My Military Family’s Moving Hack Makes a House Feel Instantly Like Home

published Nov 16, 2022
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Before I was born and raised in the pleasant suburbs, my family had what I like to call their “cool life.” My dad was an officer in the military, which brought them to live everywhere from a ranch in the geographic center of Texas and a brick townhouse in northern Virginia, to duplex on a base in New York and stucco chalet in the outskirts of Madrid. In relocating so often, they got moving and packing down to a kind of science — and the one simple thing my mom says they always did to feel almost instantly at home is unpack the kitchen first. “We wanted to make it feel like home right away and it’s cliche but true, for us at least, that the kitchen is the heart of the home,” she explains. 

And when she says unpack, she means everything. Place the utensils in their drawer, stack the bowls in the cabinet, lay the runner across the floor, hang the curtains in the windows, stick the magnets on the fridge, and banish all of the boxes. When you’re done, the kitchen should look like you’ve been living there the whole time. That way, you can cook and enjoy all your meals in a peaceful kitchen — so long, takeout containers balanced carefully on living room pillows and cardboard boxes, making it feel like you’re dining out of a moving truck.

Credit: Maskot/Getty Images/Maskot

The kitchen was always a big hub of activity in my home, as it is for many, so making that room fully functional from the get-go makes it easier to settle into a routine in a new place. You can sip your morning coffee in peace, kids can do their homework at the table, you can all cut out holiday cookies on the counters. 

When I moved into the apartment I live in now, I followed this advice to a T. Two days after moving in, my dishwasher was running, my fridge was stocked, and the candles on my kitchen table were lit. What I neglected to do was follow the second half of my mom’s sacred advice: After you entirely move into the kitchen, unpack the bathroom. Then, I can hear her voice saying, within a few days, unpack all the rest of the boxes. “The goal was that by the end of the week, everything was completely done,” my mom explains. “We knew we’d only be in each place for a couple of years or so, so we wanted to make it feel like home as quickly as possible.”

If I’m honest, when I last unpacked, cardboard boxes lingered in my living room for weeks (fine! Maybe a few months). There’s still a suitcase tucked under my bed with some clothes I don’t really know what to do with. And there’s still art I haven’t figured out where to hang. But that one crucial nugget — always unpack the kitchen first — has stuck with me and I swear by it as much as my parents always did. Making a new space feel like home is one of the great joys of moving, and a kitchen you can live happily in is a great place to start.