Getting to the heart of understanding others

To truly encourage inclusion, it’s important to understand where people are coming from. But it’s also important to understand where they feel comfortable and how that impacts the way they live and work. Katie McCrory explores…

How would you describe your home to me? I imagine you would tell me if you lived in an apartment or a house, if you lived with your family, your friends or on your own, and which neighbourhood you were in. I imagine you would tell me if you had pets, and the places they’re allowed to sleep. Maybe you would tell me about that beautiful piece of furniture you bought online for an absolute steal, and the photograph in the frame of the person who means the most to you. I imagine you would tell me about your home in terms of the simple but universal dimensions that make my home the same as yours – the place and space we live in, and the people and things we live with.

But what if I asked you to tell me how your home feels? Home feels like home, right? Well, what if I told you that one in three people say there are places where they feel more at home than the space where they actually live… The truth is, for lots of people, home just doesn’t feel like home any more.

So what is “home”? Without doubt, it’s the most important place in the world. That’s why, for the past five years, IKEA has released an annual Life at Home Report which seeks to get under the skin of what life at home is like for people all over the world, and how we can make it better. We got really good at understanding the functional side of home, but we realised this was only part of the answer. We needed to find out how people actually feel about it too. So this year, we asked “what makes the feeling of home?” The answer starts with empathy.

Doing research into life at home is an enormous privilege. We ask thousands of people to share their most intimate and meaningful spaces with us, so it’s only right that we head into those conversations ready to understand home from their perspective. By building a research approach grounded in an exploration of feelings, rather than actions, we have been able to get much closer to understanding people’s hopes and dreams when it comes to life at home. More than 22,000 people in 22 countries were involved in our study this year, but – crucially – we connected with 48 people in six countries who identified as having these “home from home” feelings to explore this feeling further. In fact, 12 of them even took us on a Home Safari, where we followed them around for a day to get a sense of the places they go to get that feeling of home. The things we learned this year have helped us shift the way we understand and define the home at IKEA.

Watch: Using art to increase understanding of others

There were three big insights for us:

  1. The way people all over the world today think about life at home is changing, profoundly. Our physical homes are getting smaller, smarter, busier and noisier, all of which impacts on what we do at home, and how we feel about it. As many as 35 per cent of people living in cities now say there are places where they feel more at home than the physical space they live in, and 60 per cent of all people are ready to create a life at home that’s different from the one they grew up in. Place and space is in constant tension, and when forced to make a decision 64 per cent of people say they would choose a small home in a great location rather than a big home in a less than ideal location.
  2. The feeling of home is actually a combination of five emotional needs – security, privacy, ownership, comfort and belonging. The overwhelming majority of people believe that the residential home should provide us with these feelings, but reality falls far short of expectation. Nine in 10 people (87 per cent) say it’s important for their home to give them the feeling of comfort, but only 45 per cent of people who live with friends say they feel comfortable where they live, and a sobering 34 per cent say they get the feeling of ownership. What’s striking is that lot of people get these feelings met outside their home. So we know that 23 per cent of all people say they have to leave the house to find alone time, for example (and 34 per cent of them get it from their car!). More than a quarter of people who live with strangers say they get their feeling of belonging online, including gaming and social media apps.
  1. Home is a network of places and spaces, not just one location. And the feeling of home can exist in multiple places, all at the same time. For lots of people, life beyond four walls can offer up richer and more meaningful experiences that meet their emotional needs. As many as 47 per cent of people seek experiences outside of the home that will help then grow as a person, and 44 per cent of people who love where they live also feel that community is an extension of home. Sarah, in London, put it beautifully when she told us: “The extended home adds the seasoning and spice you can’t get at home. Using the extended home imaginatively helps you get the home want and need, no matter what your home is.”

Our research showed us that my network of spaces and places might be bigger or smaller than yours, and maybe you have your own home at the heart of it, and maybe I don’t, but it’s all good; there’s no one-size fits all. The important thing is that everyone can create the feeling of home whenever they need to. That’s why it’s important that when we talk about these five emotional needs of home, we see them in the wider context of a life beyond four walls. It means reframing some perceptions, like a sense of ownership, which is more helpful to understand as having a sense of control over the space and place you live in, and not just about having a mortgage and tangible stuff.

These insights fuel our imaginations and enable us to design even better products and services that will help people feel at home, inside and beyond four walls. We’ve also designed a simple interactive tool that can help anyone get to the heart of how their home truly feels – which you can play with here – and we asked a number of experts, from interior designers to UN refugee camp directors, to share their tips on how to make life at home better.

Dr Alison Blunt, one of the expert contributors to our report this year, captured something that we had all been sitting with but had found hard to express: “Home, at its core, goes back to a sense of belonging; a sense of belonging personally and belonging collectively.”

So there we have it – 22,000 people helped us confirm something we had always known, but couldn’t quantify until now… that home really is where the heart is.

You can find all this and much more on https://lifeathome.ikea.com/

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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