The military lifestyle can certainly be chaotic. With PCS’s often happening every couple years, and sometimes sooner, the idea of putting time and energy into personalizing your home can be overwhelming. What’s the point when the next set of orders is always around the corner, right?
With the vast majority of housing opportunities relegated to rentals and on-post living, there are often strict rules regarding tenancy, meaning painting and other major changes are often off limits. Even if you are fortunate enough to own your own home, chances are someone else will be renting it until your time in the military has ended. It’s no wonder I so often hear spouses resign themselves to feeling like they are living in someone else’s home.
It’s a struggle we all face in the military community; but after 7 years and 5 moves, I have come to embrace the idea that home is not a place, but a feeling. It’s crucial to this ever-changing life of ours and has helped me focus on the little ways in which I can cultivate that feeling in each and every place we live. Here are a few of the tricks I have learned along the way:
1.) Decorate for Every Holiday
Most of our PCS’s have occurred in late fall, meaning Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas have sometimes been blurred over. I mean, who has time to decorate when you don’t even have cable yet?!
The thing is though, even a couple simple decorations go a long way toward making a cold, new space feel warm and inviting. No need to go bananas. A little goes a long way! Ask the movers to pull a box into the living room instead of shoving it into a corner of the garage. Better yet, take an extra moment to pull a box of decor aside before you move and then ask that it be loaded last onto the truck. That way it can be easily found on the other end.
This is something that has become increasingly important to me as our kids get older. It’s easy to forget that their world is thrown into chaos during a PCS, too. Making sure that simple traditions continue helps them feel safe and calm – in other words, like they are home.
And if you’ve never experienced the simple elegance of a little Christmas tree lighting up an empty room of boxes, well, you’re missing out on some magic.
2.) Use Wall Decals in Place of Paint
One of the biggest bummers about renting or living on post is that you are often stuck with boring walls. It can definitely be frustrating to see pictures of family and friends decking out nurseries and other living spaces in colorful hues while you stare at your Eggshell Beige blahness.
Life doesn’t have to be so bland. I have found wall decals to be a super easy and inexpensive way to liven up a new house. We have used both Fatheads and Room Mates brand, and had great success with both. The latter tends to be a bit more budget friendly but they both score high marks for staying power and ease of use. Neither seems to have issues with stripping paint upon removal. The good news is that the market for wall decals continues to grow so there are plenty of options for every budget!
3.) Collect at Least One Distinctive Item in Each Location
One of the most exciting things about moving so often is getting to discover new cultures and environments. Always make it a point to explore your surroundings and make the best of each duty station. Along the way, pick up something special to display in each future home. Whether it’s a painting, a piece of furniture, or decor, try to find at least one item from each duty station that carries the distinctive flare of the region.
Perhaps your home will never have an integrated style worthy of a spread in Better Homes and Gardens, but it will certainly be filled with warm memories and plenty of conversation starters. And what is a home if not surrounded with reminders of fun, love, and adventure?
4.) Make Your Bedroom a Priority
As a parent, I know that we often put our own needs behind those of our kids. It’s part of the job description. But when you feel like your sanity is in question (please tell me I’m not the only one…) it’s important to have a sanctuary of your own in which to hide and pray the kids don’t find you for at least 3 minutes.
By virtue of being a military spouse, your life is a topsy-turvy crash course in chaos. You have so little control over everything else, it’s important to invest in a single relaxing space that almost makes up for the 50 half unpacked boxes littered throughout your house.
I advise going all out on this one, folks. Get the bedspread of your dreams with all the matching shams and decorative pillows. Those suckers aren’t cheap so budget your way to your goal. Add coordinating drapes if your finances allow. Remember, this is stuff that will follow you from place to place and isn’t likely to get damaged the way furniture does.
It may take some time to fully assemble all the pieces of your own personal zen den but, when you do, you definitely won’t regret it!
5.) Get a “Home Is Where the (Army, Navy, etc – pick your poison) Sends Us” Sign
I realize some people find these things cheesy and maybe they are. But can’t the same be said for a lot of your mom’s decor that now makes you nostalgic for home? Oh, wherever did you go, rolling pleather kitchen chairs? I almost, sort of miss you! Either way, I love them because they are a beautiful reminder of all the places you have been on this crazy journey. Embrace the cheesiness, friends. It’s worth it!
These can be found in a variety of shops on Etsy but can also often be found locally. Before making a decision, be sure the seller includes his or her information on the back so that future duty stations can be added later!
6.) Invest in Simple Fixtures
Ditch the plastic curtain rod and install something nicer that isn’t prone to falling off the wall mid-shower. Ok, maybe don’t ditch it entirely – you’ll need it for move out. Ours was about $30 from Home Depot and matches the rest of our bathroom decor, which instantly made things feel more homey – more ours.
The same can be said of other small fixtures like light switch covers, towel rings, and even door handles. Most of these can easily be replaced with the originals upon move out without much fuss, making them ideal for providing a bit of continuity as you move from place to place. Make sure to organize the hardware into separate bags ahead of moving day so that pieces don’t get lost. With just a little bit of work, this is a one-time investment that can make all the difference as you get settled into a new place.
Whether you end up living somewhere for 6 months or 6 years, your house is an integral part of your experience at each duty station. Make it a priority. Make it yours. Make it a home.
**C also writes for POMP USA, a start up company promoting businesses owned by service members, veterans, and their spouses.