, and an artist’s studio nestled among the California redwoods.

Over time, I’ve come to view each relocation as a call to greater consciousness, an adaptation to a new and different stage of life. The question is, What is home to you?

Below are some musings on home by people whose work we admire. We hope they inspire you to think about your surroundings in a deeper way. Use them to jumpstart your own rich and fruitful dialogue with home.

Restoration and Renewal

The desire to go home, that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.

Rebecca Solnit, "Storming the Gates of Paradise."

The Life of the Mind

Philosophy is really nostalgia, the desire to be at home.

Novalis

Books, for me, are a home. Books don’t make a home–they are one, in the sense that just as you do with a door, you open a book, and you go inside. Inside there is a different kind of time and a different kind of space.

Jeanette Winterson Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Moments of Affinity

"One never reaches home," she said. :But where paths that have an affinity for each other intersect, the whole world looks like home, for a time."

Hermann Hesse Demian

Nurturing Relationships

What is home? My favorite definition is “a safe place,” a place where one is free from attack, a place where one experiences secure relationships and affirmation. It’s a place where people share and understand each other. Its relationships are nurturing. The people in it do not need to be perfect; instead, they need to be honest, loving, supportive, recognizing a common humanity that makes all of us vulnerable.”

Gladys Hunt Honey for a Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life

Sanctuary

We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical: to compensate for a vulnerability. We need a refuge to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances. We need our rooms to align us to desirable versions of ourselves and to keep alive the important, evanescent sides of us.

Alain de Botton The Architecture of Happiness

Animal Comforts

I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.

Jean Cocteau

Wonder

Everyone needs a small place of enchantment to return to.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Cross Creek

Peace

I always wondered why the makers leave housekeeping and cooking out of their tales. Isn’t it what all the great wars and battles are fought for — so that at day’s end a family may eat together in a peaceful house?

Ursula K. Le Guin Voices
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