How To Make A Place Feel Like Home

by Brenna Holeman
Winnipeg house

Winnipeg, Canada

 

“I love this house,” I said to my mum over the weekend. “It just feels like home. I wish I could pick it up and take it to London with me.”

 

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.


 Osaka Flat

Osaka, Japan

 

2. Get creativeIf 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.

 

Winnipeg house 2

Winnipeg, Canada

 

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.


 Edinburgh flat

Edinburgh, Scotland

 

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.


Osaka flat 2

Osaka, Japan

 

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.


Winnipeg house 3

Winnipeg, Canada

 

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.


 Osaka flat 3

 

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.”

Osaka flat 4

Osaka, Japan

 
 

 

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17 comments

cestchristine July 30, 2013 - 2:10 pm

Oh my gosh I love this! Ever since working in a Scandinavian home shop (and thus reading countless design magazines “for work”), I fully believe in the power of nice candles and fresh flowers to transform a space and make it feel more like home. This post definitely made me reminisce about my spaces in France and Australia–I always had photos of friends and postcards they sent me on the wall, and I liked to hang my scarves in a way to both display them and add some extra color. Big fan of making jewelry into a “display” as well by hanging it vertically on the wall, etc. Great, great, great idea for a post! (I’m more and more convinced we would be excellent friends in real life!)

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This Battered Suitcase July 30, 2013 - 9:57 pm

Isn’t is amazing how the little things can instantly transform a room? Hanging scarves is a great idea; I have some yak scarves from Nepal stacked up on a shelf and I love how it looks.

And yes, I am totally convinced we’d be BFFs in no time. I hope you’ll be in London/Europe soon!

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Rachel July 30, 2013 - 9:09 pm

I needed this post. We are getting ready to move again and we’ve been in so many different apartments over the past couple of years, nothing feels like home. We’ll only be in Boston for 6 mo. before moving to DC, but hopefully I can try and make it feel like home. 🙂

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This Battered Suitcase July 30, 2013 - 9:55 pm

Oh, I’m glad that the post could be of some help! Good luck with the constant moving, I can relate how tiring it is and I definitely feel for you…

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Alyssa James July 30, 2013 - 11:35 pm

This is great! I’m so bad at making a place homely. I’ll definitely make the effort in London – and you can help me! 😛

Yours in Travel,

Alyssa

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This Battered Suitcase July 30, 2013 - 11:38 pm

Absolutely! We can go on fun antique/market shopping trips. I already have my eye on a typewriter from Brick Lane…

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Katka Lapelosová July 31, 2013 - 12:56 am

OMG! I need to pack YOU in my suitcase so you can be my international decorator!!! So true, you need to make a place feel like home but it doesn’t have to be too crazy, simple stuff definitely works!

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This Battered Suitcase July 31, 2013 - 6:48 pm

Ha ha, done! And yes, I always just go for the small things – it’s amazing how different a room can look with only a few minor additions.

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an-american-abroad.com July 31, 2013 - 4:10 am

I love those rooms and I love your photos. It has imspired me to take better care of my own space at the moment. It’s tough because I’m living in a shared house, so only my room is my own to make it feel homely, but I love your ideas! This post also makes me excited for when I can finally be reunited with all of my souvenirs from the past few years and put them all into one place! Hope your place in London feels like home for you 🙂

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This Battered Suitcase July 31, 2013 - 6:49 pm

Aw, thank you! It can be really hard to decorate when you only have a room or a shared space, but I always think there are ways to make it more comfortable. Thank you for your comment!

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Naomi August 1, 2013 - 10:43 am

Love these tips, especially about wall hangings – they really do make a place feel more like a home. You’re so much better at nomadic interior design than I am. All I’ve done in my current place is unpack!

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This Battered Suitcase August 2, 2013 - 3:18 am

Thanks, Naomi! I buy so much local art that it just makes sense to display it on my walls. And hey, at least you unpacked!

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meandmypassport August 1, 2013 - 11:48 pm

So I love this post! Great advice that I should implement more often. Having a peaceful home surrounded by things that I love / enjoy can be such a comfort, both when in transition and settled. And like you said, it doesn’t have to be expensive, but makes all the difference.

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This Battered Suitcase August 2, 2013 - 3:19 am

I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Thank you for your comment. I hope that I can create a peaceful home in London…

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Finding An Apartment in Taipei: Welcome To My Crib - Waegook Tom January 27, 2014 - 9:01 am

[…] too, as Korean bosses cover your rent, whereas Taiwanese bosses don’t.  I was inspired by my friend Brenna, who can transform any drab space into a comfy, snug abode, and made sure that I packed some stuff […]

Reply
Joshua | Engineer on the Road February 1, 2014 - 2:11 pm

You are a domestic goddess hands down! I always try to do the same, although it is a bit tricker for me at times traveling all the time but only for short periods. Usually I have maps, cards and postcards and so on with me. I’ve done that ever since I lived in Germany and my room made came in and gasped at how stark my room was. She then purchased me a map of Germany for my birthday. In Oz I procured some flowers from a church which wilted not long after.

I also find leaving my room a little messy helps keep the lived-in vibe. But the bed always has to be made. The difference between homely and slummy is a fine line.

Reply
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[…] of them cost nothing at all, in fact. And I absolutely love souvenirs – I really think they make a place feel like a home, and I love being surrounded by things that remind me of my travels. Some may call it […]

Reply

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