Like many expats, I’ve lived in some weird and wonderful places, everywhere from glorified country manors to less salubrious student squats. While you hunt for your next expat abode the temporary apartment stopover can be pretty depressing.
Here are some tips to make your place feel more like home.
Photo by State Farm
- Clean. Before you start unpacking make sure your new home is clean. I’ve pushed back at agencies if the apartment hasn’t been up to scratch and got the place professionally cleaned. I pack antibacterial spray, wipes and gloves just in case the cleaners take their time to arrive (or never do). Sounds paranoid, but temporary apartment guests generally stay long enough to leave dirt, but not long enough to clean.
- Organise. Moving is stressful for sure, but it’s also a fabulous opportunity to detox your stuff. Strip your packing down to the absolute basics – things you love too much to be apart from for any length of time and things you actually, really, definitely need for the short term. In the run up to a big move I now do a trial – I live out of my suitcase to understand what I really need, and remove anything which I can easily buy when I arrive. (FYI hair straighteners make great irons for shirt fronts). Chuck any non essentials you may come across in your suitcase and keep discarding as you go. Get the beds ready first so when the unpacking gets too much you can stop and drop. If you’ve got kids, be sure to make up their beds first. I now unpack like I tidy – according to the #KonMari Method – i.e. by category, not by room. Trust me, it’s quicker and keeps your home clutter free forever.Ok, you can stay. Photo by blmurch
- Don’t get hung up. While frames add a personal touch, it’s unwise to drill hooks into walls, and to be cautious with sticky tacks. I learnt the hard way, i.e. over 500 euros for a four marks on my Swiss apartment wall. That’s 100 euros per blob of blutack.
- Get sensual. Oils, scented candles and fresh flowers really lift my mood. Fellow Expater and wellness advocate Maryam de Groef explains: ‘The sense of smell is linked to part of the brain that associates with memory and emotions, which is why aromatherapy can be really effective’. She recommends investing in a diffuser and scents according to your needs: ‘Lavender is soothing and calming which is especially useful if you’ve moved with children. Citrus oils such as wild orange are uplifting and energizing’. If you’re up to your eyeballs in packing, go for wild orange and peppermint which Maryam tells me ‘acts as a mid afternoon pick me up, helping to focus and energise’.
- Think big for a tiny kitchenette. OK so a Thermomix will set you back about the price of a designer handbag but it takes up hardly any space, multitasks and helps create home cooked comforts in minutes. If you’re short on space, lots of items don’t actually need to be refrigerated. Bear the local climate in mind however. In Lebanon I didn’t realise I’d eaten mould in the dark until the power cut was over.
- Lighten up. Let in as much natural light as possible. Push back the curtains and if necessary, change your lightbulbs. Sounds daft but light bulbs cost pennies and a warmer tint or a stronger wattage can make all the difference. For bathrooms I’ve used muslin draped as curtains or frosted window stickers to avoid keeping the blinds down.
- Listen up. It’s now proven that music makes you feel good. Researchers found that levels of the feel good chemical dopamine were higher when volunteers listened to music they enjoyed. So download some feel good tunes, plug in the speakers and sing along (not too loud if you’re in Switzerland). I love these Nixon Mini Blaster speakers for their style and durability (they’re resistant to water, shock and sand). If you’re relying on your phone pop it into a (empty) glass to amplify the sound.
- Time for the kids. If you’ve got children pack a few of their favourite toys and get creative to make new ones. Carole Hallett Mobbs, Founder of Expat Child, an advice centre for parents moving overseas with children, also stresses the importance of home comforts in a new setting: ‘Familiar linen can make a huge difference to how quickly your child can settle in’ she writes.If only this game worked. Photo by jbcurio
- Feed your soul. Home is where the heart is. Or where the suitcase is. As Theresa Lin from KonMari Media Inc. puts it: ‘A home is not defined by the length of time one lives there. Rather, home is where we find nourishment in the form of music and books and food; it is where we work and relax. It is where we replenish ourselves. To make a temporary space feel more like home, surround yourself with the belongings and activities that renew you. Little gestures make even the remotest locations feel more like home.’