It might seem like a no-brainer that there are whole industries devoted to home decor and that we, as the masses, partake in such an activity out of the common sense desire to make our homes look great. But it is not only the aesthetic qualities of home decor that satisfy some inner anxiety about making things look good. Our homes also represent an extension of our identity and with the rise of individualism in the last century, our homes have come to express that individuality as something external to us, but still an intrinsic part of us. Interestingly, with the dramatic effect that our spaces and places exert over us, this effect becomes reciprocal. In other words, not only do our homes become expressions of us, but our identity also becomes an expression of our home: where it is located, in what community, what style of home it is, how we decorate it and what other structural elements are taken into account for the places we live.
According to environmental psychologist Susan Clayton, our homes are part of our self-definition which is why, even though it appears to have very little value, we water our lawns and decorate our living rooms. They are part of how we exhibit ourselves to the public world and become representative of us in our absence.
However, in this day and age, many people have lived in much more than one place and travel is at an all-time high in terms of history. So how does all of this free movement and travel affect how we not only define our homes, but in decorating them, how we define ourselves?
Interestingly, most Western academic thought on the subject continues to put forth the idea that even if the places change, the individual remains the same. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. In adapting to new places and making new places feel like our homes, we unconsciously shape a new part of our fluid identities. Where you choose to live could be a matter of wanting to show your uniqueness, beyond the comfort of just having a place to settle. Especially in the case of people who develop a real flare for decor, or who alternate the look of their homes on a regular basis, this can be an exercise in self-development that has real implications in shaping who they are over time. For many other people in non-Western parts of the world, the home is not a place you live, where you store artifacts that reflect your individuality. Home is not where the heart is: rather, the home is who you are, it is the heart.
Other factors that influence the level to which we recognize how our homes shape us and reflect us include economy – the ability of one person to express themselves through a place to the capacity that they desire depends on their income and, in a way, having to compromise due to funding issues can lead to new decor as well as personal discoveries about the self.
An article by Toby Yull stated that the act of decorating our homes and creating a sense of self through the home is, first of all, an act of creation, of creativity. It is an attempt to bring a sense of order and classification into our lives in the midst of what can be an extremely chaotic world. Even more important is the social aspect of this creative work: the act of sharing it with others. Our homes are not isolated and insular. Ultimately, when we feel comfortable with how our homes look and the level to which it represents ourselves, we want to share that space with others and the act of home decor becomes a social necessity and a bridge for communication.
Finally, place holds memory and helps to shape it. When we look at old pictures and we see decorative cues that hold a key to our past, we unlock parts of ourselves that are held in the recesses of our mind and within the place itself. We often underestimate the power of decoration as a way to shape our memories of our lives and we often confuse decoration with ornamentation. For many, the holidays are a time when the home changes and reinvigorates with memories of the past and community rituals. The placement of a big chair by the window flooded with sunlight can help to reminisce about the many books read there and all of the adventures they took you on. The addition of a crib in an office that became a nursery is a rite of passage in itself and this, from a simple change in furniture, but holding such important meaning!
As Yull put it, “Whether the walls are purple or tan, I always remember that the walls are only backgrounds for the people who will live in the rooms, for the evidence of their passions and collections, and for the faces of their friends.”