I have long been attracted to the whole concept of home. I love having a cozy place to call my own, to nest in at night, to nurture my family, to express my identity, and to find peace and comfort. But for some reason I used to get very caught up in other people’s beautiful homes and remodels. I thought I should have those things too—a lovely updated kitchen, a pristine and newly retiled bathroom, and new, high end furnishings. Where I got this idea I’m not entirely sure, but partly it was because I saw so many families around me getting these things. It made me feel like “when will it be my turn?” I basically had a bad attitude. On the other hand, I’ve always believed that you can make a home anywhere. Years ago, I was working as a home health aide, and going into people’s homes was part of my job. It interested me to see how people lived and I always felt that even if I were a little old lady on a fixed income, if I had a home and a few pretty things it would be okay. The reality is that my husband and I are a teacher and a school nurse, so no, we will never have a large beautiful Pottery Barn home. And in truth I’ve discovered that I don’t even want that anymore. I have found something better, more satisfying and much more attainable. I have found that you can make your house a home, even if.
Even if you don’t have the time/money/inclination for an expensive remodel (we don’t), even if you are not the type to do extensive DIY home projects every weekend (we’re not), and even if you are not especially artistic or lucky in finding beautiful armoires or vintage furniture by the side of the road (I am most certainly not). Still, my home can be comfortable, personal, welcoming and nurturing.
In working through my personal journey to love where I live, I have found several small things I can do to make our house a true home for myself and family. Mostly a change in attitude has released me to make and enjoy these changes. Once I shifted my way of thinking, my heart opened up to the power of these small acts and my own ability to find contentment in our modest home.
Clear the Clutter
I am astonished over and over again at how wonderful it feels to have cleared out a previously cluttered space. And conversely, I have come to recognize how truly draining clutter can be. I’ve never been overly attached to things and have always regularly made donations and thrown away trash, but still I have had to deal with cluttered corners and certain hot spot areas. Managing paper clutter is a particular challenge for me as I love magazines and recipes. But the more effort I make in the area of decluttering, the happier I am with my home. It has recently dawned on me that in order to see more and lasting results from my ongoing efforts to ditch the clutter, I must close the loop and stop bringing in more things. Buying less, canceling my paper magazines, and printing out fewer recipes is good for the environment and good for my budget too.
Use What You Have
Along the same lines, I have found tremendous fun in challenging myself to home decorate using whatever I find around the house. Most of us already have so many belongings. I found that once I stopped longing for new things, I was able to use and enjoy my belongings and have fun putting together things I hadn’t used in a long time. Similarly, I’ve also had fun thrifting a few key items for the home. A thrifted plate can really give my table a lift for a dollar or two, as can a thrifted tablecloth or pitcher.
Make the Dining Room Table a Clear Area
Awhile back, my husband confided in me that it really bothered him the way I’d leave my things piled on the dining room table. He was right. Who wants to see someone else’s projects laid out all over the place when the person isn’t currently working on them? So I made a conscious effort to keep the dining room table clear. At the same time I started making it pretty by placing a little centerpiece in the middle. I found that assembling these little table vignettes pleases me immensely. I also found that taking a moment or two to put together a little centerpiece is a way to engage in a bit of creativity, even while family life is going on all around me. I love a creative project that takes just a few minutes and that doesn’t require a large block of time or having to be alone in my studio.
Get More Into Cleaning
I don’t like cleaning. I work full time, my youngest children still need a lot of attention and interaction, and I’m tired at the end of the day. So usually, although we do pretty well keeping the house picked up, deep cleaning falls by the wayside. Nonetheless, when I do take the time to really clean an area I find it tremendously uplifting. Given my busy schedule at this stage in my life, I know I’m not going to transform into a clean freak anytime soon, but I’m open to growth in this area. Lately I’ve been loving the Flylady system for cleaning. I’m still just learning to use the system, but I’m finding her message very powerful—that through a combination of building routines, dropping our perfectionism, and changing our attitudes, even if we are not born organized we can have clean homes too. (By the way, I learned Flylady’s system by reading her book rather than using the website).
I like to sew, and I have found making things for the home and table to be hugely satisfying. Every time I have made a throw pillow, a simple lap quilt, or some linens for the table it has given the home a tremendous lift. When I made curtains for the dining room I couldn’t believe how much more positive I felt about our home. Making things gives me an opportunity to create a home that is unique and personal. I’m finding that is where true warmth comes from.
Generate Good Feelings
I realize that the more positive things are going on between and amongst the people in my home, the more warmth and positive energy flows all over the place—from person to person and out toward the community. I’m lucky to be surrounded by my wonderful family. Playing games, listening to music, following our evening routine, reading together, eating dinner together, setting the table in a pretty way, all these things make the home more homey and pleasant. Recently I made a little music corner in the kitchen and it is so fun to have the children in there with me while I’m cooking, listening to music and requesting tunes.
Bring in Nature
Sometimes I complain about the lack of seasons in Southern California (in truth we do have four seasons—they’re just subtle) but one nice thing about the continued warmth late into the fall is that we will have cutting flowers through the end of November. Even if you don’t have flowers, though, do bring in some natural items as seasonal decorations—pinecones, acorns, evergreen sprigs, fruit, rocks, shells, or whatever you find in your area. It is free and there is something so grounding about gazing upon natural items.
Keep the Nature Table Fresh
Many families have a little corner shelf or table area devoted to the seasons. Creating a nature table was one of the first things I did when trying to make our house more homey and personal. I loved it then and still love the nature table so much. It’s an area where the children can display their nature treasures as well. I like to keep the children involved, and when the nature table needs a little freshening up they love to wipe it down with natural cleaner and rotate the seasonal items in and out again.
Rearranging the furniture can be very fun and uplifting. We have limited arrangements that work in our main room, but I find that rearranging smaller elements in the room keeps things fresh as well. So I frequently try to change out the children’s art on display and rotate displays on the mantle. Seasonal things can be set out for a month or two and then put away. My children are always so excited to see the seasonal decorations come out every fall. The fact that they’re not out all the time is what keeps it special.
I do believe that we can make a home for ourselves just about anywhere. I am happy to say I’ve grown so much in this area over the last few years, even on a very limited decorating budget. Someday, will we be able to afford some upgrades? I do think and hope so. But for now I’m very happy.
Mary Beth Umholtz lives and works in Southern California and is mother to both teens and little ones. She blogs at salt and chocolate.