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The Psychology Of Home: Self-Concept And Belonging

Posted by The Canningvale Team on


Of the Oxford English Dictionary's 26 definitions for the word home, this is by far our favourite:

A place where something flourishes, is most typically found, or from which it originates.

This definition, rather than the infinitely staler ‘a house or flat’, speaks to the way our homes support our way of life, wellbeing, and sense of place. We all know our homes do more than provide a roof over our heads and space for our possessions, but the ‘more’ in this equation has the tendency to feel somewhat nebulous.

Luckily, the field of psychology has devoted ample time and effort to conceptualising the value of home beyond a simple place of shelter. As you may have guessed, this is the focus of today’s post. Hopefully, after reading, you’ll have a deeper understanding of your home, a renewed appreciation of its importance, and some ideas on how to help it better support your self-concept and way of life.

The idea that where we live - both the geographical location and the physical building - contributes to our identity was first conceptualised in 1978 by an environmental psychologist named Harold Proshansky. He coined the term ‘place identity’, defining it as a substructure of self-concept consisting of memories, ideas, feelings, attitudes, values, preferences, meanings, and conceptions that occur in places that satisfy an individual's biological, psychological, social, and cultural needs.

It’s a mouthful, but it speaks to the way our homes help us define ourselves and shape our lives, rendering them incredibly important spaces.

This idea provides deeper insight into why we spend time decorating and caring for our homes; agonising over which cushions to choose and spending countless Sunday afternoons tidying up the backyard. Our homes are extensions of ourselves; physical, semi-public spaces where parts of our identities and personalities, as well as clues on the way we live our lives, are on display.

Think about your home. What room, furniture, or technology has pride of place? Which colours are given prominence? How tidy is it? What does your art depict? Does your bedroom provide all the ingredients for a good night’s sleep? What do the books on your shelves or the magazines on your coffee table say about you?

Ideally, these aspects will align with your identity and facilitate your lifestyle, allowing you to positively attach to your home like you might a significant other, resulting in feelings of security and comfort.

Other benefits of developing a strong attachment to your place of residence include a better quality of life (Harris, Werner, Brown, & Ingebritsen, 1995), better physical and psychological health, more satisfying social relationships, and greater satisfaction with the physical environment (Tartaglia, 2012).

Interestingly, women report being more attached to their homes than men (Hidalgo & Hernandez, 2001), perhaps because - historically at least - they usually spend more time on home maintenance and upkeep.

This finding raises the possibility that becoming more involved with your home, whether through exciting design projects or less glamourous daily tasks, may help improve your relationship with it and, in turn, grant you access to all those benefits listed above.

If you’re feeling at odds with your home, despite having had a hand in its design or decoration, it’s worth asking yourself whether your home is a true expression of you or an homage to what is or has been considered trendy.

Many of us get caught up in what’s popular, colouring our walls or furnishing our rooms to look like the pages of a magazine or the display window of our favourite shop. While this approach might win you satisfaction for a short period of time, it’s likely a result of external factors rather than internal gratification. Ipso facto, once the trends change and your home falls behind the times, you’re far more likely to be left feeling ambivalent about the spaces you’ve created. It’s the equivalent of dressing like Madonna in the 80s, when casual chic and natural beauty were more your style.

Great homes facilitate our well-being and way of life, while simultaneously serving as an exercise in self-expression. With so many important tasks to fulfil, it’s well worth investing time and money into creating a space that serves you well. Now you know what you stand to gain and what might be getting in your way, go forth and address anything that’s not working for you so that your home can help you flourish, just like the Oxford Dictionary suggests.

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