What 'Home' Really Means, and Why This Matters in Permaculture

We may shape our homes, but our homes also shape us.

little girl holds onto a chicken

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Permaculture is a blueprint for sustainable design which centers around the three key ethics: people care, planet care, and fair share. The concept of creating a permanent culture, in harmony with the natural world, may spring from the world of food production. But the ethics, principles, and design methodologies of this movement can be just as pertinent in the home (and in broader societal systems) as they are in a garden.

My husband and I are in the process of converting an old stone barn and one-third of an acre around us, very slowly, into our forever home. Throughout the process, as we have worked on the project, mostly on our own on weekends and evenings, I have thought a lot about what home really means to me. 

I am passionately committed to making a permaculture home—a home which adheres to the core ethics and which embodies the ideas and ideals of this global movement. And as a permaculture designer and sustainability consultant, I often aim to help others do the same. But through my own personal journey and my work, it has become clear that in order to create a permaculture home, we all need to think about what the word "home" really means to us. 

The Meaning of Home

Ask a hundred people what home means to them and you may well receive a hundred different answers. Home can be a place, a feeling, or it can encompass a broader philosophy. One thing on which I think most people agree is that not every house is a home. And a home is more than just four walls and a roof. 

Home can be a castle or a van, a small apartment, a tiny home or sprawling farm. It can be where a loved one is close by, near family, where the heart is. Our sense of home can be jumbled up with ideas of national or local identity, cultural affiliations, and our connection to the natural world, with all the plants and animals around us, the soil, the terroir, or where we put down roots.

permaculture farmhouse

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Why Home Matters When Trying to Live in a More Eco-Friendly Way

How we define home is very much tied up with our own personal identities; it can either reflect us or fail to do so. And our homes influence, to a greater or lesser degree, the way in which we interact with the world and other people around us. They shape, in many profound senses, the way we live our lives. 

A permaculture home is not one single idealized image. A permaculture home can come in many shapes, sizes, and forms. It may not even be a fixed location. But all permaculture homes will share in common their reflection of environmental and social ethics, and provide for and reflect sustainable living in the truest sense of the word.

Home is a base, zone zero. It is where we return to. We can, perhaps, make a house a home, but only if we understand what would make that space feel like home to us. Understanding what that means to each of us is a key step on the journey toward a more sustainable way of life. 

One thing does seem clear. We can shape our homes, but our homes also shape us. Of course you can become more sustainable even if your current abode is not ideally suited to a more eco-friendly and sustainable way of life. But creating a home, whatever that means for you, can help by giving you a firmer foundation. 

Your concept of home can be a beacon, leading you in the right direction as you try to transition to a better future for all—but only if you begin by thinking about what that really is, and what it might look like. 

I could outline many features that might be found in a permaculture home, and outline some of the principles in designing a sustainable way of life. But the first step always lies in working out the meaning of home—then building sustainably toward the picture you see. 

This is a step that people often miss, but in my opinion, it is crucial for all of us to find our place in the future we all wish to see.