Homes and Identities

23 May 2013. Filed under category Nomad.

Walk into any home, from a luxurious mansion in Hollywood to a prison cell in Denmark, and you will find stuff, and lots of it. The fake diploma you bought on the internet. Framed placentas from your children (who stopped visiting). A blackboard keeping track of who last did the dishes. A plethora of pictures and one sad digital photo frame that you never bothered setting up.

Our homes and the stuff with which we fill them is a projection of our personalities and our past. Inviting someone home is an intimate act where you grant access to your walk-in representation of yourself.

My home is a suitcase, and the precious 23kg (50lbs) into which I cram my life is reserved for the bare essentials. We nomads simply do not have a surface onto which we can project an image of ourselves. There is no home to decorate.

Like so many facets of the geo-independent lifestyle, this lack of self-expression has both good and bad sides.

The bad is obvious. Most people want to be seen and recognized, and a potent way to do so is through the stuff we own. Take that away leaves you feeling strangely disconnected and ephemeral.

This ephemeral feeling is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can be disconcerting and downright depressing. But it also gives you the chance to have a more fluid, dynamic and changing personality. You do not have a home full of old projections to anchor you to an old outgrown identity.

Stuff is also heavy on the mind. The more we own, the more we need to organize, polish, protect, maintain, store and insure. It is work. Most people have been living with this burden their whole lives and don’t realize just how taxing it is on the mind. Trust me. If you ever go through the process of getting rid of everything except what you really truly need, you’ll feel a weight of your mind that you had no idea was there.

Digital Homes

Digital Homes

Digital Homes

An alternative to a home as one’s projection surface is the digital world of Facebook, Twitter and blogs. This is used by nomadic and geo-static individuals alike, but nomads have an extra incentive to make use of them. They are virtual walls onto which we can hang our memories. This very blog serves that purpose for yours truly.

The digital homes are not the same as their brick-and-mortar counterpart. While the latter evolves in some part through the subconscious, the digital homes are decorated only by the active mind. This makes them prone to being narcissistic vanity projects that says more about how the inhabitants want to be perceived rather than how they truly are.

(Go ahead; make the obvious jokes in the comments.)

My old London home

I had three main things that I was showing off in my house, back in London when I lived there, before my nomadic days. The first was my bookcase where I proudly stacked rows and rows of geeky role-playing game books and board games. The second was my collection of masks, with which I pissed off my housemates by hanging them all over the flat, mostly over lamps to make the eyes light up and making the house a dark grotto of glaring eyes. The third was my fully stocked bar with cocktail shakers, muddlers, glasses and everything else you could possibly need to make a carnival of cocktails.

Travel Updates

I’ve spent almost three weeks in California with my friend, Don. We went to a couple of gay rodeos in Palm Springs and Las Vegas. I didn’t compete this time, but still had a wicked good time! I have many weird stories from these weeks, from stowaway roof-riders to identity-switching stalkers. But, you wouldn’t be interested in hearing about that now, would you?

Homely Nomads

I keep saying that nomads don’t have homes. That is a simplification as there are nomads who do have homes, for example, those who live in mobile homes like RVs. They can of course project their personalities onto that home.


How does the stuff you own reflect who you are?

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  1. Jeff says:

    G; just got into LA today, here staying with friends until Saturday. You still about?

    In my last two moves I’ve been working hard to downsize; get rid of as much of the dross of things that have no meaning to me what so ever and focusing on the things that have strong memories or attachments; art from just about everywhere I’ve travelled, antiques with family history, etc.,. I’ve made progress – but still have far too much that is in storage – or that’s being carted around. I’ve started talking to family about the items that reflect our kinship and bonds, but am still struggling to unshackle from the rest. And what makes you think that those things are any less oriented toward our vanity, wherever it might reside?

    1. First, no, I’ve left LA and LB, and I’m now on the east coast.

      Second, I think that our houses and the stuff we put in them are shaped by both subconscious and conscious processes. The dust bunnies under the sofa are there because at the person’s core, they are not the cleanliest person, for example. Few people add virtual dust bunnies to a facebook profile to accurately convey that they are messy.

      Also, in our houses, we put up things because we like to look at them on a daily basis. That says a lot about the person. But in the digital homes, we put up stuff because we want others to know we like them. Subtle but important difference.

      Finally, there are of course subconscious influences in the digital homes, but I believe that they have less (and significantly less) influence there than in our brick and mortar homes.

      Hmm, I think I might have expanded more on my original article than actually answer your question. So, vanity… I think for my thesis to hold, these two things must be true. 1) Online presentations of ourselves are more consciously driven than our home presentation. I hope I’ve made that case already. 2) Conscious presentation is more vanity oriented than subconscious. I don’t have more than my gut feeling to back this up.

      1. Jeff says:

        A quick location update to keep it going – I’m headed back to the east coast end of next week and expect to be in the NY area 2-3 weeks. Keep me posted…

        On your ‘second’, I’ll beg to differ a bit; not entirely, but a bit. If you’ve read both profiles and timelines on FB, or tweets on Twitter, or even pictures on Instagram, I’ll argue the point that there are loads and loads and loads of personal dustbunnies, brain farts, and random (sober and drunken) pics and posts and tweets drowning out the ‘intentional’ comments.

        It’s not someone’s ‘intention’ to demonstrate their messiness in their physical home, any more than its someone’s intention to demonstrate the lack of organisation in their brain in their (and my own I’ll add) random moments of insight or brilliance or feeling or indignation or delight.

        I have friends whose homes are beautiful but sterile. They are to me ‘vanity’ homes, they look like a magazine picture and are carefully and thoughtfully put together. Others, like mine, are an eclectic collection of things I love – books and pictures, family heirlooms, comfortable furniture, etc.,. Yes it reflects who I am, but its not designed to impress, more to welcome. It’s ‘personal’ which I don’t equate with ‘vanity’. The first is more intimate, the second showy in my mind.

        In one’s digital home I think the difference is not only associated with the person, but with the medium. A blog is very intentional, I’m not entirely sure what the physical corollary is, perhaps a dinner party (hmm, not quite right). Tweets at 140 characters, random photo’s are entirely different. Yes, intentional, but not necessarily thoughtful as much as opportunistic. And I don’t know what the % is, but I’d guess its fairly high, for posts and tweets in response to someone else – the ‘subconscious’ influences you pose as ‘less than’ our physical homes

        So I’m disagreeing with both key points of your thesis. And mightily wordily too, I’m afraid. 😉

        1. Craig Brown says:

          That was a deep and important dialogue between you two there. One could discuss the topic of this post for days.

  2. Casey Link says:

    Good stuff. All of my most important relationships are conducted digitally, my Facebook feed, photos, blog posts etc. These digital surfaces are all I have to represent myself to these important people. It does take an active effort to maintain this presence which, in IRL, would be passively observed through our normal interactions. Of course, as you pointed out, once you start actively managing your external and inner representations, the opportunity to take a creative brush to the canvas is alluring.

    Pushing it further though, I hope we can one day stop making the distinction between digital and IRL. Imho all people attempt to influence how they’re perceived by others. What is a Facebook feed other than a carefully curated model of how a person wishes to be perceived? I know some people who spend more time and thought on designing their house interiors to precisely exhibit their desired social status.

    If you truly want to be like how you want to be perceived, then acting that way and in turn having people reflect that back on you is a decent strategy, no?

    1. You mean the ‘fake it till you make it’ strategy? I am a firm believer in that. I’ve used it several times. I’ve thought of some change that I want to make in my person, and I adopt it and act it out despite it feeling unnaural until, one day, it has become natural. I can be a very shy person at times and I used to play the part of a confident person. Over the years, the acts I’ve performed in my pretend role as a confident person has taught me that what I was afraid of, and the reason I was shy, was not real. And that made me confident. So, yeah… it is a decent strategy.

  3. DM says:

    Weird stories eh? Ah go on and write them up. 🙂

    I think there’s a lot to be said for ridding oneself of excessive amounts of stuff. Procrastination and hoarding instincts can leave quite the pile and as you say it eats time and energy to maintain. My piles are not the worst, but it’s worth the effort to tackle them and I’m (slowly) doing so.

      1. DM says:

        Well played sir, well played.

      2. Jeff says:

        As we like to say in jolly olde England, “too clever by half”.

  4. Did you sell all your books & masks? If so was that hard to do? I am slowly getting rid of stuff to be lighter but the books would be a hard one!

    1. I gave it all away. (Read about that here) The books that none of my friends wanted, I set free as nomadic books. (Read about that here)

  5. Craig Brown says:

    First you give appalling examples of things people might have in their homes like framed placentas and “fairness” chalkboards for chores, and then you move swiftly onto something I actually do have: lots of pictures. Uh-oh.
    Yes, I think my home reflects who I am, but I did that with full intention. I love nature; my walls are blue and green, I have a jungle of thriving plants. I love ideas; I have books of science, philosophy, fiction, maps, and looking through my books is the best way (almost) for a date catch my interest. I love to explore the world and my trips are all around me here, along with actual pieces of the places I’ve been via my sand collection. My space is definitely a sanctuary. But it’s mostly for me. Not many see it and that’s OK.
    I imagine that another part of feeling ephemeral without your stuff would be that you have to experience your true self because that is the only thing staring you in the face. No pretty illusions or masks or hot shit London yuppy role playing. And you better do it now, because it’s all ephemeral after all.
    People who receive a sudden windfall rarely do a values inventory before starting to buy stuff. Before they know it all their time is wasted on maintaining their blingy things. The truth is, TIME is what is scarce for most of us who can feed our face and have a roof. Not money or stuff.
    Oh, how my Mother has grounded herself in the past with all her nostalgic stuff. She stopped being able to move forward.
    I have wondered how I would ever downsize my stuff if I should ever move back to Seattle and get a more reasonable sized space for one person. Gone would be any book I didn’t really intend to read because I could find the information on the internet (Wow, maybe it should go now). I know one thing for sure: when I die, I’m taking none of it.
    BTW, it’s nice that you feel comfortable surrounding yourself with friends that tease you about having a narcissistic streak. You aren’t that bad. (And your home, i.e. blog, is pretty indeed.)

    1. I actually had a washing up chalkboard during university when I shared a flat with a guy and we had no dishwasher. The rules were simple. When you did the dishes, you had to do them all, and then you put your name on the board. It was then the other person’s turn. It didn’t matter if you washed one plate or twenty, as long as you washed everything that was there. That way, it was in your interest to do the dishes early when it was your turn to get off the hook of future dishes. Worked great!

      I like your angle on the true self. It’s true, there is a kind of undressing when you de-stuff.

      1. Imogen says:

        Oh my Goodness, that is the most elegant washing up rota I have ever heard of. If I was still house sharing I would implement it immediately! Although, did you ever do the dishes, put your name up on the board and then cook your dinner? Hmm, aren’t you glad we had a dishwasher! 😛

  6. Vagina says:

    two things:

    Personal items and gubbins.
    I am a huge fan of Things. I have hoarded Useful Things for years. However recently I moved countries, it took me 5-7 culls to remove much of the Stuff. I got rid of pretty much everything. I emptied my house via Ebay, saved my art, some clothes , special trinkets and evicted everything else. It felt VERY liberating. Apart from the gaffa tape I chucked, I havent missed anything.

    Secondly; Facebook identity
    I never had a camera as a kid,/nor came from a family of happy snappers. It has only been whilst on my journeys and enjoying other peoples flicks that I understand the importance of keeping your mates abreast of your adventures by telling stories with pictures. I now try and take photos that explain clearly what I’m up to. its fun and enjoyable.

    Id like to see more photos of what you are doing!

    1. Yeay for more vagina photos! (private joke, no offence) And if you want to see more pics of what I get up to, check out my Daily Photo page or the linked Instagram account. I take one picture each day to show what the nomadic life is like, both high and lows.

  7. Crys Klier-Hoffman says:

    I purge household and personal items all year long. I come from a family of women who throw NOTHING away. I’m all for nostalgia and using things up, whatever, but after awhile I just have to unburden myself of things which either have no meaning to me, or, TOO much meaning. It all holds you down.

    The older I get the more I see what I DON’T need or want around me. It’s very empowering to release STUFF, whether it is a tangible thing or something deep inside yourself. I LIKE it.

  8. As a nomad, the only things I can use to project myself are the stuff I put on my body (clothes, shoes, accessories etc).

    But after traveling around for 5 years, I feel the need to have my own place I can call home, at least like semi-nomadically, and make it as an HQ from which I can start my travels.

How does the stuff you own reflect who you are?

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