When I was little, I’d get so excited when my favorite books featured maps of the mysterious lands in their stories. In a fifth-grade attempt to copy the cartography of Erin Hunter’s Warriors series, I decided I’d make one of my own queendom. I inhabited a glaringly average home on an equally average street in North Texas—truly the quintessence of suburbia, a “boring-ass dump,” according to angsty teenage me. But there were long stretches of bright grassy fields, hundreds of dandelions in the springtime, and babbling creeks deep enough to swim in. My 10-year-old self and her friends claimed that magical realm as mermaid/mud-fairy territory.

When I moved myself away from my family in Texas to Boston last September, I yearned to put down roots. It was the first time I had to cultivate a sense of home on purpose, and I discovered that making maps is a great way to create a sense of belonging in a new city. It’s such a therapeutic means of connecting with the spaces we occupy—personal maps bridge objective reality with our own unique experience, acting as a guide to how the space is organized while also telling our stories.

In her brilliant graphic autobiography Fun Home, Alison Bechdel explains this beautifully, using one of her own favorite childhood books as an example: “The best thing about the Wind in the Willows map was its mystical bridging of the symbolic and the real, of the label and the thing itself. It was a chart, but also a vivid, almost animated picture. Look closely…there’s Mr. Toad speeding along in the car he bought after becoming disenchanted with his canary colored caravan.”

So, here’s a handy guide for making your very own map! Keep in mind these are just suggestions; feel free to tweak, get creative and express your connection to your space however you want.

Step One

Map stage 1

Start with some blobs for the land masses. If your city’s got a river or an ocean close by, add those! Draw in any cool geography you want to include.

Step Two

map stage 2

Next, you can label the different neighborhoods/sections or separate a few with dotted lines.

Step Three

Map stage 3

This is the fun part. Start labeling all the places that are meaningful to you. Places you visit frequently, places where something important happened to you—whatever you want!

Step Four

Map stage 4

Write some short stories and descriptions to go with your favorite places. You can add anything you want to help you document your relationship with that particular landmark, like a special memory you have there, or something you love about it.

Step Five

Map stage 5

Add some color, and you’re all set! Happy mapping! ♦