I bought this house in 2011, primarily as an investment. I rent it out when I’m not around, and will be finding full-time renters in September. It’s also been a great place for me to hang up my hat, so to speak, whenever I come back in town. I lived here for a few months in early 2012, in between trips to Asia and South America, and again for a few months this year, in between South America and moving to London. If the living room in the photo above looks awfully decorated for someone who is only there for a maximum of three months at a time, you may be right.
For me, however, it’s very important to make a place feel like home, even if it is only a temporary one. Even nomads like to have small comforts that can transform an otherwise bland, generic room or apartment into something that feels personal and cozy. Even if it’s just a rented space or a hotel room for a week, there are ways to make it feel like a safe haven, like a place of your own.
If you’re going to be in the same place for a few weeks or even a few years, there are some things you can do to make it feel special and comfortable. Here’s how to make a place feel like home.
1. Unpack. You probably think I’m an idiot for telling you this, but I have often fallen prey to the “I’ll just live out of my jumbled backpack” scenario. It makes a huge difference to unpack your belongings. Think about it: at home, you don’t have all of your toiletries in a bag that you have to pick through, nor do you rifle through a suitcase in order to find that one t-shirt you love. Put away your clothes, organize your things, and it will make a world of difference. If I am staying longer than a few days in a private room (shared hostel rooms are, of course, different), I always unpack my backpack or suitcase.
2. Get creative. If you know a place is temporary, you probably don’t want to start investing tons of time or money into renovating and decorating. There are countless DIY ways to spice up a space, though. I’m not very crafty, so I keep it simple: in my bedroom in Japan, for example, I bought very cheap paper lanterns and some curtains on sale. It took me less than $10 and an hour to hang everything, and it instantly transformed the room. I also hung up a fringe curtain to divide rooms (seen in a photo below) that tied the place together, and that cost me less than the price of a coffee. Keep your eye out for things with pops of colour that can brighten the dullest of rooms; it really doesn’t take much to make people think you’re an interior design god/goddess.
3. Shop locally. Wherever you’re living, there will most likely be a craft market or local shop of some sort. I’ve found countless amazing souvenirs in such markets, some of which are really different and unique. If you’re living in Guatemala, for example, you could hit up the markets in Antigua for tons of fantastic artwork and ceramics, all for a few dollars. The bedspread and pillow covers in the photo of my bedroom were purchased in India for a total of $15, and the paintings were purchased in Vietnam for a total of $30. Though I didn’t live in either of those places, I could have used these pieces in my room there just as easily as I do here.
4. Flower power. In my experience, the two things that significantly affect how a room looks are lighting and flowers. We can’t always change the lighting in a temporary home (though adding some candles can help) but flowers are a cheap and easy way to make a room look lived in. All it takes is a jar and a few dollars of flowers a week. The bonus is, of course, that flowers also make your room smell wonderful.
5. Hang things on the walls. Blank walls just scream, “I won’t be here for long.” Even if this is true, there’s no harm in hanging up a few things that you enjoy looking at, whether it is a piece of local art or a few postcards you collected. In Japan, I met this really cool artist and ended up buying some of his postcards; I then bought wooden frames for $1 each. The entire project cost less than $20, but I loved looking at those weird drawings every day for a year. I also hung cheap mirrors from IKEA above my couch (seen in the final photo below), all of which cost under $20, but it really added to the room. Just make sure that the owner/landlord is OK with you hanging things; sticky/poster tack is the best way to ensure that you don’t ruin the walls.
6. Display reminders of family and friends. It can be as simple as a photo or postcard, but having reminders of family and friends can really be a great way to instantly make a room feel like your own. Home is where the heart is, they say, and if you can sprinkle your temporary living situation with gifts or photos from your loved ones, it will definitely start to feel like home.
7. Show off the things you love. Despite buying a Kindle last year, I still always carry a few books with me, and my homes are always filled with books. I can’t help it – it’s an addiction. I love travel books in particular, so I display those prominently in my permanent or temporary homes. They always look great stacked on a table or a shelf. Similarly, I always purchase a few pieces of local jewellery, and I’ve started using those as wall hangings (since I don’t wear them every day). It’s a wonderful way to be surrounded by memories of your travels and of the place you’re in.
8. Shop around. When I lived in Japan, I constantly checked online for “sayonara sales”. There are always people coming and going, so you’re more than likely to find cheap furniture, housewares, and art for sale (similar to garage sales). I also went to IKEA frequently, and found tons of stuff for very low prices; the painting you see here was on sale for $20, and I resold it for $40 (don’t judge). I lived in the flat you see photos of here, in Osaka, for just over a year, and I spent about $1000 total furnishing and decorating it. In the end, I made all of that money back, plus some. For me, it is worth it to spend the money to feel comfortable, especially since I know there will always be someone else looking to create their own home in the future to whom I can resell the items.
At the end of the day, only you know if these small things make a difference in your life. If you are content to live in a simple environment, more power to you. True nomads that never settle for longer than a few months obviously cannot do a lot of things I’ve listed here. Personally, for me, I need to decorate the places I live in for longer than a month – at the very least, I unpack my bag, organize my clothes and toiletries, and display a few souvenirs or postcards. In packing for my move to London, I’m taking quite a few of my belongings, little things that remind me of my travels and of the homes I’ve already lived in. As I’ll be there for at least two years, I know that I need these things to make me feel comfortable and content. It inspires me, and it makes me feel that, wherever I am, I’m where I’m supposed to be.
As for my mum’s response to that initial statement? “Brenna, you’ve said that about every place you’ve lived. You always make a place feel like home.”