Over the past few years, I’ve noticed distinctive trends in the types of books I gravitate towards, especially during certain seasons of life. Considering that we’ve moved pretty much every 3 years since we’ve been married, perhaps it should come as no surprise that one niche I’ve read a lot of is memoirs that fall into the category of someone who is establishing, renovating, and/or moving to a new home.
I absolutely love the topic of homemaking, and I love dreaming of possibilities. There is perhaps nothing as fresh and exciting to me as the feeling of a new start, and I love vicariously living through other people’s fresh starts as well.
You’ll notice that these memoirs lean heavily towards the “moving from the city or suburbs to the country” trope, but what can I say? I have a type 🙂
Below are ten nonfiction picks meant to help you to look at your own home — new or old — with fresh eyes, and to give you a healthy dose of dreaming and cozy escapism if you’re looking for that.
Note: There are affiliate links to the books listed below.
If you want a memoir that artfully meanders through the entire process of moving — the thrill and anticipation of a new place, the actual labor of unpacking and setting up house, the tentative dips into the new community, the dawning realization that this place, too, is imperfect — then this is the book to pick up. None of the books on this list are page turners, but that’s not the point here; the point with these is to capture the experience of moving in such a way that you feel seen and inspired, all at once. Even though Sarton was coming from a different set of circumstances than mine (she was an older single woman who had traveled all over and wanted to settle down, whereas I am a married mom of multiple children who has generally moved to multiple places within the same state), she captures beautifully much of the universality of the moving process. I often won’t keep books anymore after finishing them, but this is one I put right back on my shelf when I was done, knowing that I would want it for later.
This memoir spans the first year that the author’s “farmhouse dream” was realized, which for her was “a vision of growing roots, cultivating beauty, and opening the doors to neighbors, wanderers, and pilgrims.” The book is both about her family’s actual move out to the country and the renovation of their old home and cultivation of their acreage as well as about the birth of her last child and the year that followed postpartum. Purifoy weaves all sorts of Christian imagery, reflections, and themes into her musings, and what you end up with is a contemplative look at how our homes shape us, with their imperfections as much as their beauties. I liked this one so much that I eagerly bought her follow-up memoir, Garden Maker, soon after it came out, which covers more of the building up of her dream garden on this same property. The only thing I wished this one would have done differently is include some of her gorgeous photography.
Okay, so this one is cheating a bit. You see, the author of this one — Jerusalem Greer — actually HAD wanted and planned to move to a new location, but then…they were unable to sell their house. I include this on the list because sometimes it’s not about making a new home in a new location. Sometimes it’s about rediscovering the beauty of the home you already have and the community you already live in. Greer is a Christian writer, and her journey about learning to stay put (at least for the time being) was as much spiritual as it was practical. I love how this book combined some of both, and that it was a gentle reminder that most of the time, our problems aren’t “solved” by a move, nor do our dreams always magically come true because of one. What often needs to happen is the realization that home is wherever we are and whatever we make of it, no matter what it looks like currently.
When I was first brainstorming titles that would fit under this category, this memoir was among the very first (and among my favorite!) to come to mind. I’ve been a fan of Kenison’s for awhile, and I love her contemplative, cozy style of writing. All of her books are basically collections of related essays that all span a particular time period, and this particular memoir covers the time period when she and her husband decided to buy a very old house up on a hill that needed extensive renovation. The memoir covers the period of time when they were living with her parents while they got the renovations done, as well as when they actually moved into the home for the first summer with their two teenage boys. I love when someone can find the magic in the ordinary, and Kenison is definitely a master of that.
Sometimes I read a book and think, “Wow! Almost everyone would probably like this!” And other times, I give a book four (or five) stars and think, “Hmm…I really loved this, but I honestly don’t know how other people would respond to it.” That’s definitely the case here. This book (which was on my Summer 2020 Reading List) is about a mom and her family renovating the fixer-upper of fixer-uppers on the coast of Washington State and all the lessons they learned along the way. I was expecting a lighthearted, probably funny collection of cringeworthy stories and fun anecdotes a la The Magnolia Story (minus the offer to be on an HGTV series), but instead I got a pretty reflective, deep look at the meaning of house and home, and how the very structure and architecture of a place can affect how the inhabitants within relate to one another. I appreciated this in-depth look at how the structure, light, layout, etc. of a house can affect its inhabitants, along with the personal thoughts woven throughout.
Although the focus on this book is on restoring the abandoned garden rather than the house, I think it still fits neatly into this category, especially because it’s all about new beginnings and messy middles and the process of turning a new place into something that feels like home. This memoir is told from the point of view of the daughter, whose complicated relationship with her mother finally takes a more positive turn when her mother moves much closer to her and her brother, and how their family works on healing their relationship while they work on trying to reclaim the ample but completely overrun garden and orchard. I followed Weaver’s blog for years until she stopped posting, and I was thrilled when she finally published this memoir that I knew she’d been working on for a long time.
The next two titles I haven’t yet read myself, but they are ones that I definitely plan on reading since they both seem like they would be right up my alley. This first one I actually have on my shelves already, just because when I read a description of it a year or so ago, I knew it would fit right in with my interests so I purchased it from my favorite used bookseller site on the spot. This is one of the few memoirs on this list that was written quite a bit after the move was made, so it doesn’t have the same “messy, in the middle” feel as some of the others (which is both good and bad, depending on what you’re in the mood for). As a child, the author said she dreamed of living in a log cabin out in the woods and writing a book, and when she got older, that’s eventually what she did…though it kind of happened by accident. In this, she details what it’s like living so off grid, with no running water, no immediate roads to “the outside world,” etc. She talks about housekeeping routines and what the family did to keep from getting too bored or feel too isolated, and the few snippets I’ve read from this already tell me that my hunch was right on this one — this one definitely is right up my alley.
I’m a huge fan of books that include more than just text — gorgeous photography or other artwork is a big thing I look for when I’m reading nonfiction (and especially buying nonfiction), which is one major factor that drew me to this memoir about a woman looking to finally settle down after moving 23 times in 20 years. This book spans her first decade of establishing a home post-travel, and it includes watercolors, seasonal activities, and fun little lists, along with essays on settling down and enjoying the simple pleasures of everyday life that can be found right where you are. Goodreads users overall rate this one highly, reviewing it as sort of a “travel memoir about home,” which is a concept I adore. I just purchased this one from the used book seller Biblio, as it’s currently out of print and can be difficult to find elsewhere, and I’m excited to dive in as soon as it arrives.
This is a recent read for me, but one I’ve been hearing about for years. This is definitely the most research-based out of any of the books on this list, but it incorporates the author’s year-long experience trying to apply all the research too, which is a formula that’s a winner for me (see examples A, B, and C). Basically, Warnick set out to discover what exactly makes a person attached to where they live, and also if it’s something that can be actively cultivated or if it’s just innate to that particular location. The studies and facts she includes in this are utterly fascinating, and it has literally changed forever how I view ANY town or city now, regardless of whether I live there or not. I read this at the perfect time for me, which was a couple years after a move that wasn’t easily seeming to “fit” me. I’m happy to report that partly thanks to applying the concepts from this and partly due to other factors, I’m now appreciating more than ever this small town we moved to back in 2020.
This is the most “informational” of the books on the list, but Smith includes enough backstory and personal commentary that I feel okay still classifying it as somewhat of a memoir, especially since it’s her personal experiences that I remember most about reading this. Myquillyn Smith is the author of the popular blog The Nesting Place, which is all about making your home beautiful, right where you are. While this book covers a lot of design philosophy and tips, it also includes a hefty dose of general philosophy about what it means to establish a home and the experiences and mistakes the author had to go through to come to that philosophy. This is full of beautiful photography and lots of immediately applicable tips, and it’s one that earned its permanent place on my bookshelves long ago.
I would love to know what you think of the books on this list, as well as any additional titles you’d like to add on this topic!