June 9, 2016 3:38 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving into a new apartment and about to start graduate studies, after many (many) moves. How can I cultivate a sense of stability and warmth in my new home? How do I "nest" in a more meaningful, emotional sense?

Help! I have moved 23 times in the last 26 years, and somewhere along the way I got really bad at truly, actually believing I'm going to stay somewhere for any length of time (a belief that my actions and life have reinforced). I moved back to the Midwest to come a little early before grad school, and despite a few rounds of existential crisis, I believe I'm really doing it. Plus, I'm having significant surgery in December, and I know that I need to feel really grounded and connected to where I'm living (not necessarily forever, but for the next two years) in order to feel comfortable with the recovery process.

My question is: how do I really cultivate a sense of home as a sanctuary, and as consistent and grounded and reliable? I know some of the things that definitely don't help: I can be messy in my living spaces and that just reinforces a sense that things are temporary. I also can get into the habit where every other night (or more) I'm spending hours ruminating about my life choices, so my overanxious and rumination-filled brain cycles are a factor.

I was visiting an old friend recently and struck by many of the ways he has cultivated a sense of home. When working at home, S. lit incense, which felt like a nice touch. He also had adopted a sweet asthmatic kitty -- I plan to adopt a cat in the next few weeks after settling into my apartment, actually. Having a little creature to care for should help. I would also love to try some low-key gardening (I'm in a one-bedroom on the second floor so something that is happy in a window?) I've also been getting more into bird watching and feeling fulfilled by learning more about the types of birds that hang out in Ann Arbor, and just bought myself a pair of binoculars, so there's that too!

Also, I've been getting back into video games more recently and bought a used PS3. I've been trying to think about mindful ways I can not just like, escape into games, but cultivate a sense of "this is game time, yay game time!" and maybe build a little ritual out of it.

I'm definitely trying to cultivate more hacks for grounded home life -- anything that comes to mind would be lovely! -- but also feeling rooted in the community. I tend to go through boom-bust cycles with volunteering and community involvement, and think I might be a good candidate for like, a very gradual regimen of one new group or event per month. I don't know, I know I need to put myself out there to meet people and experience the new place, but I'm just so bone-deep weary (I haven't lived in a place longer than a year since 2007!) and I just want to, I don't know, chill, and feel grounded and safe and good.

I think on a deeper level than the specific ideas and strategies, I'm seeking a way to really believe that, yes, I'm safe, things are consistent and reliable, and I don't have to worry about kind of thinking my way out of peril. It's been a lifelong struggle since childhood to feel that way, and it's been getting better, but I want to start things off here on a good note! Less panic and existential dread, more happy mornings with coffee and birds, as I also do the academic and other work to build towards my life and future family/financial/personal goals.

Thank you!
posted by elephantsvanish to Human Relations (18 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Congratulations! This is an exciting time for you, the start of a new chapter. I love some of the things you already plan to do, with keeping your things more organized/less messy, having plants in the window and learning about native birds. Personally I'd wait a while before bringing another creature on board, in favor of taking time to get to know yourself, develop your own rhythms, etc. But maybe a pet would help you do that.

I am like you in the boom-bust community volunteering involvement cycle. Maybe consider being something of a documentarian for a while. Observe, read, learn, attend events, but don't engage too much yet. Just get the lay of the land. Wait for something to pique your interest on its merits, rather than trying to help all the nonprofits because you're a good egg.

I just want to chill and feel grounded and safe and good.

Get onto pinterest and find some creative way of putting this onto a canvas or something, and put it up on a blank wall. Also this:

Less panic and existential dread,
more happy mornings with coffee and birds.

You've got this. The only thing missing from your plan is you slowing down and giving yourself time. You haven't had the chance to develop that skill yet. It's a nice one to have, and you deserve it.

Best wishes in your new home!
posted by headnsouth at 3:53 PM on June 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hi! I moved to Ann Arbor last year - welcome! This is slightly more specific, but when I got here, I was really worried about the Michigan winters, and a concept that really cheered me up and made me excited to make a home here was hygge. Loosely translated as 'coziness' - but meaning, more generally, 'taking pleasure from the pleasure of gentle, soothing things,' examples that are often cited are: candlelight, soft cozy blankets, hot chocolate, dinner with friends...basically, anything that makes your home feel like a warm, welcoming sanctuary when the outside world is dismal.

I was pretty worried about the move, and so I spent a lot of time surfing Metafilter, Amazon, Pinterest, Buzzfeed, and a bunch of other sites trying to find things I could purchase or make that would make me feel at home here. I didn't end up doing it perfectly, but a few good investments for me were: spending a significant amount of $$ on my bedding setup - including a down comforter, nice sheets, and a bunch of extra pillows; getting wall hangings from Society6 to put on my ceilings, and getting some real cozy pajamas. I am also a big believer in rituals - a cleaning ritual, a morning ritual, a bedtime ritual, etc. There are lots of good examples on Metafilter and they can really help keep you grounded at home if you (like me) have a tendency to descend into chaos when left on your own.

Congratulations on the move, and grad school, and coming to Ann Arbor! Feel free to shoot me a MeMail if you ever want to get a hot chocolate or something. :)
posted by pretentious illiterate at 4:16 PM on June 9, 2016 [9 favorites]

So I move around a lot too, and it takes me a while to make somewhere new feel like home. Don't rush it: it will come.

But a couple of things that help a lot are (a) to find a place near your house where you can be a local and get to know the people who work there. A cafe, a library, whatever. Just go there really frequently at first, until you get a little buzz from being recognised and recognising others.
(b) set up a little nook somewhere in your house and really get that cozy and pleasant. Don't worry if the rest of the place isn't unpacked or isn't perfectly decorated in your style yet. As long as one place is, you can sit there and really enjoy your space.

For me, (b) is my balcony. I repainted it, and went to Ikea and got a little sunlounger and cafe set, and a couple of big plants, and built a coffee tray that affixes to the balcony railing, and put up a string of lights, and some sun blocking fabric, and I make an effort to relax out there every morning with my coffee and read the news before I leave for work. It's nice that it's a balcony, too, because I'm looking out towards my neighbourhood and really reminding myself of the space around me and that I belong there.
posted by lollusc at 4:45 PM on June 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Improve your home. Fix something or paint something or just do something to make your mark on the infrastructure. This is a signal to yourself that this isn't just some place that someone else owns that your are temporarily inhabiting - this is a place that you care about and call your own. Paint a wall and every time you see that wall you will say to yourself this is my wall I made it this color and I did it because I like it that way and this is my home.

I know it sounds small and silly but it really works.
posted by googly at 5:15 PM on June 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

Make things. Cook, bake, take up a manageable craft. Plants are a good idea, and herbs for your cooking would be great if you have enough sun. Light candles. Splurge on a set of Mrs. Meyer's cleaning products to give your place a consistent scent and make cleaning more enjoyable.

The cooking and baking will feed your new friends. Crochet is easy to learn, fast to do, and you end up with dishcloths and throws and scarves and pillows and other cool things you can use.

I'd urge you to consider reading and doing the practice in Marie Kondo's books. I promise it wil make a difference. Konmari facilitates mindful living as well as less mess and easier cleaning -- just the ticket for a busy grad student developing a social life! Key to her method is developing a vision statement, which I think you are open to doing or you wouldn't have asked this question.
posted by jgirl at 5:37 PM on June 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

A graduate school hack that worked for me was to keep a small shelf of books that were just for me, books that spoke to me as a person--rather than as a student--old friends that I could revisit as needed. I also kept a small box of memory treasures (a few photos, bits and bobs that made me smile) and rummaged through it every once in a while to commune with earlier days. These two anchors helped.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:39 PM on June 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Plants are great! You have to take care of them, yet they don't need as much attention as an animal.
posted by actionstations at 5:48 PM on June 9, 2016

When we lived across the country from family, plants were the thing that made it feel like home. We had a sentry palm, small outdoor herb garden (patio, but I know some people do indoor ones), and an orchid (from whole foods).

If you want to start easy, I had a golden pothos that lasted from 3rd grade until a move my senior year of HS, and we just didn't want to move it (and my mom has a black thumb, she looks at indoor plants and they die). We kept it by the window and sometimes watered it (welcome to Michigan! I grew up near Flint). The orchid was tricky, I almost killed it, but it was super satisfying to bring it back from the brink. Herb garden was awesome for cocktails (I did mint and lavender), or just tossing in boiling water with orange peels as air freshener.

Is there a family recipe you can make? Or a favorite dish from one of your previous locations? I would make perogi from scratch or ghallaba when I was homesick. Now that I'm back in MI, I attempt to make Shanghai soup dumplings (I may just like to play with dough and eat noodles) or make my husband attempt recreate a favorite cocktail from Seattle. I've also tried making bitters from local produce, you have to get to know what local produce is, when it's in season, etc.
posted by ghost phoneme at 6:10 PM on June 9, 2016

Hang stuff on the wall, in frames. It makes a huge difference. You can still use those 3M removable strips, but real art (even if it's just something from bed bath & beyond) that you chose, In a frame, Transforms your place from an apartment to a home.

Additionally, I'm a big believer in nice bedding to get that comfy cozy feeling.
posted by samthemander at 6:28 PM on June 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing the idea of high-quality pajamas--or some really good slippers.

Also, a somewhat mundane suggestion: poke around Downtown Home & Garden on S. Ashley & see if anything speaks to you. (They have good kitchenwares as well as gardening stuff.) It's a lovely shop. I bought a few really solid things there during my years in Ann Arbor & it's the first place I thought of when I saw your question.
posted by miles per flower at 8:13 PM on June 9, 2016

I think your question is really about cultivating relationships. Having nice scented candles and a garden won't ground you in one place or give you a sense of stability in your life. That comes from being really connected to a community, be it close friends, family, a worship community, a tightly knit workplace, etc. The way you're describing domestic life sound very idealized. It reminds me of the friends I know who, following a similar impulse, bought a nice house in a remote community a million miles from their friends, and then promptly got depressed when they realized their friends would rarely visit them.
posted by deathpanels at 8:16 PM on June 9, 2016

Moving is expensive, and a lot of my anxiety comes when I don't think I have enough of a buffer/reserve fund. You don't mention if this was the case for you, but if it is, I'd spend some time building cash reserves in addition to decorating. It takes away the existential dread feeling.

On that note: decorating can be cheap. It is tag sale season. Find old furniture and paint it for yourself. Find a few pretty based things at the local thrift store and goodwill and put them on your table. Ditto for art at goodwill!

Throw pillows are the best for warming a space up, as are those little soaps you put in the bathroom.

Do you keep a million bottles of mostly empty shampoo? I found keeping just one or two high quality bottles instead of a million random cheap bottles made my shower a peaceful and happy place.

Your local TJ maxx/home goods will have some great stuff too.

Put fresh flowers in your place once a week. Then look around. Does the rest of the house look like it is befitting those beautiful flowers? No? Ok. Clean until the flowers have an acceptably beautiful house to show them off.
posted by slateyness at 9:03 PM on June 9, 2016

Lamps! Put lamps in your space, for cozy lighting, instead of badly-placed, ugly overhead lighting. You especially want one anywhere you like sit and read. You might also have a lamp to lend ambient lighting to your gaming session. I also like to put my lamps on timers so they come on at dark/when I get up in the morning - not so important now, in summer, but really important in the dark of winter.
posted by sarajane at 2:33 AM on June 10, 2016

I kind of agree with deathpanels, company will def. make a place feel more like home. Little things like inviting some buds for some french toast, good coffee and conversation will ensure your Sundays not sucking entirely (if youre anything like me and tend to associate them with despair and agony) or a knitting or sushi night?

Also, just roaming the neighborhood and getting to know the local coffee shops and parks and things really make it easier to settle into a place and its rhythms.

Small hacks for a home:
Aloe vera is a really easy and handy plant to have around. Throw blankets and nice rugs make everything better..and i think just investing in groovy laundry baskets and keeping your floors clear will make even a somewhat disorganized appartment seem a lot more easier to deal with psychologically. and a warm bedside light to maybe read instead of dwelling on anxious thoughts?
posted by speakeasy at 11:45 AM on June 10, 2016

Clean your new place thoroughly - you really get to know all the nooks and crannies and get familiar with your new home.
posted by momus_window at 12:36 PM on June 10, 2016

I'd urge you to consider reading and doing the practice in Marie Kondo's books.

I love her book and the inspiration I feel when I read this, so I agree in principle. However, it sounds like you might be young and have been nomadic and perhaps don't have so much clutter to deal with.

In the case where you actually are setting up a household, I would go along the lines of that William Morris quote, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

I have Treasured Objects, that I have explosions of joy over whenever I Kondo past them. Buy artwork only if you connect with it. If you have to buy a tool, buy the most beautiful version of itself you can find. That doesn't mean most expensive; I looked at $20 citrus juicers for awhile and wasn't happy until I stumbled across a $6 one at the Asian grocery. It was simple, hand squeeze, very sturdy metal enameled bright orange. I'm not ashamed to say I got a little tearful.

The good thing about this philosophy/practice is that your best shops are Etsy, garage sales, thrift stores. I'm not saying it always works; I have yet to find a room air filter that is anything but ugly plastic.

Build up your hygge (which has so much wonderful power that it can work in Southern California!) with objects that speak to you.

Plants and wonderful and cats are wonderful, but please check carefully which plants you buy. A surprising number of common houseplants can make kitty sick or dead if she eats them. (She will eat them.)

Also, I'm blathering now, but I'm so excited for you! Treasure this opportunity!
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 9:05 PM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd urge you to consider reading and doing the practice in Marie Kondo's books.

I love her book and the inspiration I feel when I read this, so I agree in principle. However, it sounds like you might be young and have been nomadic and perhaps don't have so much clutter to deal with.

Good point, but the vision-shaping is so important and great to do at a young, relatively clutter-free age!
posted by jgirl at 3:09 PM on June 11, 2016

Oh! Another local Ann Arbor tip: the Goodwill is pretty garbage, but the Salvation Army is huge. Great furniture, housewares, etc. You could stock your entire apartment with the basics you find there (I pretty much did) and save enough cash that you could invest in a few nice things - again, I recommend bedding as the place to put any extra $$ you might have.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:55 AM on June 12, 2016

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