I’ve Moved 14 Times in 7 Years — Here are 5 Ways I Make Temporary Spaces Feel Like Home

published May 11, 2021
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I’ve moved around a lot, and have lived in 14 places in the past seven years. But my home-hopping has never been a deliberate choice. I’ve made dramatic nighttime dashes and strategized getaways from plenty of living situations I can only describe as hellish. There were the identical twin roommates who trashed the apartment during physical fights, the “heritage building” with more black mold than carpet, the landlord who felt like he was entitled to a full run of my kitchen, and the bargain studio loft with neighbors who made Hannibal Lecter seem friendly. As a result, I’ve learned the hard way how to read between the lines in a rental ad — and how to make a new place feel like home, no matter how temporary.

Luckily I always managed to land on my feet, but there was a stressful time where I considered six months a long-term lease. Fast-forward to now: Weird roommates and a global pandemic mean that I’ve now spent most of the last two years living with my parents while I save up for a place of my own. My boxes are still unpacked to serve as a small reminder that this is a temporary situation, and while my parents’ current home isn’t as unwelcoming as some of my former living situations, it isn’t the house I grew up in so I’ve had to make it feel like home to me.

 It’s been difficult condensing my adult life into a small bedroom, but it’s amazing how a few small changes to a space can make you feel better, whatever the situation. Here are five ways I’ve made a space feel like home, even if it was only for a few weeks.

Turn your bed into a multitasking center.

Whether you’re renting, traveling, or crashing at a friends’ place, your temporary space is probably going to be one room — and if that room is small, your bed area could need to serve as your living room, dining room, and office. 

It may not be ideal to live, work, and sleep in one place, but there are ways to switch the space up throughout the day. A tray table has been my best friend when the kitchen table wasn’t an option. They’re easy to move and store, and work as both a desk and a dining table.

It can also be helpful to invest in a mattress topper, which can take the edge off from an uncomfortable bed. It can also provide you with a little more peace of mind if you’re sleeping on a mattress with a mysterious past. 

A trusty blanket or throw is also essential for creating consistency in your spaces. A statement blanket in a bold color or texture becomes a focal point in the room, and if you always have the blanket with you, you’re always home! I have a weighted blanket that looks good anywhere and makes me feel better wherever I am.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Be smart about storage.

One of the worst things about living somewhere temporarily is seeing your entire life hanging out of cardboard boxes every day. Good storage solutions mean that living out of boxes doesn’t need to be so obvious.

Portable wardrobes are affordable and can make a temporary fix feel a little more grounded. If you’re moving into a furnished room, then using hanging garment bags kills two birds with one stone: Your clothes are less wrinkled, and they’re automatically organized by color, type, or however else you see fit. 

I have more clothes than I probably need, and I particularly love buying coats. As a result, I always feel at home if I can see my coats hanging on the back of the door, so I’ll use hooks or command hooks to display at least a few of my favorites. I suppose it’s my own version of “home is where your hat is.” The more you can lean into your favorite items as decor — whether that’s a special pair of shoes or something else entirely — the more you will recognize your room.  

Use plants to bring life to a space.

A place only feels like home to me if I’m sharing it with a living thing, whether that’s a person, pet, or plant. The latter are a time-tested and affordable way to quickly pull a room together. But if you’re sick of succulents, there are plenty of colorful, low-maintenance options to bring some life to your space, such as the tropical clivias, or the trailing inch plant. Despite its name, the Christmas cactus is great all year round, too: They have spiky, architectural jigsaw leaves, and are notoriously invincible. Mine have survived months without water and bounce back every time.

When it comes to plants, there are few things worse than a leaking plastic pot, so remember to find a more permanent home for your plant — even if yours is a temporary one. A raised ceramic pot can add height to even the smallest plant, and I love finding unique pots in a thrift store. It’s a little worn, that’s even better: It makes it look like the plant has been there for years!

Make the most of lighting (or lack thereof).

Lighting is transformative, and can make your space feel like home or like a dentist’s office. Depending on your rental situation, you might need to put up with certain fixtures such as fluorescent strip lighting — but there are ways to make a space feel more inviting. 

If you’re in a room with limited natural light, placing a mirror near the window can help light bounce off reflective surfaces and help your room feel bigger. A mirrored jewelry tray is another way to add a portable reflective surface and help with keeping your space tidy, especially if you are worried about hanging or leaning things against the wall.

Even if your room is relatively well-lit, you might want to invest in a cute  lamp with a dimmer control, which will allow you to decide on the light levels throughout the day. I always have my dimmer lamp set to the middle mode with a warm bulb, which brings a sense of considency to each current space I call my own. This might also be the time to splurge in a nice candle or two, which leads me to…   

Credit: Minette Hand

Consider how your room smells.

Scent is one of the key senses linked to memory, and it has the power to evoke happy memories in a really visceral way. Deciding what smells like home to you can help if you move around a lot, so you might want to pick up a scented candle or essential oil diffuser when you’re setting up your home for the moment.

I discovered one of my favorite candles a few years ago while I was out shopping to avoid my brawling twin roommates, who weren’t in when I finally returned home that night. I had a rare peaceful evening in that temporary home, and I now associate the candle’s smell with a feeling of relief. There’s also something comforting about the ritual of coming “home” from work and lighting a candle.

If you’re wary of an open flame, an aroma diffuser is a good alternative. They’re easy to move around, and many diffusers feature light settings that can help add some color to a blank slate of a room. I have a collection of essential oils that I blend in my aroma diffuser depending on my mood or the season. For example, I love using Ylang Ylang with a citrus oil in the morning to feel energized, though I prefer lighting candles with woody and richer scents in the evening.