Constantly Killing My Plants

I don’t know where to call home, or what it is.

All I know is how it feels beneath my skin.

But I don’t know where to call home, or who will lead me there.

Is it a place that I’ve been or where I’ll go? And how will I know?


Lately, I’ve become fearful of making a commitment – to place. When I think about spending more than a couple years living in one place, my stomach starts turning and I feel my breath grow shallow. There is something about setting down permanent roots that makes me want to get up and just run away.

I can’t quite put my finger on it. Am I afraid I’ll get bored? Am I afraid I’ll screw something up? Maybe there is something inside me that thinks I was born to constantly be moving around. But perhaps it’s a combination of all these things. Nevertheless, my fear of commitment is not only affecting my professional and personal life, it’s also been killing my plants.

This past week, my friend with an effortlessly green thumb sent me a photo of some new plants she had recently rooted – meaning she plucked a small leaf off of a larger plant and stuck it into some soil to grow on its own. The caption read, “the best kind of babies.”

photo by Josephine Wood

photo by Josephine Wood

Of course, I love everything she does, and I looked longingly at the picture, wondering why she has a house full of thriving plants while mine are hanging on. Something must have clicked though, because a couple days later, I insisted on buying some new, larger pots for the stragglers that I had left.

While I was carefully removing the plants from their current pots, I realized they were totally cramped. They were dying because they were running out of space to grow. I was suffocating them. I used to think that my plants were dying out of my own sheer laziness. And while this might have been the case in the past, most recently I was killing my plants because I wanted them to be something that they were not.

I was squeezing my plants into pots that made them look fuller, bigger, more “complete.”

Because that is exactly what I am craving in my own life. I am always trying to prematurely finish something, package it up, and send it off, declaring it as finally done. And I was subconsciously doing the same with my plants. I was placing them in smaller pots to give the visual impression that they had grown to their fullest, that they were thriving because they were taking up all the space they had.

I had forgotten that everything needs room to grow, and nothing is ever finished.

By repotting my plants, I realized that the same paradigm exists in my own relationship to place. My fear of setting down roots in a certain place was limiting my potential. It was limiting the depth of the relationships I was building, because mentally I was already preparing to move away. It was limiting the success I was finding professionally, because I was trying to figure out my next step, the one that was better and further away from where I currently was.

Ultimately, I was constantly living in the future by not setting down roots in the present. I think I partly believed it was a waste of time and energy to set down roots somewhere that I wouldn’t be for very long. But making authentic connections with people never goes to waste. And improving a certain skillset is never a misuse of time or energy.

When I was transplanting my tiny trees and succulents, I did not cut off their root systems. I brought the roots they had grown with them into their new homes. The new growth will build upon the root structures that had already been set in place. And of course, the same is true for me. The relationships and experiences that I’ve collected from my past will only support me in my future, even in places that I’ve never been before.

Maybe home is where my heart has been before, and where it has brought me now.

Maybe moving around to different places and changing planters isn’t a bad thing. Maybe it’s not the length of time that I spend somewhere, but it’s my commitment to that place that allows me to blossom. Maybe I can discover endless possibilities when I accept that I am always home, no matter where I find myself.

There is an old country, Palestinian tradition of carrying a potted plant with you while traveling, always staying rooted somewhere. So maybe if I want to settle down in one place, no matter for how long, I should give my potted plants a bit more space to spread their roots and grow.

by Maria Borghoff