In my article The Psychology of Home, I introduced my thought processes about this topic and that set me on the path to discover as much about it as I could. Surprisingly, there isn't a lot of research to find in this area, but what I did find is great.
It seems that we as a collective spend a lot of time, thinking about, planning, modifying and decorating our homes. We also grieve their loss through sale, relocation or unfortunate tragedy in the same way we would grieve the death of a family member. This tells us that there is so much more to home than the roof and four walls around us.
Why is that so?
For decades theorists including Carl Jung have discussed the significant psychological factors of home.
I love this quote from the 2015 research paper by Graham, Gosling (thanks for the article Sam!) and Travis, "That is, the home is more than a place in which an individual resides but rather a unique place where a person's past, present and future selves are reflected and come to life."
Think about that first home you bought as a married couple, walking through the rooms, imagining where you'd have your future cocktail parties, or where the baby's room would go, even visualising your kids playing on the swing-set under the huge tree in the backyard - the same one you'll look at while you're doing the dishes in the kitchen filled with the aromas of freshly brewed coffee and baked bread.
Then remember the memories you unpacked from the cardboard boxes when you moved in - photos from that Europe trip on your gap year, the jar of foreign coins you'd so carefully collected, to be displayed one day on your coffee table - conversation points for your visitors.
The memories might even go back generations, crotched rugs, crockery, tea cups and saucers handed down from mothers, grand-mothers and even great-grandmothers if you're lucky.
Past - present - future. Indeed.
Environmental psychologists have identified many characteristics that distinguish a house from a home.
They say that when we feel at home where we live it's because our surroundings are an expression of our very identities. I wonder if that's why when a home is unique and feels like an extension of the personalities of the people living in it, you can't help but feel warm and welcome. Unlike somewhere like a display home for example, that while often very tastefully decorated, seems cold and clinical. In fact, as I am writing I'm considering my brother-in-law's building business who recently won a Master's Builders award for the best display home (well done Andy!) - throughout that house/home were throw rugs, books and tea cups by the beds, candles in the bathrooms, and art work chosen specifically to make the house a home.
Other characteristics identified include the home having a sense of community as well as privacy.
I remember moving into my home around five years ago. I bought it while I was sick and had to wait months and months to be able to finally move in. My requirements when purchasing the dining table (the first piece of furniture) were that it had to be as large as would fit the space and it had to seat eight at least. I was already planning those dinner parties with family and friends and I knew that I wanted my home to be filled with people.
At the same time, I knew it would be my place to rejuvenate and retreat to after work where I would be communicating intently for hour after hour with my clients and colleagues. I am lucky enough to live near the beach and I consciously created a beach holiday house feel for that very reason. The psychology of home!
The point I made in the other article about us bringing 'pieces' of home from our childhoods into our adult homes was supported by Israel who wrote in his 2003 paper that, "individuals' home environments are reconstructions of past spaces in which those people felt safe and secure." I knew it! Israel even went on to say that our choices in furniture, paint colours or wallpaper may not actually be conscious, but more unconscious preferences motivated by emotional connections to our past.
Finally, let's consider how we manipulate our space.
Professor Sam Gosling of the University of Melbourne proposed that we can manipulate our space to serve three main functions:
1. To influence what happens in the space, for example, the kitchen contains appliances to enable cooking; the bathroom has a shower for showering etc. but other rooms might lend themselves more to relaxation, yoga, listening to music, painting, for example. This kind of manipulation influences daily activities and lifestyle.
2. The arrangement of the items within the spaces creates certain impressions to the people who will visit or occupy those spaces. These might be indicators of certain interests, hobbies or experiences.
3. Features of a space can affect the thoughts and feelings of those in that space. Photos might evoke memories or provide a sense of connection, staving off a sense of loneliness. Mementos may trigger memories of other times and the emotions attached to those times.
The points we've highlighted are merely scratching the surface on this complex topic and I'm happy to say that there is a call for more research into many other related areas including how the home may impact upon romantic relationships; emotion regulation; identity and development. I'll be sure to keep you up-to-date.
I'd like to make one final observation about home, from a personal perspective. Home has always provided me with a point of reference. A place to go back to, time and time again, to centre, to regroup, to ground myself. Home, to me, has always been where my parents are and while I don't like to think about it often, I sometimes wonder what will happen to that point of reference when they are no longer here.
If you like what you read on our site, be sure to share us with your friends. Stay tuned for our next series of articles on the topic of anxiety.
A big thank you to Cathy Dumesny for giving me permission to use her glorious image.
Graham, L. T., Gosling, S. D., & Travis, C.K. (2015). The psychology of home environments: A call for research on residential space. Association for Psychological Science, 10(3), 346-356.
Gosling, S. D., Gifford, R., & McCunn, L. (2013). The selection, creation, and perception of interior spaces: In G. Brooker & L. Weinthal (Eds.), The handbook of interior design (pp. 278-290). Oxford, England: Berg.
Israel, T. (2003). Some place like home: Using design psychology to create ideal places. New York, NY: Wiley-Academy.