I sure didn’t think we’d be in our current apartment for three years, but here we are.
When I did the initial walk-through, a form in-hand to note all the problems that existed before our arrival, I found a lot of flaws. (Really, not a great way to get acquainted with a new home.) Still, it had its perks: it was across from a park, it had a good-sized pantry, and some of the flooring had recently been replaced. And besides, we didn’t know how long we’d be here—we could move to a new apartment once we got to know the area better, if we wanted to stick around that long. This was temporary, I thought.
That temporary mindset has heavily influenced the way I’ve approached our time here. We found a church, made new friends, and explored the area, but ultimately determined this wasn’t going to be where we’ll settle in for the long haul. I’ve had the moving bug for quite some time now. And I’ve been so focused on that desire that, in some ways, I haven’t fully been dwelling here.
Every time I re-organize a closet or declutter a drawer, the thought lurks in the back of my mind: “Having things this organized now will make them easier to pack up and move later!” I also let certain spots turn to chaos with a similar sentiment: “If we’re going to be moving soon anyway, what’s the point in tidying it up?”
Then the pandemic arrived, and it changed my perspective. In light of stay-at-home orders, looking around our home suddenly felt like looking at a map with a star marked, “You are here.” “This is where we are,” I thought. “And I need to live like it.”
I looked around and saw things we’d been putting off because “we might be moving soon”—little things, like replacing our folding chairs with regular dining chairs, and getting a computer desk instead of using an old table that was both cramped and unsightly. Knowing we’d be spending a lot more time at home, and not knowing how long the pandemic would keep us here, we made some of those small changes. I even planted flowers in pots and arranged them outside our front door, adding a couple chairs to the mix to create a little seating area that has become my favorite spot. Doing so was an act of acceptance that this is where we are, and that the temporary is just as deserving as the permanent of settling into and living well.
There’s a poem by A.E. Stallings that beautifully captures the nature of the temporary. In “After a Greek Proverb,” Stallings writes:
We’re here for the time being, I answer to the query—
Just for a couple of years, we said, a dozen years back.
Nothing is more permanent than the temporary.
We dine sitting on folding chairs—they were cheap but cheery.
We’ve taped the broken window pane. tv’s still out of whack.
We’re here for the time being, I answer to the query.
The poem goes on to talk about how “there are always boxes that you never do unpack,” and about “eating off the ordinary” after leaving the finer dishes behind for fear of them breaking.
The poem illustrates the idea that temporary things have a way of slipping into permanence, or at least semi-permanence. But it also brings another idea into focus: change will always be part of our lives in some capacity, and in that sense, everything is temporary.
Another way to think about this principle is to consider what the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus is widely quoted as saying, something along the lines of “nothing endures but change.”
If we wait for permanence in order to really settle in and create a space worth enjoying, we’ll miss out on fully appreciating and experiencing the place where we are.
Of course, there are times when it’s prudent to simply make do with what we have—for instance, hanging on to an old piece of furniture just a little bit longer while we save up for the one to replace it. It also makes sense to wait when a big life change, like a marriage or a move, is imminent (not just hoped for). There are also times when we might choose to delay purchases or updates to our space for other reasons. For example, one Verily reader shared that although she’s not a big fan of her family’s couches, they work well for raising toddlers. When the kids are older, they’ll upgrade to something she likes better. (Though it’s also worth noting that there are plenty of kid-friendly furniture options that are attractive, if the time is right for you.)
As with so many things in life, there’s a balance to be struck: embracing the temporary doesn’t mean we have to go all-out on everything. We find the middle ground when we neither let the fact that a home is temporary rob us of enjoying it, nor abandon patience and good sense in embracing the present moment.
Creating a home you enjoy being in, even if it’s a temporary one, doesn’t require spending lots of time, money, or energy. Here are some ways to make improvements to your space so you can feel like it’s truly yours, however long or briefly you are there.
01. Rethink your color scheme
Color plays a tremendous role in the feeling of a room. As Verily Home designer Shelagh Bolger explains, “When you walk into a space, your brain first processes color, not necessarily the textures, shapes, and sizes of things. The bedroom should be soothing, the kitchen energizing, the office productive, living room communal, and so on.”
It’s not just a matter of which colors we like, but how those colors affect us. For instance, while blues and greens are calming, red is invigorating, so you’ll get a very different feeling in a living room splashed with red than one that’s bathed in blue.
When looking around your home, take note of the colors. I noticed a huge difference in the way I felt in our bedroom when I switched our red bedspread for a blue one. Even small changes can make a big difference—for instance, maybe replacing your couch isn’t in the picture right now, but changing out your throw pillows, blankets, lampshades, candles, or other decor could be.
02. Find small solutions for bigger issues
We may not be able to knock out entire walls like they do in home renovation shows, but we can liven the walls up with a splash of new color or a fun design. If you’re renting, be sure to check with your landlord or leasing office before painting or doing anything that’s not easily removable. Some rentals allow paint, though it sometimes comes with the stipulation that you repaint to the original color before moving out. If you can’t paint, consider something removable, like some elegant decals or removable wallpaper. As a recent edition of Verily Home illustrates, there are plenty of options for renters and homeowners alike.
Similarly, replacing the kitchen cabinets or the bathroom vanity might not be doable, but you could replace the knobs and pulls as a weekend project for little expense. Updating that seemingly small detail can help make dated cabinets appear more modern, or make a bland bathroom look chic.
Lighting can also be a trouble spot in some homes, and lamps are an easy fix. But in addition to being utilitarian, lamps can really add a sense of style, providing a touch of boho fun, farmhouse warmth, modern flair, or whatever your particular style is. Use them to solve your lighting woes and to bring your unique taste to your home.
03. Beautify your practical spaces
Practical spaces, like laundry rooms, mudrooms, and pantries, don’t often get the attention they deserve. But just because a space is useful, doesn’t mean it can’t be pretty, too. Designer Joanna Gaines explains this in detail in her book Homebody. She writes, “If we were to consider the time that we spend doing these household tasks on any given day and over the course of a month or a year or a lifetime, we would see how the role of these rooms in those tasks is actually pretty important.”
It is precisely because these spaces are so hard-working that a touch of beauty makes our time in them more pleasant. The changes don’t have to be big to be effective. As Gaines writes, “It’s usually the smaller details and that extra bit of effort to make it unique to you that allows any room to feel like a place you never want to leave.”
When you look at the practical spaces in your home, think about ways you might add a touch of beauty or personality—hang up a piece of art or a framed quote, add some greenery, or repurpose a sentimental item so it can be displayed. This could also be a spot where wall decals could come in handy.
04. Settle in with plants
When I finished arranging the flower pots outside my door, I immediately felt more at home. Those five little pots of flowers and herbs helped me feel settled in a way I hadn’t before.
That’s part of the magic of plants. “Houseplants are also one of the best ways to turn a house into a home,” writes Verily’s Fay Schaeffer. “They’re beautiful, they add visual interest, and they show your commitment to your house and your housemates. I think this is partly because they’re alive, and so they’re signs of your life, here, in this place."
But this desire for plants runs even deeper; it’s part of being human. As Verily Home’s Kelsey Chun explains:
As humans we innately crave a connection to nature—flowers, plants, water, light, and natural elements like wood—and this desire is known as “biophilia." Biophilia is so important to our well-being that office design companies have even tapped into it, recognizing that natural elements improve our productivity, happiness, stress levels, learning, and healing. With such benefits, including flowers or plants into your home design is a no-brainer; it is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also beneficial to your well-being.
Plants can be incorporated outside, in the form of a little porch or patio garden, or even indoors—one Verily reader shared how her indoor herb garden has special meaning for her. Or, it may be even simpler, through keeping a fresh bouquet on the kitchen table, or even getting some faux plants to keep around.
As for our apartment, there are still moments when I need to take a deep breath and remind myself, “This is only temporary.” But I’ve started making more choices based on where we are, instead of where I hoped we’d be by now, and it has brought a new sense of peace. It took three years, but I have learned to settle in—even though it’s temporary.