No Place Like Home

Bob Clark built this house in 1956. He and his wife, Rita, have raised nine children in this house.

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Close your eyes, tap the heels of your ruby slippers together and think to yourself: "There's no place like home. There's no place like home."

You don't have to be stranded in Oz, desperate to get back to Kansas and Auntie Em, to feel the pull of "home."

The attachment to place is no fantasy.

For Rita and Bob Clark Sr., that place is on South Fargo Street in Oregon, Ohio. Clark has lived in the immaculate three-bedroom tri-level for 46 years; Rita Clark moved in when they married 37 years ago.

They raised nine children there. They've celebrated holidays, births, baptisms, first communions, confirmations and graduations. One of their sons was married in the living room; the son's mother-in-law got married in the backyard.

"I am always proud to have people in the house, to share our good times and our bad times, too," Rita Clark says.

They remember when all the neighbors shoveled out the street together after the blizzard of 1978 and of how the neighborhood kids would congregate under the streetlight out front for summertime games. Their adult children still talk fondly about the Sunday night winter "picnics" in the family room when they roasted hot dogs in the fireplace. Year after year, the Christmas decorations go in exactly the same places, and at Easter the human-size stuffed rabbit always rests in the red chair in the living room.

In short, South Fargo Street is not just an address for the Clarks, just as a house is so much more than shelter for many people.

Home is part of who we are, according to environmental psychologists--those who study people's relationships with their environment, and how homes, schools, hospitals and other buildings and settings affect people.

"A home becomes--for many people, not all--a familiar center of the world and a place where a person can show their identity, by personalizing the space," says Dr. Leanne Rivlin, who was among the first practitioners of environmental psychology. She is a professor in the environmental psychology program of the graduate school of City University of New York, and a former colleague of Professor Harold Proshansky, who formulated the concept of "place identity."

"The places in which we live create a context in which we develop a sense of who we are. The concept of identity in psychology has largely been related to social relationships. His view is that the places in which we live are also important," she explains.

"Place attachment" is closely associated with place identity, she notes. Thus people develop emotional connections not just with home but also with their church and school, for example.

For children, home "becomes a way of looking at the world," Rivlin says. They develop an understanding of where they live and where other things are, giving them a sense of time and distance, she adds.

For adults, "it's a way of creating a place that is safe, is theirs, and they can personalize it and it can reflect who they are."

Chris Hall, president of the Toledo (Ohio) Board of Realtors, says he's seen the role of emotion on both sides of the real estate business--buyers looking for a place to build memories and sellers struggling to disengage.

"I have seen people crying at closings," says Hall, a vice president of Danberry Co. and broker/manager of the company's Oregon office. One woman recently teared up because she was so touched by the buyers' excitement about acquiring her home.

"I have seen sellers make financial decisions based on the type of people who are buying their homes," he continues. For example, given a choice of offers, owners might prefer to sell to the young couple who reminds them of themselves when they bought the house years earlier.

"I've heard people say, 'We want to have the right people buy our house'--somebody that really wants it, not just an investment-type thing," Hall says. "Someone who's going to like it as much as they did, and will be there for a long time."

He shares a trade secret: "There's an old saying that when you see people start to place their furniture, you know you've got it sold. They make emotional attachments before they even move in.

"They want a place where they can start their memories. Until they have a memory, it's not a home, and they're looking for that."

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