Curating an Expat Home

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My nuclear family–mother and father who have been divorced for many years, and four adult siblings–live in four states and two countries. We are scattered from east coast to west coast, and across the Atlantic to the UAE and Turkey. We gather together once every five years for Christmas, and try to see one another here and there based on work and holidays. I expect we each have a different feeling or belief about where home is, or what home means.

I am in my fourth year of living as an expat abroad. I have no plans or intentions to move home to the U.S.–now or perhaps maybe never. When the topic of “home” was presented as our theme for the month, I spent time reflecting and thinking about what home means/is to me. While I recognize that IF I were to move home to the U.S. I know where I’d go (Colorado, where I last lived), I came to understand that I create home for myself, wherever I am in the world.

I do like to feel at home in the space in which I live. It is where I lay my head to rest, where I eat many meals, where I entertain friends, and where I host family if they visit. I feel my home is a reflection of me, while also creating a safe space for me to become. These are the specific things that I do to curate a home abroad:

  1. Adorn spaces with wall art and curios.
    I don’t own a lot of art. I pride myself on living life as a minimalist of sorts; however, I have eight pieces of framed art currently on my walls, as well as an assortment of pictures and curios carefully placed on shelves in my apartment. I have a silkscreen print I made as a senior in high school as well as the “tree in four seasons” painting which I created during a “Pinot & Paint Event” to celebrate my 40th birthday. Some of my art was gifted to me. The anime drawing was made by my former stepson. The embroidery floral piece by my former mother-in-law. Looking at these still bring me joy!
  2. Populate shelves and spaces with books.
    As an educator and bibliophile, I must have my books! Before moving abroad initially I completed a “deep weed” of my collection. I gifted some to friends and colleagues, and took some to Goodwill. I winnowed my collection down to 100 books or so. These are the essentials, IMHO. Some are reference books (teaching), some are favorites that I reread periodically (Jane Eyre), some are treasured gifts, and others are simply part of who I perceive myself to be or aspire to be (The Four Agreements). Looking at these books on shelves or tables in my apartment make me feel at home, at peace. They provide comfort, joy, and inspiration! And of course, as an expat we are, each of us, a mobile lending library.
  3. Cook comfort foods.
    I love to eat the local foods of my host countries; but nothing beats a rainy Sunday morning served up with warm French toast and homemade maple syrup to take me back to my childhood. Or hosting an Autumnal chili night, complete with shredded cheddar and sour cream. And on days when I don’t feel like firing up the stove, I like to make a simple sandwich with Hellman’s mayonnaise, crispy iceberg lettuce, turkey, and cheese, and some Ruffles potato chips. These are all foods that take me back to childhood, youth, or young adulthood and in and of themselves make me feel at home. Also–it’s important to keep or have the tools you prefer for cooking. Example: I waited a year to purchase a slow cooker from a departing teacher when I was in Mongolia; you can bet I shipped it here to Turkey!
  4. Listen to favorite music.
    While I don’t need a VPN in my current country, I choose to have one because it gives me access to Pandora Music Service. I listened to this in the U.S. and continue to listen. I have many stations, some shared with me by friends, and many created for various tasks or moods (cleaning house, dinner party, journaling time, etc). I do not subscribe to Pandora, instead choosing to enjoy their free version. This means I am periodically subjected to commercials that reflect events or sales from the city where I last lived in the U.S. (Colorado Springs) and there is something lovely and nostalgic about hearing about places and events that I used to know.
  5. Create a (writing) space.
    The last thing I must have is a space in which to write. I began keeping a journal at the age of 11. It’s a big part of who I am and keeps me sane and healthy. So it deserves it’s own space! As a reader, consider that hobby which feeds your passions, or inspires you, and put that word in the parentheses above. Maybe it’s a reading space or a yoga or meditation space. Dedicate a space to the activities that you value.

Home means different things to different people. While many individuals dream of owning property with a white picket fence or an apartment in a city’s center to call their own, I know this is not for me. I have been there and done that. Creating a home within a temporary space has become my normal and I love it! As a minimalist,  I rarely purchase things when I travel (maybe art or earrings), and instead go for experiences. And then record it in my journal!!  Yes, I have THINGS and I do pay to ship them from one location to another. But that is because when they come out of those boxes, I am at home.

What makes you feel at home in a space?

Heather Caveney
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