This summer, we moved across the country with kids. We down-sized. We went from owning to renting. We moved from a home where we spent nine years tweaking and renovating to our tastes to a rental with a one year lease. That’s a lot of changes, and I’ve quickly realized it demands a different approach to home than the one I’ve taken in the past.
If I approached our current home the way I approched our last home, I’d finally get it to feel like home about eight years after our lease is up. That’s no good for anyone. So I’m trying to change. I’m trying to deliberate less and live more. I’m trying to make decisions quickly and get outside with my kids and explore while we still have summer days left.
In this case, we’ve changed so much more than just our home that adjusting to the move means learning a new state, city, parks, and neighborhoods. There’s a lot of life to adjust to that happens outside our home, and I don’t want to miss it. But I still know myself, and I know I need my home to be pretty, peaceful, and a reflection of my family. After all the changes we’ve gone through this summer, we need our home to be a refuge where we can process it all. It needs to be a place where we can rest and host others.
Here are five easy steps to making your rental a place of refuge.
1. Pay attention to placement.
When it comes to furniture arrangement, lighting, and what’s on your walls, so much of what makes or breaks a space comes down to where you put things. How you set up your furniture influences how people live in that room. Pull furniture away from the walls if you can. Play up a room’s best feature, like a fireplace or some other focal point, and show it off. Designate some places to be conversation areas and others to be reading nooks.
Most of all, pay attention to how natural light comes into a room, where it bounces off walls and floors, and then don’t block it. Reflect it if possible. Darker, more textured surfaces absorb light; lighter, smoother items reflect it. Pay attention to traffic flow. Make it easy to to walk through a room, but also make it inviting to sit and linger in. You want it to draw you and others in, and much of this can be done with a good arrangement, good lighting, and pictures hung at eye level or lower. Bring in a few lamps and turn off your overhead light, and your house will instantly feel more homey. I like for every seat in a room to have good light for reading, a table where I can easily set a cup of coffee or glass of wine, and either an ottoman or coffee table for people to rest their feet. I also like to have baskets or trays to collect magazines and books so there is always something to pick up and read while you’re sitting.
2. Only buy pieces that will solve problems and allow your space to serve you.
If there’s a time to value function over form, it’s when you’re renting. My son and daughter are sharing a room with three doorways and no closet. We tried to keep my son’s bedroom set when we moved, but it just wasn’t serving the space like we needed it to. So we ditched his cute bed with a pull out trundle and bought bunk beds from Wal-mart. We also bought a dresser and storage furniture from Ikea and a $20 area rug from Lowes.
Here’s a picture I took the weekend we moved in with our old furniture that wasn’t meeting our needs.
This is the same corner today. It’s still in process, but the bunk beds gave us more room, the Ikea Kallax shelves (I bought two) give us toys within reach, and the rug provides a place to sit and play.
If this was a more permanent situation, I’d love to find an armoire with character and cute, vintage beds. But I was able to take measurements of the room, find pieces that fit the space and budget without driving all over town trying to Craigslist them, and I got their room set up in a weekend. Now they can easily get their clothes and toys down and back up. And the rug gives them a place to sit and play Legos and a place for me to help them get dressed after I get them out of the bath. In the first few weeks we were here, they were slipping and sliding all over the wood floor after every bath. This minimized the transition time for my kids, which lead to happier kids and an easier transition for all of us.
3. Focus on the functional.
We don’t have a lot of extra space, but I’ve discovered a few essential tools of organization that make our lives work better. In setting up our main room, I made sure to have in-boxes for everyone to catch and sort paper clutter, a shoe bin by the main door, a clutter-catcher basket for lost or left-out toys near the bottom of the stairs, and a basket for bags and purses. These things get used every day, almost every time we leave the house and come back. Dealing with shoes, bags, and paper were one of the first things I did, and it helped us transition faster. The clutter-catcher basket makes it easier for the rest of us to live with my four year old, who has a new item with her about every time she walks in a room. I also have a basket for library books, so they don’t all end up strewn all over the house. Because it’s summer, I’ve also stashed sunscreen, bags for packing a lunch, and a swimming bag with goggles near by. These things will change with the season. In the fall, it may be gloves and hats I need, and I’ll have no idea where to find swimming goggles.
Here are our in-boxes for a family of five. Keeping this near our main eating/craft/homework table allows us to clear the table easily and still put things away.
4. Make a list of things you need, and go thrifting.
I wanted a chair to sit in and read my younger kids books at night, since it was hard for us to cuddle up on the bunk beds. So I went thrifting and found one for $10 as a Salvation Army thrift store. It’s the chair in the picture of my kids’ room. It’s perfect for right now, and we’ll give it away when we’re done with it. I also had a blank wall in our upstairs hallway that needed something. It’s a rental, it’s temporary, I didn’t want to spend money on new decor for a temp space. But I also wanted a few new pieces to make our house feel more like home. Goodwill can stand in as your antique mart or flea market. Unique, old, and quirky is better than new and pre-fab. Mostly because then my house feels like a one of a kind creation and not a dentist’s waiting room. I found a collection of white plates at our local Goodwill for under $10 that became a more interesting display than the artwork I had on hand.
5. Fall in love with Command strips.
Hang what you want. Make your space your own. Don’t leave a mark. I’ve hung my collection of silver trays and my white plates with Command strips, purchased in bulk from Amazon, and I love them. I’ve hung some on textured, painted wallpaper and some of painted plastered walls. They’re perfect if you’re particular about what’s on your walls and where it’s placed, and you also need to avoid creating swiss-cheese walls making things just so.