The Meaning of Home – A sense of control in our lives enhances our well-being


At Footprints we work with many people to find secure and stable housing so it is valuable to reflect on exactly why appropriate housing is so important to people’s well being.

In her 1998 study Melinda Swenson (p.381) found that attachment to home is an integral component of emotional and physical health.  Attachment to home can affect cognition, behaviour, self care, physical health, emotional well being and illness in aging.  Changes, whether voluntary or not, disrupt this attachment.

When she looked at what home meant to the participants in her study she found that homes provided identity, self esteem and importantly, a territory over which the residents had control.  Home was a place where people could gain psychological support from being surrounded by their prized personal possessions, and homes provided a base from which to venture into the world, and a familiar place to return to. She found that secure attachment to home was directly linked to ease of movement outside the home. Self confidence at home contributed to self care, self identity and self worth.

Similarly, Parsell (2012) and Guiliani (1991) also recognised the importance of how home enables a sense of control. Parsell (p.160) researched the meaning of home to people who were sleeping rough; he found that people feel at home when they can have a degree of influence over a space, thus reflecting their ability to take some control in their life. Home is considered a place where people can realise a desired way of living, free from the restrictions.  Giuliani also found that the well being that comes from home is dependent upon having some ability to exercise control in that space.  People who are not safe in their homes, due to violence or poorly maintained housing have described that experience to feeling “homeless at home” (Parsell 2012 p.161).

Home is something that everyone identifies with, whether they have direct experiences of home or not, and studies have found that homeless people never stop aspiring to having a home.  Having a home was seen as “a commitment to normalness and participation in Australian society” (Parsell 2012, p.167). Young women who had run away from home expressed similar views, also hoping for a possible home in the future, created themselves,  that would reflect warmth love and concern so lacking in the homes they had left (Peled and Muzicant 2008, p. 445) .

Whilst basic needs are met by having a physical shelter for the activities of daily living, intermediate needs for familiarity, security, social acceptance and a sense of control and belonging are catered for by other aspects of the home.  These intermediate needs are essential for human well being, and home (and perhaps how much control we have over it) is integral in whether these needs are met or not  (Annison, p.259).

Being aware of the importance of home - not only for shelter but for human well being - and the aspiration towards home that humans commonly experience makes it especially important that we continue to focus on assisting the people we work with to find and sustain appropriate housing, Often their lives are chaotic; thus by helping people create a home, we can help them gain a sense of control in their lives.



Annison, John E. (2000), TOWARDS A CLEARER UNDERSTANDING OF THE MEANING OF HOME, Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, Vol 25, No 4, 251-262.

Guiliani,M. (1991), TOWARDS AN ANALYSIS OF MENTAL REPRESENTATIONS OF ATTACHMENT TO THE HOME, The Journal of Architecture and Planning Research, Vol 8, No 2, 133-146.

Molony, Sheila L. (2010), THE MEANING OF HOME: A QUALITATIVE METASYNTHESIS, Research in Gerontological Nursing, Vol 3, No 4, p291-308.

Muzicant, A. and Peled,E. (2008): THE MEANING OF HOME FOR RUNAWAY GIRLS, Journal of Community Psychology, Vol 36, No 4, 434 -451.

Parsell, Cameron (2012): HOME IS WHERE THE HOUSE IS: THE MEANING OF HOME FOR PEOPLE SLEEPING ROUGH, Housing Studies, 27:2, 159-173.

Swenson, Melinda M. PhD,RNCS,FNP   (1998):    The MEANING OF HOME TO FIVE ELDERLY WOMEN, Health Care for Women International, 19:5, 381-393.

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