Make Yourself at Home

I’ve always been fond of Robert Frost’s line “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” While not an Army Brat by any means, I did go through a series of moves in my early years that left me with a sense that there wasn’t a single place that counted as home. Feeling home became a psychological state that I could achieve in multiple ways.

Losing myself in a book was and still is a reliable way to feel at home anywhere from the couch in my living room to a train car en route from Princeton to Wilmington, Delaware. Over time, I found other couches. One was in the home of a girlfriend’s parents. I adopted them as a spare set of parents and treated them as casually as my own for the next forty years. Read my share of books there and had the full range of random and serious conversations any son might have with parents and siblings. Another is a former one-room school house in Vermont that belongs to my sister-in-law and serves as a Christmas retreat in non-pandemic years.

How do you make an arbitrary place feel like a home? Over time, you can attach memories to places, of course. Can you speed that process up or shape it intentionally? If you don’t have a couch handy, what can you do to make some otherwise sterile place less so?

Why would it matter to do so? Comfort is a reasonable payoff all on its own. If we shift our focus just a bit toward working effectively, however, there’s a bigger payoff. Feeling at home frees up emotional energy and lowers barriers to creative thinking. If your value to the enterprise lies in the arena of creating new insights and innovation, then we have motivation to become adept at making ourselves at home.

As an individual knowledge worker, you can focus on tinkering with and shaping your local environment. Choose the apps that appeal to your mode of working. Slap some stickers on your laptop. Rebel against the furniture and cubicle police just as you might push back against an over-controlling parent.

If you’re in a position of authority, push against the control regimes. The real promise of technology for knowledge work is to make it possible for everyone to have highly customized portals into shared work. Create safe spaces that allow for flexibility that enables greater creativity. It will most likely demand more work from those running the infrastructure, but the payoff in greater effectiveness should more than offset the additional complexity. It’s not a home if only authorized staff can go into the kitchen in search of a snack.