Coming Home Alone: Put Out the Welcome Mat . . . For Yourself

message for gwennI remember it well. I was in my 20s, just starting out and working for a small non-profit agency. I was asked to deliver a document to one of our board members, and I set out to find her house in one of Rochester’s older, gentrified neighborhoods.

As I walked up the steps to Jane’s front porch, three things caught my eye: the fresh flowers in a hand-painted ceramic pitcher, the tasteful wreath on her door and a doormat that simply said, “All are welcome here.”

A good feeling came over me.

I announced my arrival by softly tapping the sweet little heart-shaped iron knocker on her front door. Then I waited. I stood on Jane’s porch feeling as if I had arrived at a special place — a place that held the promise of comfort and hospitality.

When Jane answered the door and invited me in, I saw that she had brought the warmth of her front porch into her home. I walked into an oasis of rich earth tones, subtle lighting and artwork and objects from around the world that invited inspection. I just wanted to plop myself down into one of her overstuffed tapestry chairs and savor the warm embrace of her home.

And so it came as a big surprise to me when Jane told me she lived alone. I remember thinking: “What? This can’t be.” It just didn’t add up. I had assumed that a home this wonderful — a home this lovely and complete — could only be the home of a family or, at the very least, a couple. But no; this was Jane’s home. Her retreat. Her wonderful life.

Little did I know that, years later, my experience on Jane’s front porch would stay with me and influence the way I decorate and furnish my home inside and out. Unbeknownst to her, she was a role model and, by example, showed me that a house can be a home, even when it’s occupied by only one person.

When I moved into my own home after my divorce, I didn’t immediately follow Jane’s good example. I didn’t feel up to it. The walls stayed bare for far too long and I didn’t fully unpack for months.

The worst part was coming home to a dark, empty house. In fact, it was so depressing, I often avoided going home after work and became a vagabond of sorts, working late or going to the mall until I had no choice but to pull into my driveway.

I knew I had to make some changes and that’s when I recalled Jane’s front porch.

Thinking back on that experience, I found the inspiration to make my own home inviting for the most important visitor of all: myself. I now take special care to create an environment — and especially a front porch — that warmly greets me on my return home.

If returning home alone triggers feelings of loneliness and loss for you, you might consider making some changes yourself. Here’s what works for me:

• Setting the stage. I want to feel welcome even before I set foot on my front porch. That’s why you’ll find flameless candles glowing in my windows all year long, not just during the holidays. Programmed with timers, the candles come on at dusk and their soft luminescence fills me with warmth and security as I approach my home after dark.

• Making and keeping things nice. It’s no fun (in fact, it can be a real downer) to come home to a dirty front porch covered with cobwebs, peeling paint and dead leaves or lawn clippings. I’ve learned that lesson!

I now hang a handmade artisan broom on my porch, and use it almost every day. And on a weekly basis, I clean the moths and “bug juice” off my porch lanterns, window sills and door frame.

Stepping onto a nice, clean and uncluttered porch makes me feel good about myself. A sense of pride wells up in me before I even walk through the threshold. That little ego boost gets my evening off to a good start.

• Adding the inspiration. I see my porch as a blank canvas, and I’m the artist.

I delight in making decorative changes that reflect the seasons, capture my taste, and stimulate the senses — small inspirational changes that make coming home a joy.

The soft sound of wind chimes has an immediate soothing effect, my “Believe” wreath reminds me to have faith and my charming little chalkboard often sports messages from visiting friends and relatives.

One friend recently wrote “Welcome Home, Gwenn.” His kind message is still there, and I enjoy this friendly greeting on a daily basis.

I know that coming home alone can be a challenge, especially if you are accustomed to returning to a house filled with the hussle-bussle of family life. I also know that making “welcome” changes can ease the way into a new life and home. Roll out the welcome mat for yourself and discover all the good things that may arrive at your doorstep!

Gwenn Voelckers is the founder and facilitator of Live Alone and Thrive, empowerment workshops for women held throughout the year in Mendon, N.Y. For information about her upcoming workshops or to invite Voelckers to speak, call 585-624-7887 or email:

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