How to discover your home


How to “travel” while sheltering in place

The best thing you can be doing as you shelter in place is to find new, creative ways to stay connected with others.

The second-best thing is to learn how to not go nuts at home. And one way to do that is to get to discover your home.

Umm… Discover your home?

I know: How can you discover something already so familiar that you can find your way around it with your eyes closed? Because conceptually, that’s what you’ve been doing your whole life—going through your home without really seeing it. So here’s the idea: Use this downtime to discover your home, or perhaps rediscover it, in a whole new way.

In my new book, Hidden Travel: How to Discover More (set to hit the shelves later this fall, assuming the coronavirus crisis doesn’t push it back), I look at how to explore places in ways that are meaningful to you. Basically, how to discover what matters to you. Anywhere.

And yes— even at home.

But first, let’s start with an obvious question.

Why bother?

Glad you asked. If you’re like me, you’re already sick of seeing your furniture and walls (or family members). So the simple answer is: taking time to discover your home in more detail will make you feel better. And who doesn’t want to feel better?

The longer answer:

  • Because you’ll appreciate the space you live in and the people you live with more,
  • you’ll discover wonders you never knew existed,
  • you’ll be reminded of joys you’d forgotten and best of all,
  • you’ll be learning the skill of how to discover.

Anyone who’s played hide and seek knows how to discover. But only to a certain level. We see, but not really. We don’t think about expanding how we engage the world. Even the world you know really well like your home. So consider the following hints, exercises and prompts to expand your discovery chops so when you once again can return to the world outside your home, you’ll be better equipped to uncover even greater wonders.

Do try this at home

Okay, ready? Read through the following list and then chose at least three of these to practice so you can discover your home in a whole new way. I’ve grouped these discover-your-home exercises into categories. Start anywhere with whatever applies or appeals most to you.

Discover your space

  • Start with just one room. Explore it in detail using the exercises below. Then go to another. And another.
  • Measure. Do a game with a house mate or with yourself where you guess the size of a room (or couch or bookshelf or lamp or…) and then you measure it.
  • Make a map. As long as you’re measuring things, jot down your findings on a map. It can be like a blueprint or more imaginative, perhaps recording key events from your life or meaningful memories in different areas through your home. X marks the spot.
  • Look upside down. Yep. Lie down on the floor or couch or do your best yoga pose to invert your head and view your room upside down. If you hold this pose long enough, you start to believe you can walk on the ceiling. If you hold the pose even longer, I’m guessing you’ll black out from all that blood rushing to your head. Don’t do that.
  • Rearrange your furniture. Or objects. Move things around. Heck, no one’s coming over any time soon anyway, so go hog wild. Treat it as your staycation retreat setup. You’ll discover your home in new ways when you have to navigate around furniture in unfamiliar places.
  • Explore at night. Discover your home with only a flashlight. If you have kids, they will love this. If you don’t, you’ll love this if you do it like a kid.
  • Determine which area of your home smells best. Describe the scent. Note that some places smell better at certain times (kitchens after cooking certain foods but not others), bathrooms after a bubble bath, etc. You choose your all time, overall favorite smell spot.
  • Listen to your house. You can do this as part of the Pay Attention in Love exercise (noted below) or separately. Sit or lie down in a room. Close your eyes. Then don’t just listen for any sound (e.g. cars outside, neighborhood kids yelling, planes overhead, your spouse asking why you’re lying there, etc.). Instead, listen to your home. Creaks, groans, clicks, etc. Or, as I just discovered last week, a woodpecker tapping on our chimney.

Discover your stuff

  • Find one thing you’ve never noticed before. Not necessarily a whole object but one aspect of an object: What’s on top of a top shelf, what’s behind a painting or poster, new growth on a plant you barely realized you own, a bookmark in some forgotten book buried on a shelf, etc.
  • Catalog your treasures. This relates to my article on souvenirs and how useful it is to write down the provenance of each item noting where and when you obtained it, etc. Or go practical and take photos for insurance purposes of any item worth more than say, $100. Back these photos up to the cloud should the item be destroyed or stolen.
  • Look under things. Beds, shelves, jars, drawers (a good place to see something you’ve never seen before), shoes, tables, etc. Look especially under seat or couch cushions. You’ll either walk away richer by a few cents or be totally grossed out. Or both. And avoid looking under pets. That gets, well, awkward.
  • Count the number of items in one room. Then, after recovering from the shock of how much you really own, call Marie Kondo or do your own exercise of cleaning out drawers, closets, shelves, refrigerators/freezers, etc. You’ll be amazed at how many things stopped sparking joy years ago.
  • Get crafty. With whatever materials you have, make a new display of a favorite object in your home or create some new work of art to display using items around the house. If it works, make some others. If it doesn’t, no one else will see.
  • Read a book. But first, find one on a shelf that you’ve never read. And yes, kid’s books, comic books and other picture books count.
  • Explore a closet. From the inside out. Yep. Get inside. Close the door. See what you can identify only by touch. Then use a flashlight or open the door to see what else you can find that is novel or treasured but forgotten. When you’re done, look for something you haven’t used or worn in ten years and donate it.
  • Do a scavenger hunt. Yes, you do need other house mates for this, but especially if you have kids, have them track down a list of objects you believe you own (meaning, you may not even know where they are of if you still own them). Here’s the kicker: Keep track of where you found the items so you’re more aware of your space and where you store things.

Discover your family

Most of these exercises are geared toward discovering your home with those currently living there. But you can also do some of these exercises and share them via phone or video conference with family who have moved away. Memories are memories and it can help those not living there to connect with home in new ways.

  • Change where you sit. For families or anyone with house mates, change where you normally sit or recline for meals, for entertainment, or for relaxing. Mix up your usual locations and see what you notice, not just about your space, but about the person who normally sits there.
  • Say thank you. As you’re going through your rooms, certain items will stand out. If they were gifts, use this as an excuse to write to the giver a belated thank you. That works well for distant family and friends. But do something closer to home, so to speak. Gather everyone under your roof one evening and do an affirmation circle where everyone takes turns saying one thing they appreciate about each person there. Prepare for initial resistance and ultimate laughter and tears.
  • Make a top five list. If you have family at home or house mates, have each person secretly write down their five favorite items (however they choose to define “favorite”). It’s harder than you think to limit it to five! Then come together and share one at a time your list and why the item is meaningful.
  • Review old photos. Either ones on display or ones hidden away in boxes or scrapbooks, take time to look at family photos, preferably together. You’ll uncover old trips and experiences that will spark memories to keep you going during this sheltered time at home.
  • Sleep in a different room. For families, swap rooms or choose unique locations (though there’s a reason you’ve likely never slept in the laundry room). Then jot down or share what you learned about the person who normally sleeps there or what you noticed: sights, sounds, smells, feelings and maybe, tastes. Or, maybe not the tastes.
  • Name your favorite room. Have each housemate or family member write down a list of ten reasons why a particular room (or area of a room) is meaningful to them. Then share the results with others.

Discover your food

  • Find your food. Do a hunt of your home to find any traces of food outside your kitchen or dining area. Be prepared for both a fun and an “Ewww!” response.
  • Make a three-item meal. Choose any three ingredients in your home. Then challenge yourself to create something (preferably edible and even appealing) from those three ingredients. Bonus points for using unlikely combinations or restricting yourself to only items in your fridge.
  • Best meal ever. If you’re with family or housemates, gather together and share what was their favorite meal ever in your home. Then, if possible, try to recreate it together, possibly taking one dish from each person (appetizer, entree, salad, dessert, etc.) to create a new feast.
  • Expiration Exploration. Find every expired food item in your home. You know what to do.
  • Clump. This means to rearrange your pantry or storage areas so that all like items are stored together. You don’t have to go all OCD for this, but do it more to really understand what food items you actually have.
  • Choose a recipe. Have each person (or yourself) randomly open a cookbook or cooking magazine (if you have either) or go online and randomly select a recipe. Then try to make it. If you don’t have all the ingredients, see what you can substitute with what you do have. This one is a bit higher up the culinary difficulty scale, but hey, why not try!
  • Inventory your gear. Go through all your cooking utensils and eliminate any duplicates or those gadgets you never use.
  • Label look. As you’re going through your food items, make a contest, with others (either at home or connect online) or with yourself to find the following:
    • The most beautiful label.
    • The most unique label.
    • The label of a food you’re most ashamed to admit having in your home.
    • The label of your favorite (or one of your favorite) foods.
    • The item with the longest ingredient list, and the one with the shortest. Guess which one is probably better for you.
  • Take a course online. If all of these are making you realize your cooking skills could use some help, go online and take a course or find a recipe and give it a shot.

Discover in time

  • Linger and stare. Find an object you’ve not noticed for some time. This could include a family member. Then stare at it/him/her for at least five minutes. Or more. I guarantee that the longer you look at it, the more you’ll see (and the more weirded out your family member will get). Make a list (even mentally) of all the details you’ve never noticed before. Time and attention reveal much more than you’re used to seeing.
  • Pay attention in love. This is one of my favorite exercises from the upcoming book that I got from the book Awaken Your Senses. Sit comfortably in one room for at least five to ten minutes. Don’t rush this. Then write down three things you see, smell (if possible), taste (probably more difficult unless food or drink are nearby and if so, describe the flavors), feel (like your seat cushions or a breeze) and hear. Pretty basic, right? Now the fun part. Do the same thing through the eyes of love. Find three examples, if possible for each sense, but this time do so through a lens of deep appreciation and gratitude. You may see an apple you ignored before and this time, you’re incredibly grateful for its taste, nourishment, color or maybe appreciative of all food. Seeing through the eyes of love will change both what you see/sense in your home and how you see/sense the items.
  • Write a story. Choose an item or section of a room and write the real or imagined history of that object. Or make up an entire story that uses it. You’ll never look at that object the same way again.
  • Remember why. Think back to why you moved here, why you still live here, why you like some aspects but not others. Share your memories with others.
  • If these walls could speak. Find a particular wall and then think about or share stories of what that wall would have heard if it could hear. This will force you to rethink your space, as well as how the same space changes with time.

Discover your creativity

  • Hunt down your works. Do a scavenger-type hunt of every item in your home that you have made. This will force you to appreciate all the things you have made (and be generous: leftovers represent a meal you’ve made). Best of all, this exercise will likely spur you to want to create more. Do so. 
  • Learn something new. With all the courses available to you, there’s really no excuse not to learn a new hobby or expand on one. The hard part is getting started. Try this: Commit just 15 minutes to it for the next week. All you have to do is say, “For this 15 minutes, I will learn something new.” Then do so. Start with a wild idea like, “I want to learn how to make videos.” Google that. See where it leads. Bookmark the sites for tomorrow’s session. You’re on your way.
  • Do an inspiration audit. You’re stuck at home. But how can you make your home more inspiring? As part of the above exercises, as you go through your home, determine which space makes you feel most energized. What could make it even more inspiring? Think also in terms of time of day: When often affects your where. Use your inspiration zone to spend the above 15 minutes of creative time. Not sure what to work on or learn? Consider something to make your creative space even more creative.
  • Play. You did it as a kid. You can do it now. Hide and seek (really challenging in a small apartment but made more fun with a 60 second time limit), tag, or any physical activity can be fun. Try board games, card games or any game that appeals to you. Go online for ideas. Mostly, just play. Research shows how much play can help you creatively.
  • Reflect. One of the greatest aids in creativity is distance from and reflection on the work at hand. You have time now for this. So in addition to trying new projects, make a list of ones you’ve started but haven’t finished. For each, ask yourself:
    • Why haven’t I finished this? Then, once you’re done with the fairly weak excuses, try to figure out the deeper reason.
    • How could I make this better?
    • How will I know when it is finished?
    • How committed am I to this work? Am I better off focusing my efforts elsewhere?
  • Collect, Connect and Share. This definition of the creative process can become a game, either for yourself or for added fun, with others. Here’s a general outline. You can modify it as you like:
    • Collect: Select five random items from around your home, preferably small ones you can use or modify like different types of paper, cups, bags, straws, old toys, fruit, all those rolls of toilet paper you’ve been hoarding since the onset of the coronavirus, shoelaces, some of those leftover cables or chargers that go with something but you don’t know what, etc.
    • Connect: Individually or as a team, choose what it is you want to create: A vehicle? A building? An animal? An abstract work of art? Then go for it. Set a time limit if you want.
    • Share: If you do this individually working in different areas, come together and have the others guess what it is you created. Share ideas, techniques and mostly, the sense of accomplishment and fun you’ll have experienced. You’re not only discovering how familiar items can be used in new ways, but you’re likely discovering some amazing creative abilities from your family members or housemates. 

Final thoughts

In all of this, remember to be thankful not just for all the stuff or even for family and friends, but for a warm, safe place to live and sleep. Many people out there right now don’t have that. So as you huddle up in your home — house, apartment, RV, whatever — use this isolation time to realize how blessed you are and to think about how you can help others. Both now and after we return to normal.

It may be a new normal, but that’s OK. Because if you practice these exercises for how to discover your home, you’ll come out of this coronavirus time with new eyes and the ability to see just how much beauty, goodness and love there is. Not just in your home. But in our shared world.

You’ll also have learned that sometimes the best things to discover aren’t the unknown areas no one else has ever seen before, but the things that are most familiar that you’re truly seeing for the first time.

  • Tammy Noteboom says:

    Great ideas. Thanks Steve!

    • Steve Brock says:

      Thank you, Tammy. And for you, of course, I need to make an entire list of not just how to discover your home but how to use your time at home for creative pursuits! Though something tells me you don’t need a list of ideas for that.

  • Colleen says:

    Great ideas, Steve!

    I just might use the measuring activity as a kids “homeschool” project.

    We notice what we pay attention to and usually all my attention is focused on the things that need to be done, not the space in which they are done. Now is definitely a good time for seeing our spaces with fresh eyes.

    • Steve Brock says:

      There’s a saying in business that applies here in a different way, Colleen: “You manage what you measure.” In your case, you can manage the kids with what they measure…and actually see! Thanks!