When we started considering moving to Norway, one of my first requests was that the furniture that was in storage in Seattle be shipped to our new home. We’d been living in a partially furnished flat in Prague and while we’d brought plenty with us from Seattle, very little of it was furniture. All of L’s bedroom furniture had come with us, sure, as well as a mattress (that’s since been replaced—go figure), and a little hippopotamus footstool that I just had to have when I stumbled upon it on Houzz and that I thought would cheer me up on even the dreariest of days. But the rest of the “big stuff” was either provided by our landlords or purchased after we arrived.
As it was, I thought that we’d brought an unusually large amount of stuff. And by some measures, we had. Instagram is full of pictures of expats (sometimes even families) moving to their new homes with only the luggage that they took on the plane. If you search Pinterest for articles on how to get ready to move abroad, many of them will recommend getting rid of all your belongings—other than, perhaps, one or two (presumably small) items to remind you of home. And most of my friends’ flats in Prague were either rented furnished or furnished entirely by IKEA.
I understand the reason for the advice. If you don’t have an employer paying to ship your stuff, doing so can be quite expensive. Chances are you will be able to buy new pots and pans or whatever else you left behind. And the fact is that most of us are way too attached to our things.
But for me, this approach just didn’t work.
Maybe it’s because I’m not a twenty-something recent grad. Or maybe it’s because we’d just spent a lot of time and even more money renovating and decorating our condo so that it was just perfect. Or maybe (probably?) I’m just way too materialistic. (After all, Jess Lively is super in to décor and didn’t just graduate but she still sold her home with all the furniture before taking off on an around the world trip.) Whatever the reason, I think that not having our things brought with it such an overwhelming feeling of impermanence that Prague never really felt like home.
The problem with living some place that doesn’t feel like home is that you’ll never really feel like you fit in. Maybe you’ll get to know a few locals and even try to learn a bit of the language but only in the way that a conscientious tourist might.
As an expat—even one who doesn’t have plans to move “home” any time soon—things will always feel impermanent. Chances are that most of your friends will also be foreigners and many of them will be from your home country. Many places (including Prague) are like revolving doors with large numbers of people coming for 2-3 years before moving on to the next country (or back home), meaning that you are constantly saying goodbye. And even if you start thinking of your adopted country as home, you’ll probably feel as if you are living between two worlds, not really belonging in either place for most of your stay.
In order to counteract this feeling of impermanence, you need roots in your new country. And while friends and language can certainly help you feel more comfortable, I don’t think they’re enough. Your new country needs to become “home,” even if that’s also how you refer to your country of origin. And your dwelling is a big part of that.
If you’re lucky, you might be able to create a home with just a few small things that meant enough to pack and some candles that you picked up after you arrived. Unfortunately for us, some of our most beloved possessions were REALLY heavy. Like this amazing table that is almost solely responsible for my request:
And so it is that we decided to ship an entire storage unit full of furniture from Seattle to Oslo, in addition to what we’d already shipped to Prague. There were definitely some flaws to this plan as our basement is now full of appliances that won’t work because of the voltage. And there is a lot of stuff that I wish I’d just thrown away during my initial “decluttering.” But after six months in Oslo (I can’t believe it has already been that long!) it does feel more like home than Prague did. And our furniture has definitely played a role in that.
What are your tips for making a new-to-you house feel like home?