How to make a house a home
July 5, 2016 11:54 PM   Subscribe

We are going to be moving into a new house, and while the house is still empty and pregnant with possibility before we move all our stuff in, I was wondering if anyone had any advice for minor improvements they've done to a house that really made it feel homey or comfortable, particularly things that might be more inconvenient to do once we've moved in. We especially want to do better with organization because things are cluttered in our current house and it always feels chaotic. Links to pictures or websites would also be great!
posted by massofintuition to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
When moving into my current house, I had an electrician put in extra electrical outlets in a few rooms, install an ethernet jack in the living room, and move an weirdly-located light switch in another room. It only took him a few hours, and it was definitely worth it (especially the extra outlets).
posted by neushoorn at 12:50 AM on July 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

New paint. To me, one of the best things about owning a house is the ability to have some color on the walls instead of Cheap To Repaint White.
posted by Beti at 1:12 AM on July 6, 2016 [10 favorites]

Experts will tell you not to do what I'm about to suggest. PAINT! It's one of the easiest and cheapest ways to take a place from weirdy newness to "yay, mine!"

Would also suggest refinishing or redoing kitchen cabinets if that needs to be done. Having a kitchen be undone while living in a place is a nightmare.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 1:15 AM on July 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Getting your own pictures and photographs up always helps a place feel more settled, ime. For organisation: if it is up your alley, IKEA tends to be filled with solutions for storage problems I did not know I had, but usually enjoy rectifying.
posted by jojobobo at 1:44 AM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Does it smell of empty house, or its old occupants? If so, take incense sticks with you whenever you go to do cleaning/painting etc, and burn some nice smells into the rooms!
posted by greenish at 2:14 AM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Go through and wipe down walls, the tops of the door frames, and all the floorboards. Clean light fixtures. It's amazing how much nicer things are when you aren't breathing in the previous owner's skin cells.

Rip up any remaining carpet and put down floors.

Paint every room. Choosing your own colors (be bold, be brave) is the best way to make it your own, and doing this while the house is empty is so much easier than when it is full. Do it before you rip up the carpets so that you can spill with abandonment.

Choose one area or room as storage. As you move in, anything that you are unsure about goes into that space. Unpack and organize everything else. After a week, start throwing away one box at a time, while watching an episode of Hoarders. Actually, start watching Hoarders now while packing. It helps if you have the children watch with you.

Take time away from unpacking to cook all of your favorite meals.

Unpack and set up your living room first. During all the chaos of moving, the sooner you have one space completely set up the better. It can be overwhelming to need to sit down and take a rest and not have a single place to do so without seeing a million things to do. Just having one room exactly as it should be can recharge you enough to want to tackle all the other rooms. Set up the kitchen second, and then the bedrooms.
posted by myselfasme at 3:13 AM on July 6, 2016 [15 favorites]

I like to take the opportunity to organize and edit down my books. Obviously this doesn't apply if you aren't in a 200+ books per person household like me, but if any of you collect anything, the same principle applies.

To properly cull your books you have to be merciless. Will you absolutely read or refer to this book again? Keep. Have you had this book for more than a year and yet it remains unread? Sell. Does this cookbook contain more than five recipes you make multiple times a year? If it's only a few, copy them down and keep a folder and sell the cookbook.

Also, establish specific bookshelves per person. As books are like a gas and will expand to fill the space given, you must limit said space. So when you're planning your home's furniture layout, make sure everyone's bookshelves are in appropriate places. Yes, bedrooms and offices of course, but you might have a workspace in a garage that needs a shelf for manuals and instructional books, or have a collection of cookbooks that would best live in the kitchen, or one of you prefers to read in the living room so you can put their books both there and in their bedroom depending on available space.

Think it through and estimate how much shelf space you need when you pack the books up in the first place. Pack your books vertically, and don't cram them in - one or two side by side rows of books per box. Then measure the length of a box, double that if most of them have two rows of books inside, and multiply by the number of boxes you have. Boom, now you know how many feet of bookshelf space you absolutely need. For good measure add a fourth or third again as much so there is room to grow.
posted by Mizu at 4:02 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Painting was indeed way easier before the furniture was in the house. We went with bold colors and painted all 3bedrooms and the living room the weekend before the move. $150 to put our stamp on the house. It was great!
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:05 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Rugs and carpet are easier when the house is empty.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:45 AM on July 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

I recently moved. I feel your pain.

- Paint obviously, is the thing to do. It is much easier to paint a room before it is full of furniture and whatnot.
- I find adding in some plants does a tremendous amount towards making a space feel more homey and comfortable. It isn't going to help with the chaos, but it will help with the "home" feeling.
- I'm a big fan of replacing/updating a few light fixtures in a new house. Can make an enormous difference, not just because of the updated look of the fixture, but also the potential change and improvement of the lighting in that room.
- If you can designate one (or two) room(s) as "the box room" where you store most/all of the to-be-unpacked boxes (grouped together according to the box contents' future home), it can allow you to start having "finished" rooms more quickly. It at least will feel less chaotic.
- the single best thing you can do to help with the organization/clutter problem is to simply have less stuff. The problem almost definitely isn't your organization, it is the amount of stuff you have. You can have every organizational technique set up in your house but it won't matter if you simply have too much stuff. Cull harder and more aggressively. Sell, donate, give away, or throw out anything you don't need.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:00 AM on July 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

myselfasme: excellent advice about watching hoarders while packing!

Besides painting, I like to change light switch and outlet covers. I collect unusual ones so I've already got them. But you can paint them, use wallpaper, collage etc, or plenty of artists sell them on places like etsy.

I also like to change light fixtures. If you don't want to get new ones and rewire many light fixtures take standard size globes and shades which you can replace with new ones for a different look. I find them in thrift stores a lot and if you have a Habitat for Humanity re-store in your area you can easily find a lot of them.

It's fun to put new contact paper/drawer liner/shelf liner in drawers and cabinets.

New curtains/window coverings are a good way to change things. I buy these at thrift stores a lot.

Good luck in your new home.
posted by Melsky at 5:17 AM on July 6, 2016

Hire someone to come in and do a thorough cleaning of the empty space. Even clean people leave a tremendous amount of their own dirt and grime behind. Include the garage space, wiping down the inside and outside of all the bathroom, kitchen and other cabinets and drawers, fridge if they left it, baseboards, windows inside and out, light fixtures, professional carpet cleaning if you aren't changing carpet, etc. You'll have so much on your plate, adding cleaning someone else's hair out of the drains and bathroom drawers to your list is a bummer.
posted by cecic at 5:24 AM on July 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

New toilet seats. Measure to make sure you get the right size/shape.

New shower curtain(s) if you have that style of shower.

Brand new drip trays if your stove uses them. Get the enamel-coated kind, not the metal, for easy future cleaning.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:03 AM on July 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Paint the insides of the closets! Because they'll never be empty again.
posted by orange (sherbet) rabbit at 6:26 AM on July 6, 2016 [9 favorites]

This is all such great advice. We are moving next month and have moved before and I second just about everything mentioned here. Changing the switchplates is kind of genius. Anything that "makes it your own" is going to give you good feels. I'll share what I plan on doing today right away:
-painting the walls
-changing the light fixtures (this is so important!!) and replacing whatever bulbs are in the light fixtures to whatever is your preference - this will make a seriously great difference
-putting out our coffee mugs ;)
-replacing the faucets in the powder room to something I like better
-replacing the mirrors in the bathrooms to mirrors I've refurbished (painted the frames of, resilvered, etc)
-replace the address sign with one we've made already (from scallop shells and rope and driftwood cuz....beach house)
posted by the webmistress at 6:34 AM on July 6, 2016

Yes, definitely on all of the suggestions here that have anything to do with swapping out fixtures, faucets, outlet covers, drawer pulls, cabinet liners, oven drip pans, burner drip pans, curtain rods and blinds, door knobs, hooks and hanging things, and whatever other little hardware features you think you might need. This is all way easier before your stuff arrives, and it can really go a long way towards making your house feel customized to you.

And nthing gregr: Why move stuff you don't even want in the first place? If you have a chance, take this opportunity to ditch everything that you either don't love or doesn't serve any vital purpose. Now your new space is snazzy and customized AND contains only things that you love. You can fill in the space with more carefully chosen things as you find them.

Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:06 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

[Ignore if closets are already nice.] If the closets have those uber cheap angle bracket shelves, it's really easy and affordable to move up to a track system like the Rubbermaid one, and it adds a lot of space and flexibility!
posted by ftm at 9:34 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I suggest starting with storage, not furniture or kitchen. Start by establishing an appropriate number of storage places with clearly thought-out purposes, and label them. Then put things that go in storage on them (Xmas ornaments, light bulbs, wrapping paper, camping gear, the box fan you only pull out once in a while, things like that).

Then move in everything else to where it goes.

Lots of stuff will be left. This is what you'll likely discard.

If you start by moving in the nice, feel-good stuff (living room, kitchen) you'll run out of steam before you get to the random stuff that ends up in storage, and you'll have a massive junk room. For life. If you start with the storage room things, you'll still have the energy to move in the living room and kitchen because you'll really want those things. And you'll have an easy system for paring down all the other stuff.

All the other advice above about paint, electrical changes, etc. is entirely awesome too.
posted by Capri at 11:28 AM on July 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

New curtains and paint always set the tone for a room and will make everything feel WAY more cozy. For the main rooms you will be spending the most time in (living room, bedroom for me) pick the largest window or balcony door and install a nice hefty curtain rod, and get some curtain panels that make a statement. If it's a bedroom, consider panels that have a blackout fabric on the window-facing side, you will really appreciate this the first few nights sleeping in there. Build the rest of the room's decor and decorate any other smaller windows around this style.

I buy a lot of wall prints from sites like Society6 and Factory43. Both have affordable, fun, unique prints that you can pop into some inexpensive frames and scatter throughout the house.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:46 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

- If you can designate one (or two) room(s) as "the box room" where you store most/all of the to-be-unpacked boxes (grouped together according to the box contents' future home), it can allow you to start having "finished" rooms more quickly. It at least will feel less chaotic.

And this:
As you move in, anything that you are unsure about goes into that space. Unpack and organize everything else. After a week, start throwing away one box at a time, while watching an episode of Hoarders. Actually, start watching Hoarders now while packing. It helps if you have the children watch with you.

We just moved into a rental, so we can't go crazy with the outlets or anything, but I notice that once we set up the kitchen, the throw rug and (new) throw pillows in the living room, it all seemed to come together.

Re: the chaos of too much stuff, what helped us the most honestly was... dumping/donating it. Be ruthless while you still can! We went through a round of intense dumping/donating before we moved, and again a second time as we unpacked. It's really liberating. I haven't unpacked a few boxes, not that we have much stuff anyway, but what I haven't opened I honestly don't miss.

Moving is a great chance to re-assess your stuff and leave behind what you don't need. Nothing makes a home more "homey" than owning only what you truly need and really treasure.
posted by onecircleaday at 11:54 AM on July 6, 2016

Floors. Even paint can be done later, although it's much better to do before. But floors are something that takes a mighty effort to do later.
posted by bongo_x at 11:57 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you only have 1-1.5 bathrooms, redo whatever you might want to do in the bathroom now. You can live without a kitchen, but bathrooms are a necessity.

Paint, then floors (in case of paint droplets on the old floor).

Also, planning out where things go with graph paper so you can play with the possibilities and control the chaos before the heavy stuff comes in is a good way to take advantage of your move when you do it and start to picture what living in it might be.
posted by Gucky at 1:06 PM on July 6, 2016

Paint the garage while it's empty. Then put up as much pegboard as possible. You can thank me later.
posted by qsysopr at 4:42 PM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

PS, I wish I had epoxied my garage floor for easy cleaning before I moved in. Now the prospect of moving everything out to do it is far too horrendous to contemplate.
posted by cecic at 6:13 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have someone come and clean the duct work if it wasn't done prior to purchase. Make sure it's a company that uses a wire brush and not just compressed air or vacuum. This stirs up a lot of crud that you don't want to breathe, so do it before you move in (and every 4-5 years afterwards, too)

Electrical (high or low voltage): Want a different outlet anywhere? Want to change out lights? Want to do something as simple as replace the type of outlets or switches? Much easier to do when flipping off the power doesn't also shut down your computer, fridge, TV, stove, etc. in the process. Want to add a wall mount for a flat screen? Ethernet or cable - need connections someplace else? Do it now, while there's less to move out of the way, and when cleaning up drywall dust isn't an issue. And yes, please, if you're adding low voltage outlets like cable or ethernet, do it the right way with a floating junction box and faceplate rather than just a hole punched in the drywall (which the cable installer will DEFINITELY do, so save some time and do it right before the installer comes).

Any carpet you want to pull? If there's decent wood flooring underneath easily removable carpet, and you'd like it to be exposed rather than covered up, much simpler and less disruptive to have it lightly sanded and refinished before you move your furniture in. All my living room furniture is jammed into bedrooms right now thanks to this.

And yes, paint! Have fun picking colors. Cheap Flat White or Institutional Beige are all the rage when showcasing a home for sale, but damn does it get boring after you've moved in - it's MUCH easier to paint when you have nothing to move or cover up during the process.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:43 PM on July 7, 2016

« Older San Diego relaxing beachy vacation   |   Baristas etc. who must remember multiple orders... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.