Hostel rooms, dorms, paying guest accommodations, elicit an odd sense of nostalgia. Having walked into, stayed with, spent months in and been invited to all of these places, I am struck at how each room or flat I walk into is nothing like another.

The room with posters, walls with little space for the paint to show through. Every time I walked into this room, I would be greeted by the acquaintance I visited and all that they hold close to their heart taped onto the wall. Poetry, Marvel and DC fanfare, the Potterheads, the musicians, all these faces would find space. I knew their family, the friends who were a part of this family, the birthdays they celebrated, their childhood. Love hung on paperclips, held by a string.

It was the people who lived in the rooms who taught me how to be grateful for all that I’ve been blessed with, the photographs were tangible reminders. I learnt how to be unapologetic in my expression of happiness, whatever that quirk of mine was, be it pictures of baked cakes or a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, a rainbow flag. The walls spoke of them, what they valued and all that they thought mattered in life, I always walked back to my own room wondering how empowering it must feel to be surrounded by all that you love.

The rooms that were spotless and the ones, not so much. The clean rooms always had made beds, a doormat, organized shelves, and a few sticky notes. All that they owned in a place of its own, each meticulously kept. I smiled at how some of us try to pack away thoughts, feelings into neatly packaged boxes. An element of certainty and warmth, to know how we feel, to know where things are. As conversations passed in those rooms, I learnt to admire how a clean room is a rebellious act of self-care. Zoom out, there, you have a human who spends an hour every day sorting out the contents of their room, to feel at home with themselves.

The rooms that were on the other end always had scattered furniture and clothes. With them, I learnt how a home can be your entire heart spilt out. It might look conventionally untidy, but it makes a home to you, that is all that matters. I loved finding a missing sock with them and helping them sort through books. I leave those rooms thinking how it must be a true joy to be able to discover something new hidden beneath everything, as is sometimes, with life.

I reflect on how we create homes of boxes. These quirky safe spaces we build are in part, the stories we hold and tell ourselves, and part, the people who thrive within these spaces.