Be it ever so humble … the definition of home

Remains of a Roman home in Caerleon, near Newport in Wales
Remains of a Roman home in Caerleon, near Newport in Wales

We suffer from ‘home sickness’, look forward to ‘going home’ and believe that ‘home is where the heart is’ … but what is the definition of home? Is it just a geographical area, or more than that?

The line “there’s no place like home” comes from the song, Home Sweet Home, which became an immediate success when it was published in 1823. It was a particular favourite of Union soldiers during the American Civil War, although it was reputedly banned by the Union Army for being likely to incite desertion, as it was too redolent of hearth and home.

Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a person’s right to housing is described as a “standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

A house is a building but that doesn’t necessarily make it a home. Even though people haven’t always lived in houses, there is plenty of evidence that suggests we have long built a ‘home’, even if it’s been just a safe place to build a fire. Even in modern times, a home can be anything from a permanent house to a mobile home or other portable shelter.

Feeling ‘at home’ or being home?

If home is home, then anywhere else is not home – but we can still feel ‘at home’ there. We might feel at home on holiday in a familiar place but feeling ‘at home’ means you have lost that feeling of not being ‘at home’ that you get when you first go there.

For many of us, home is a place to be rediscovered over and over again as we move through life, although some people will never find another home after they’ve left home.

Home or habitat?

The place we call home can sometimes feel like something different. Home sickness is the feeling we get when we’re not feeling ‘at home’, but think of the feeling you get when you’ve been away from home for some time and everything looks slightly different when you return.

Perhaps home isn’t actually a place, but the notion that everything around you is familiar, and therefore something you don’t even notice, is the true definition of home. Or it might be the familiar comfort of a place you don’t even live in, but only come to recognise as ‘home’ when that place is missing a familiar person who’s no longer there.

Throughout history, people have made use of caves although, in many cases, they haven’t necessarily lived in them; it is thought that many of the ancient human remains found in caves were brought there by the carnivores that had killed them.

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