How to know when you’ve found your home

Personal identity, and its connection to the idea of “home,” — and what “home” actually means — are concepts that I think about quite frequently. What are the different elements that combine to create a sense of personal identity? And how does the concept of “home” and where “home” is, fit in with the idea of said identity? Honestly, I’ve often felt like there is a piece of my identity missing. It wasn’t until very recently that I came to terms with the fact that what was missing was home.

I’ve spent my life feeling lost, never feeling at home anywhere I went. Without a true sense of home — an emotional buoy that guides most people — it’s no wonder I’ve felt so at sea. I remember being in a class in college when the discussion turned to home and where the group was from. I told them where I grew up, but added a footnote to the discussion stating that I’d never actually felt at home anywhere. Most people didn’t understand what I was saying, but a few nodded in agreement.

I was born and raised in the Midwest, a place that’s never fit on me. My hometown has always felt distant, always felt like a foreign place. My parents are from Appalachia, as are my grandparents. My family’s origins are also based in the Mid-Atlantic, and the greater East Coast, so all of those could be considered home, but they never quite fit right.

I lived on the East Coast for a couple of years after college, and I enjoyed it, but it never felt right either. I returned to the Midwest a couple of years ago, to my hometown, and it immediately felt wrong. On top of feeling like a failure for coming back “home,” I felt angry and unhappy. Something didn’t fit. I knew I needed to make a home for myself, to find it. I knew these places weren’t it.

There is a strange thing that I do, and I’ve noticed that it happens quite frequently, more frequently than I care to admit. When I like someone, or become friends with someone, and they’re from a totally different part of the country or world, I become obsessed with wherever they’re from, and learn everything about it. I almost try to adopt it as my own place of origin, as if I want to be from wherever they’re from. I don’t really know why I do it, why it’s become a habit, a compulsion, a need. Am I that lost that I cling to other people’s homes as a way to find my own? Am I lacking a sense of self? Is that why I do it?

I should say my absence of home has nothing to do with my family. They are loving and provided me with stability and a safe place to grow, for which I will always be grateful. They say home is where the heart is, but what if it’s not always that simple? My heart is with my family, but my home is not.

When I was in college, I studied abroad the summer after my junior year. I have a bachelor of arts degree in English literature, so I chose to study abroad in London. I had spent years working and saving, and I was thrilled to finally get the chance to go. I will admit, I felt homesick (for where?) the first couple of days I was there. However, that all began to fade very quickly, and London began to take shape as something very different for me. A new feeling. It became a lighthouse that was helping the lost ship that I was, find its way back to shore. London felt more like home to me than any place had before. The feeling was comforting, odd, inexplicable. 

How did this city I had never been to, start to feel like that place I was always meant to be? How was that possible? How had it taken me 21 years to find a place that felt like home? I still don’t have an answer, but it remains very true. I returned to London last fall, and it felt the same. I remembered how to get around the city, where all of my favorite places were, my favorite gardens, and quiet corners that few people frequented. That sense of calm, peace, and relaxation returned to my frazzled and exhausted mind, and I felt like I could breathe deeply again, in a way I hadn’t been able to since I had left four years prior.

I remember, back when I was on my study abroad trip, my friends and I returned to London after a weekend in Paris, our train arriving at St. Pancras late at night. I remember feeling so happy to be “home.” London was my home.

I don’t know why London’s always felt comfortable to me. When I’m there, all the noise in my head gets sort of quiet, and I feel a sense of tranquility. Is that what home is? Being comfortable and finally at ease with your surroundings? I can’t say for everyone, but for me that might be the best definition of home that I’ve been able to come up with.

I’m now in the process of attempting to get into graduate school abroad, in Ireland or the UK, to obtain my master of arts degree creative writing. The school at the top of my list is in London. I want to go home.

Home, and how it’s such a real part of one’s identity, is a tricky concept, and maybe there isn’t a real definition of what home truly is. Maybe it’s an ever-changing idea that means something different to everyone. Maybe my drive to be in London is based on my obsession with trying to recapture some feeling of comfort and tranquility. Maybe home isn’t where you’re from. Maybe home is elusive, and doesn’t truly exist. Maybe home is wherever your mind finds itself drifting on a busy day when you need calm. Maybe home is wherever your heart is. Maybe home is wherever your soul can find peace. Maybe home is with your family, or in your lovers’ arms, or on the streets of London. Maybe, life is a journey to find your home, wherever that may be.

Kelsey Howard is a writer, poet, blogger, photographer, and music enthusiast, who is obsessed with traveling, and is ready to finally escape Midwestern winters for good. She also has an English degree she hopes to use one day, and lived in London for a summer, which she stills writes about frequently. You can find her on Twitter: @WriterRamblings, Tumblr:, and Instagram: kelseyerin_photography.

[Image via Shutterstock]