How to find your way home (from absolutely any place on earth)
Words: Sarah Tarca // @tarca
I’ve been thinking about home a lot lately. Maybe it’s the newish baby, maybe it’s because I have a physical home for the first time in two years, or maybe I’m having an existential crisis. Maybe it’s even all three.
So when Atelier Doré asked me to be a part of their podcast speaking about the concept of home, I was both surprised at my own intuition and not at all shocked. But what it did do is inspire me to put those thoughts down on (digital) paper for the first time.
So, I asked myself: what is home anyway?
For the first 13 years of my life, it was the Barossa Valley. It was the smell of chicken soup on the stove after a long day of playing netball in the rain (because it ALWAYS rained on netball day). It was backyard Slip n’ Slide contests with my brothers and sister. It was horrendous ‘80s patterned carpet whose only redeeming quality was that that you could never quite tell what it was hiding. It was Mum and Dad. But then I was 13 and Mum and Dad divorced. I moved to the city, away from the house, the smells, the Slip n’ Slide, the siblings. And suddenly all the things that defined home weren’t there anymore.
The next seven years were a series of rentals, where I was acutely aware that the houses weren’t “mine” and instead home became less about the walls, the carpet, the address. And instead it was the people in it – the ones who made me feel safe, accepted and protected – my family. But of course that was destined to change too, this time by my own doing.
I moved to Sydney on my own when I was a starry-eyed 21 year old. I had seven years under my belt in a “big city” but realistically, coming from Adelaide that meant I was fresh from the farm. “Home” changed again, because there was nothing familiar and protected anymore. In my lonely, friendless state I started building a new home of “things”. The things that gave me comfort, that gave me the familiarity, the reminder of who I was. Despite my almost non-existent wage I bought a lot in that time, filling my rentals with stuff, and although I moved nine times in the 12 years that followed, each time I painstakingly unpacked and rearranged them all in every new house, exhaling a little when it was done, because my stuff now represented home to me.
When I reached my mid thirties, my sense of home was set for another big shake up. I didn’t own a home, I no longer called Adelaide home, but I was creating a life (and home) with someone new - my partner Phil. It was his idea to redefine what “home” meant once again. A few years into our relationship, he suggested we go travelling – indefinitely. To be nomadic. To not have a home. And perhaps crazily I said yes. And with that “yes”, I said goodbye to 80 per cent of my worldly possessions. All the things that had come to represent home - my (three!) wardrobes of clothing, my floor-to-ceiling shelves of books, my mis-matched, battered plates that has somehow travelled years and cities with me - all were donated to charity or left in the magic alley behind our house where uni students cruise for free furniture. Along with the stuff, I said goodbye to the people who had become synonmous with home. My soul family. I was prepared to travel light in every sense of the word. Now there was no home, instead endless Airbnbs, a new bed every week.
When there is no physical constant, how do you find the thing that grounds you? When you don’t have the same door to walk through every day, the same bed to sleep in, or the same people to share a meal with? You create the constant. You find ritual in any shred of routine you still maintain, the every day things you might otherwise take for granted. For me, it meant walking. No matter how many hours I’d spent in a car or on a plane we walked as soon as we got anywhere. We’d feel the energy of the space, introduce ourselves to the city, and maybe find a place for a drink. In the mornings I’d do yoga. Always before breakfast, followed by an espresso. Because that was the ritual. That’s what made a place – whether it was Turkey, Vietnam or France – home.
In July this year we came back home. Or did we? We came back to Australia, at least. I was six months pregnant and although I’d done most of my pregnancy abroad, it felt right to have my son in Australia. We chose Melbourne because it had family and friends. We even got a house and put homely stuff in it too. But, having all those things that I thought made a place home somehow just didn’t. And I realised why. Because it didn’t have the ritual. The common link was always about the ritual. It wasn’t the about the house I grew up in, it was about the Saturday netball games followed by chicken soup. It wasn’t about the things, so much as it was decorating my space in a way that made me feel safe. And now, as I find myself in another city I haven’t lived in, that feels so familiar yet is also so different, amid the chaos that is the new mum fog, it’s the ritual that is grounding us. It’s the morning walks. The same boring breakfast I make every day. The songs I sing to my son. The bathing in the laundry sink that makes his whole body smile.
People often ask me what’s next for us. If we’re going to go ‘on the road’ again, or if we’ll settle ‘at home’. To be honest, we don’t know. But what I do know is that home is in those little everyday things; in the love, the ritual and the small-yet-perfectly-formed world we’re creating for our son. And that no matter where we are physically, with that, it’ll always feel like home.