In the summer of 2014, less than a year after we got married, my husband I and moved back to our hometown. This wasn't something either of us particularly wanted to do, but given the locations and demands of our jobs, it made sense. He works 30 minutes north of where we live, I work 45 minutes south. It's the only middle town with a grocery store, and it just so happens to be where we were raised.
I wish I could say that I adjusted well to the move and had a positive attitude and was a beacon of community pride. But it's just not true. I didn't want to "move home". I felt like I had failed in some way, even though in reality the situation was a step forward. I adopted a "this isn't forever, just grin and bare it" attitude. Instead of focusing on the many great things about living in my hometown, I planned my inevitable exit. It couldn't come soon enough.
This unhelpful mindset stuck with me until a cool morning in May. The sun was barely up, and I was running around an old favorite route with my dad. I was getting my exercise in before work, I was spending quality time with my dad doing an activity we both love. "I'm so thankful I live here," I thought for the first time in...ever. That one morning run sparked in me an idea I couldn't ignore - I could learn to love where I live. I could choose to find joy in this place, and I was going to do so.
I decided then I there I needed to take on a "home project". Not a renovation, but rather a way to cultivate gratitude for the place I'm in. I decided to spend the summer focusing on the things I do fairly often that I take for granted. I made a list of things I can only do because of the city I live where I live, including a summer bucket list of ways I could be a tourist in my own town. And then, because no project is complete without a reading list, a bought some books.
This project started out to be very personal. I didn't mention it out loud at all, to anyone. I certainly didn't think I'd write it down here. But my book list taught me a lot not only about adjusting my attitude around my living situation, but also about belonging and community in general. So if you're feeling a little uncertain about your place in the world - whether it's the town you live in, the purpose of your work, your relationships with others, the things you surround yourself with or the chaos of your day to day - I've got a booklist for you.
At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider
Have you ever read the first pages of a book and felt like the author was writing to you personally? At Home in the World is Tsh's account of the year she spent traveling around the world with her husband and three small children. As someone who loves to travel and explore but also to snuggle up on the couch for the day, I found Tsh's journey deeply comforting. Living in my sleepy hometown doesn't mean I'm not curious or adventurous. It's okay to be content both at home and in unfamiliar places. In fact, it's a gift.
This is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick
In all honesty, I didn't enjoy this book. But I did find value in the checklists at the end of each chapter and lists of "love where you live" questions. Each chapter of this book was devoted to a different initiative to help the author build community after moving to a new place. It was fun to think about how I could apply each strategy to my town. I especially loved the chapter on walkability. It turns out being able to walk around time really increases attachment to a place. I can't say I'm surprised. When I started my home project I jotted down a quick list of everything I already loved about where I live, and "I can safely run, bike and walk pretty much anywhere even when I have the dog with me" was near the top!
Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin
This was my only re-read in my home project stack. Good timing, too, as Gretchen just rerecorded the audiobook in her own voice. Gretchen's memoir of doing a happiness project focused on her home and neighborhood is both lighthearted and personal. The goal of my home project was to connect more with the town I live in, so I was surprised that this book so focused on home as a physical place resonated so much. Being comfortable in my house allows me to feel comfortable in my neighborhood, which allows me to take risks outside of my comfort zone out in my city. Gretchen faced her fears of driving in her happier at home project. I was much less drastic. I simply went to yoga at the zoo and admitted that sometimes, I'm happy to be rooted in my hometown.
The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris
Can you do a home project without reading about chores? Probably. But should you? I'd say not. This little book can be read in a . few short hours, and makes laundry sound like a spiritual experience. And maybe it is. Part of home is the daily routines we have to do to keep our places livable. Norris convinced me that instead of rushing through these tasks, I should mark them with gratitude. As someone who loves routine, this book made me immensely happy. I certainly have routines within my home, but reading this book in the context of my home project made me realize my community has routines as well. And I enjoy them, even the ones I don't participate in. I might not go shop at the annual craft fair, but it makes me happy to know it's happening. I know summer is here when that one dad and his daughter take a tractor ride around the block. I know the holidays are coming when the giant light fixtures appear in front of the elementary school. Fall is upon us when football players are selling raffle tickets door to door. These predictable routines aren't monotonous, but the comfortable rhythms that make this place home.
So after all this reading and intentional focus on the unique features of my city, do I love it here? You know what? Yes. I really do. The town isn't different, but I'm practicing gratitude for being here right now. I can run to my grandparents house. I did yoga with tigers pacing around me at the zoo twice this summer. One of my favorite restaurants is a short bike ride or walk away. I can easily visit family members. The neighbor kids build forts and play kickball in the street. My home is truly my favorite place to be. How lucky I am.