I Moved 5 Times During the Pandemic—Here’s What Makes a House a Home

Before the pandemic, the answer to the question, “what makes a house a home?” had a two-word answer: New York. In fact, when the clock struck March 1, 2020, I was celebrating 12 years in this city and couldn’t envision living anywhere else.

My Brooklyn life could be defined as a rhythm of hard-earned routines: the coffee shop that prepped my order when I was still at the back of the line; a subway commute where nine out of ten times I got a seat; the group of mom friends who met me at the playground within minutes of a text, all set against a backdrop of city grit coupled with beautiful brownstones.

Then, the pandemic hit.

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NYC was the epicenter and, within a matter of hours, the familiarity and sense of place I had built up and taken for granted disappeared from my existence. With my coffee shop closed, my commute deemed non-essential and my group of friends hunkered down—or leaving in a mass exodus—I suddenly felt claustrophobic inside the thousand-square-foot apartment I shared with my husband and son. A week later, we were packed into a rental car en route—temporarily—to a borrowed family home in Maine. (That was move number one.)

Most nights, my brain was doing mental gymnastics about the long-treasured details I missed: The temporary wallpaper—a silly llama pattern—I hung in my son’s nursery, meandering walks on streets lined with those brownstones (dotted with cherry blossoms at the exact time we headed out of town), the hard-earned spontaneity of my friendships. All were perks of home.

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Our moves continued: Three months later, desperately seeking childcare, we relocated to my parents’ house in Massachusetts. (Move number two.) After a few months there, we were back to Brooklyn (move number three), but that was just to wind down our lease. Since we were still working remotely, we drove the moving truck back to Massachusetts, this time to our own (again, temporary) rental in proximity to my parents. (Hello, move number four.) Almost a year later, fully vaccinated, we made our final move: New York, again. (We were so emotional about it, we played Frank Sinatra as we drove over the Brooklyn Bridge.)

But was New York City still my one and only? And after almost two years of transient living, did I have a plug-and-play metric that allowed me to master the art of putting down roots, even the temporary kind?

For me, I decided, making a house a home comes down to a sum of reliable parts: Art and family photos (hell, that temporary wallpaper) hung on the walls at warp speed. My West Elm bed frame that made sleep feel cozy and chill, no matter where I was. The wafting scent of a familiar home-cooked meal. The ability to walk (or drive) aimlessly and still find your way home without GPS.

Also, having someone that you can spontaneously speed dial for local support. In Maine, that was my aunt, who helped us when we lost power one snowy night; in Massachusetts, my high school bestie, who was always down for a socially distanced playdate; in New York, it was an acquaintance who, pre-pandemic, I played regular tennis with—running into her on the street was an automatic boost of joy, comfort and calm. Oh, I also discovered I need a place with an abundance of natural light. (When it streams in, no matter where I live, I feel at home.)

Reflecting back on my rush of relocations brought on by the pandemic, I realized that these qualities were all consistencies-turned-non-negotiables of my existence at every address.

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Friends of mine echoed similar ideals: “A good shower can shape your whole experience,” Michaela, who moved six times during the pandemic, can attest. Another colleague, Roberta, weighed in after moving three times: “The people you go through the changes with make a huge difference—they help you feel safe and secure, no matter where you’re at.”

My friend Ana, who moved once, shared another insight I loved: “Pride of place is almost as important as a sense of place. Your home needs details that make you feel excited, but also stand in relief to the existence you had before.” (She recommends making and posting a gratitude list that articulates what made you eager to move into your home in the first place.)

But that’s just it: The biggest lesson I learned as a result of my many moves was that the address (love you, mean it, NYC) might be what’s least important. What makes a house a home is the relief, the reliability and the ability to re-build the best parts of your old routine.

Yes, in my case, I’m back “home” where I started—but I’m much less fearful about moving again. It helps to know the things I’ll carry with me, but more importantly, it gives me confidence that the things I have to leave behind can be re-discovered with time and flexibility. Change is the hardest part.

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Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...