I remember scrolling down my Facebook feed a few months back and chancing upon those viral graphics that are always being shared incessantly. And despite the profoundly baffling design rules it followed, the message has somehow never left my mind:
“It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home.”
Now, I know that this is in no way a deep, philosophical quote. It’s not going to leave a weighted impact on you, nor will it render you speechless. Instead, it’s rather simple, both in message and language; a quote echoing a message something most of us would eventually realise one day or the other. However, it’s also true. It’s such a simple truth that the realisation doesn’t even hit us. It just creeps up on us and settles down within, both in mind and soul.
Houses provide shelter to all sorts of families — families tied by blood, families tied by bonds, small ones, big ones, blended ones, and the list goes on. Houses provide shelter, but homes are the ones that tie family members together. They create and nurture bonds, encourage conversation, keep families together in
tough times and give them a space to enjoy during the good times. Homes foster attachment and develop various relationships in family members, both within themselves and with others. They cultivate a sense of belonging that makes one want to come home everyday: it’s a place of rest, love, and care.
Be that as it may, it can seem like a challenge to develop a sense of home in any house. New or old, every home needs constant changes to progress with the growth of its members, but not so much so that it feels foreign. And there’s so much more to developing a home than one would think: it’s not just putting up art or
pictures. The home has to be connected to the sense of self that family members has. It needs to have the ability to calm one down, to mediate one’s thoughts, and to be able to encourage relationship-building. That’s why developing a sense of home is so much more than its superficial looks.
Understand and Define Your Family
The key to building a home with hearts is for family members to understand the family. In the busy lives we live as individuals, it’s not uncommon to have incredible distance between family members. Between our working/school lives, our hobbies and our individual social circles, family members may share a space and co-exist, but don’t function as a unit. It’s not anyone’s fault either — we get so caught up in individual growth and progression, fall out of touch as a family, and homes becomes houses.
As such, it’s important to spend time as a family. To constantly learn about each other and care about each other is to grow together and into a family unit. Take the time to cultivate habits of spending at least a full day with family in children since young. Even if not a day, at least half a day. I have a few friends who have Sunday mornings and afternoons reserved for their families, and close to nothing can disrupt these plans.
Family members are ever-changing individuals. They flourish and develop into different people as they age, and thus our relationships with both ourselves and our fellow family members are dynamic. That is why the conscientious effort to spend time as a family makes you keep grounded with your family unit. It allows the rest of the family to observe and adapt to your subtle (or not) maturation, and allows you to do the same for the rest.
When all the members of a family start to understand each other, it makes it easier to function as a unit. You adapt to each other’s weaknesses and strength, and you evolve from a group of people living together to a team that builds each individual member. This would automatically spillover into your house. When you figure out each others’ likes and dislikes, you would automatically make choices that would bring the maximum level of comfort to your family as a whole. If you know that your sister likes nature, but is also very busy with her work, you would know that she would appreciate a cactus or succulent in her house as opposed to any other plant. If you know that a clutter-free space helps your partner function better, you
would be more inclined to purchase furniture or accessories to help them create a minimalist space in the house.
All this is to say that purposeful and steady communication can go a long way in building a home that is an ideal space for your family members. And if a place comforts and relaxes, it’s bound to be a healthy living space.
Put Comfort over Aesthetics
Often times, we’re driven by the visual appeal of a piece of furniture. While it’s not bad to do so, don’t let it come at the cost of comfort. Don’t get a sofa so expensive that your family members can’t snuggle up on it in fear of ruining it. Or don’t get priceless ornaments that you then have to restrict your baby from touching.
Instead, choose age-appropriate accessories and those that match the needs of all your family members. Sure, there may be a trade-off of losing the best-looking house, but you earn a well-loved home in its stead. When you build a space that encourages physical touch, it builds a deeper connection to the house itself.
When the possessions in a house become an extension of the people living on it — rather than mere accessories — that’s when a house becomes personable. It starts to exude the charm of its living habitants, and becomes a place that family members want to come back to.
Let family members personalise their private spaces so that they can make it theirs. I’ve seen people run after design coherency throughout the entire house, and it sacrifices the attachment a person may form to their private space. Alone time and privacy are both important, and allowing an individual to cultivate a
space by themselves for themselves builds a sense of belonging within them.
Aesthetics are important, and they should also be looked into while decorating your house, but don’t let your aesthetics come in the way of contentment. Create a space that drives physical connection and intrinsically links one’s internal sense of self to the external capacity around them.
Encourage a Sharing Space
Construct an area that drives conversation, or even just companionship. A space where you can chat in comfort, or engage in your own hobbies together. Where you can read as your son paints, or as both you and your sister knit together. Arrange seats or sofas in a curved or circular structure, so that it’s easy to look at another and make a proper connection with them.
The fact that you or your family members may not be talkative doesn’t have to hinder the purpose of this space. My friend’s family is really interesting, and they have found a way to counter this. They have a “guestbook”, but it’s for their family.
Anytime something noteworthy happens to anyone, they jot it down in
their shared journal. It may not have all the details, but it has the gist. Other members can then read through it when they want to and stay in touch even if they can’t share in real time. The handwritten aspect of the journal also makes it feel closer than simply sending a text to the family group chat. Moreover, it drives conversation when family members do sit together. Knowing that your aunt went through something hilarious would automatically ignite a conversation when you do talk to her.
A sharing space can be different within each household. Some homes may invest a lounge area, others in a study room that doubles as a space for engaging in personal hobbies, and a few in a game room or something of that sort. That is to say there is no one sharing space for all families. The feel of the room is something that comes naturally after understanding and bonding with your family. After all, to cultivate an optimal sharing space, you need to grasp the needs and wants of your family first.
Fostering a sense of belonging for yourself and your family members is simultaneously easier and more difficult than one would think. With the bustling, busy lives that we live, doing something as simple as connecting with your family can be one of the most challenging tasks we can have as a family member.
Despite that, I think we all have the ability to adjust ourselves to commit part of ourselves to our families, and to collectively come together to produce a home that is born out of the love of each heart. To instil spirit and soul into a house is a job that’s made easier the more people try. It does not matter if you feel that you may not be trying your best: as long as you’re trying, you’re already doing your best to put together a home. For those creating a new home (or for those who are re-inventing an old one), I hope that going forth, the hearts of all family members come together to build one.