The word home might conjure up images of the house you grew up in or your grandma’s kitchen, and maybe it’s your best friends laughing or your neighbors fantastic cooking. These are all beautiful and comforting core memories to carry in your heart. But, life circumstances change and often, in our late teens early 20’s we find ourselves in transit, whether it is moving to a college campus out of state, studying abroad for a semester or finally landing that dream job in the city. While traveling back home for the weekend might be an option, sometimes it isn’t as parents downsize or hometown friends move away, all on their journey. It can feel tough to find happiness and relaxation when you are uncomfortable in your new surroundings and focused on what isn’t there (parents, best friends, neighbors).
I am basically a certified expert in creating a home in a place you have never been to before. I have changed schools seven times, went to boarding school at age 14, and moved cross country to San Francisco at age 18. I studied abroad twice in Buenos Aires and Berlin and was riding out this pandemic bouncing between the UK and France when plans changed, and I moved to Chicago 4 months ago – a place I have never even visited. After spending 16 months away from the US, my view of what helps create a home feeling has become sharpened even further. If you have a big move coming up or are already on your way out the door, let’s pause and think about ways to help turn your new surroundings into a happy and relaxed place.
Comparison Kills Happiness
Right off the bat, when you move into a new dorm or a new neighborhood, comparison beings, often unconsciously with soft but damaging mental reflexes throughout the day. As you go, try out a new coffee shop you might think: “This would be so much better if my best friend were here”. As you are trying to set up your new lights, you might think: “My sister’s apartment is so cute; this place looks like a prison”. As you are getting some fresh air, you might think, “The parks were so much nicer in my old neighborhood”.
This type of thinking only undermines your choices and confidence, setting up a recipe for disappointment. Of course, your new neighborhood or new dorm won’t be the same as your parents’ house, why would it be? It can be tough to accept that things have changed or that you are at a new stage in your life, but once you do, it opens the door to enjoy your surroundings. When you compare, you are cutting into your confidence – was this the right choice to come here? Should I go back to my hometown? – without giving yourself a chance to be creative, blossom and transform in the new environment. You are somewhere new, let’s choose to see this as an experiment in positive living!
Create Habits and Rituals
Outside of the daily tasks required of you by work or school, living somewhere new is an excellent opportunity to set your weekly routine. This routine isn’t an army regimen but rather a collection of habits and rituals that make you feel happy and comfortable. This is also a great chance to explore the city. When are the farmers’ markets? Do local museums have free days? Where is the best cup of coffee in the city? What is the most beautiful view? All of these things can come together to form a rhythm of the week that allows you to experience the city and enjoy yourself. (Plus, lots of those rituals and places are great for meeting like-minded people!)
If your family or friends have particular habits, this is a great time to include them. For example, if you typically do a wine Wednesday with your girls at home, buy a bottle and FaceTime them midweek. Or, if your mom usually does a pasta bake on the weekends, ask her for the recipe and put your spin on it. Taking ownership of your experience, familiarizing yourself with your surroundings and setting patterns will make you feel more comfortable.
Decor for Positivity
Making a new space feel just like home is kind of an impossible task because it isn’t your home – yet. But, what you can do is bring your spirit into it through art, plants, organizational tools and furniture. One of my favorite things is display notes, postcards, little art pieces or collections of trinkets across my desk and side table. When I lived in a dorm in college, I covered the wall using postcards and pictures. Maybe you want to keep your favorite records or books out on display; maybe line your window sill with some plants to bring in the light. There are always ways to make your space feel like you.
Another way to use decor to encourage relaxation is to let traditions inform your choices. For example, my mom always had fresh flowers in the house, and now that I live by myself, I have started doing that too. The fresh flowers make me happy, make my apartment smell nice and remind me of her. Maybe your aunty always has a cookie jar on the counter. Go to the thrift store and see if you can find a cute one! Creating a comforting and relaxing environment will provide respite from your day and allows you actually to enjoy where you live.
Living somewhere new does not have to be a scary experience, be kind to yourself and allow yourself to enjoy where you are. And take some pressure off yourself, you probably won’t live in that college town forever, and you don’t have to meet your new best friends in the first month – but give yourself the opportunity to succeed without cutting yourself down. You never know what’s going to happen or what is just around the corner. If you still don’t like your new surroundings after all this, you have yet achieved something positive – a learning experience!