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  • Jan Flynn

What Makes a House a Home

Next time, I unpack the books first

Photo courtesy of the author

We moved in twelve days ago, but today I finally feel like I live here

We lived in this house in a sweet neighborhood in Southeast Boise, Idaho for six years before emptying it out, renting it out, and heading back to California to live in the Napa Valley for seven years. Now, for reasons I’ve written about in previous posts, we’re back. And it has been rather, shall I say, discombobulating.

Moving back into a house you used to call home is a little like entering a time warp or finding yourself in one of those sci-fi stories where the characters scuttle helplessly among alternate realities. Just enough is similar to make it feel familiar. Just enough has altered to make it disorienting.

The neighborhood itself has changed and grown — if you pay any attention to U.S. real estate trends, you know that Boise and its suburbs have experienced explosive growth in the last five years (I hear you sniggering, you eastern metropolis dwellers, but yes Boise has ‘burbs, and very nice ones too). So our ‘hood, which used to be separated from downtown by a swath of ranchland, is now studded with homes of all sizes, from sprawling to efficient.

We kind of miss the cows and especially the lone elk who decided to make his home with his bovine cousins, until some nincompoop Nimrod shot him. But the new homes are lovely, thoughtfully designed and landscaped, and as a bonus, in addition to the lone pizza place that was here, we now have a market, a sushi-and-brew-pub, a gelateria, an espresso place that meets even our coffee-snob standards, and a gas station all within an easy walk. I don’t know why we would walk to the gas station, but you get my drift. Life here has had some upgrades since we left.

But still, disorienting

We missed this house while we were away, and we were happy to get back into it. We moved in the way people usually do: we set up the basic necessities first. The bedroom, of course, so we could sleep here the night after the movers delivered our stuff. The bathroom essentials. The kitchen, so we could at least make toast or scramble some eggs once we’d done an initial grocery run. The TV, naturally. We ordered new couches and a rug that would suit our family room better than the stuff we offloaded in California, and while those are being built or shipped from halfway around the world or awaiting parts missing in the COVID-disrupted supply chain, we sit on a loveseat we found on Craigslist.

Every day since I’ve assigned myself a certain number of boxes to unpack, based on my mood, energy level, and what I find the most annoying to do without. My office and writing space, for example. The collection of majolica ceramics that populate the hutch behind the dining table. Enough objects and tchotchkes to make it feel less like we’re occupying a scantily-staged model home. Every evening I’ve surveyed my efforts with some satisfaction, telling myself we’re getting there. Still, there’s been a certain sense of dislocation, of not quite having arrived, that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

“Don’t be in such a hurry,” said my husband. My sister-in-law, who’s moved twice in the past five years, advised me to embrace the process. And this isn’t my first rodeo: I know it takes time to put together a home. But I wanted to feel like we had landed here, not just that we were perching.

Yesterday I tackled a wall of boxes, all filled with books

The photo at the top shows part of our personal library, which we’ve whittled down considerably in two previous moves that required dramatic downsizing. And I confess that both of us have moved increasingly toward e-books in the past decade. It’s seductively easy to download new books, and it makes for easy, non-partner-disturbing reading in bed.

Besides, we were living in a more compressed space in NorCal, and I felt a teensy bit virtuous about no longer loading down every available surface with physical books. This was also the period in which Marie Kondo was advising against hoarding books, lest they become oppressive and joy-extinguishing clutter, prone to harboring dust and mold. She herself claimed to possess only 30 books.

That was never going to happen in any dwelling of ours. I sighed at the number of boxes I had to wrest open and organize. But when I finally got started, it was like greeting old friends. My husband, an actor, has hundreds of plays and scripts. I have a thing for vintage children’s books. At one point, he’d amassed a collection of fancy leather-bound classics. He reads a lot of science, history, and biography: I read a lot of fiction and spiritual literature. We both are fond of vintage sci-fi (I’m proud to say I have an autographed copy of Ray Bradbury’s last book, given to me personally by the great man himself). And then there’s our TBR (To Be Read) shelf.

Not to mention the reference and research books, the dictionaries and thesauruses and word-origin works, the literary journals and magazines and other books that I like to have around me while I’m writing, which went upstairs to find their places in my office bookshelves.

While I worked, a curious thing happened

As the shelves filled up, my sense of being vaguely out of place dissipated like smoke. More than any of the mementos I had placed around the house, more than the comfort items like throws and pillows I’d arranged, seeing our library resurrected brought the house to life for me.

There’s still lots to do. There’s the new furniture that has yet to be delivered, we don’t have any of our artwork hung, and don’t even get me started about the outdoor pots and hanging baskets and front flowerbeds (which, in this endless heatwave, may languish for some time yet).

But when I pass the bookcases, I smile. And feel at home.

I should have unpacked them first.

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