In my four years of living abroad, I’ve lived in five different homes. Each was unique and filled with memories of felicity, frustration, and fellowship but one feature noticeably absent, as I mentally tour each residence, is the apparent lack of “stuff”. Not the kind of stuff left behind by an old roommate but the stuff that makes a house feel like a home; the stuff that adds beauty to your abode and makes it, not just functional, but inviting. A nomad’s dwelling need not be bland or bare! There is room for art and comfort in your life abroad without the burden of added luggage weight or overseas shipping. While our family is not yet ready to plant our roots in a particular land, here are some ways we’ve found to “sprout” and make our home homely in the here and now.
Unpack the Suitcases
Nothing says “nomad” like storing your clothes in an open suitcase. No matter how neatly you fold your clean laundry, a suitcase is still a suitcase. Adding a simple set of shelves, stacked crates, or a modest bureau conveys the message that you’re not sneaking out in the middle of the night. You’re sticking around for awhile, so unpack, put the suitcases out of sight, and get cozy.
Buy Dining Sets for Four (or at least Two!)
Unless communal drinking and eating is your custom of choice, you’re going to need more than one set of cutlery to entertain guests. Being able to have a guest, even if it’s just one, forces you to look at your living space through the eye of another. Those little touches and details you pay attention to when having company ought to remind you to cultivate a home that’s inviting to you too! Don’t just sleep and eat in your spot- dream and thrive! Your home should be a sanctuary and place of respite, no matter how small in size or brief your stay may be.
Pack Your Spices
The tastes and smells of familiar foods bring us great comfort. It’s awesome to taste new dishes and experiment with a new cuisine but sometimes you have a craving that the best of foreign dining can’t fill. When you need to cook a “down home” meal, compensating with substandard spices or trying to substitute with a local equivalent may you leave unfulfilled. Leave the spice rack at your mom’s house but pack just a few sachets of quality spices and herbs to make your soul food sing. This will at least buy you time to try out the locally available spices and see if they fit the bill.
Have Company Over
Now that you have more than one spoon and bowl, it’s time for fellowship! Even if your offering is nothing more than tea and biscuits, strengthening your social ties outside of a passing wave in the street or chatting after work helps you to nurture your connection to others and where you are. Your social life can make or break your experience abroad, so once your settled, consider having a guest every once in a while.
Add a Little Green
Nothing says “home” like a plant- a little shoot of life growing in your home. Whether you grow a plant from seed in soil or nurture a fallen flower in a jar of water, grow something! If you want to test out your “green thumb”, you can try a little windowsill herb garden or grow pots of tomatoes or strawberries in whatever green space you can secure for yourself. You can always “gift” your plants to a neighbor or resident when it’s time for the caravan to pull out.
Invest in Art
Art is not just for artists- we all benefit from the sight of something that moves and soothes us. You can carry a few favorite prints and have them framed locally or look for art in your environs. A calendar page, a cherished greeting card, hand-dyed fabrics, a decorative candle holder or handmade crafts can add a much needed aesthetic to your flat without breaking your budget. Even when you have to buy items for your home like sheets or floor rugs, think beyond function. Factor fashion and décor into your selections.
Cherish Your Photos
In this digital era, many of us have files or disks of pictures, not stacks of photo albums. Use your screensaver for virtual trips down memory lane or play a slideshow of photos that capture worthwhile memories. You can have some of your favorite photos printed and framed locally or invest in a digital photo frame to display your favorite shots.
How have you made home abroad feel more like home?
This post was originally published at Women of Color Living Abroad.