How to make an impersonal rental house feel more like “home”

 This summer and fall found us on the road again (shocker, I know).

We got home from our three months in Europe on April 15th, just in time to run a couple business events, and you know, have a baby. Our fifth baby, Oliver Ryan Wright Langford, was born on June 18th. He is just a total doll and the whole family is smitten. 

Right on the heels of his birth, Ryan and Oliver and I travelled to Nashville, TN for a mastermind event. Shortly after returning, we realized that over the course of about 9 weeks between August and October, either one of us or our entire family had to be back in the Nashville area three separate times. It would also mean a week of solo parenting for each of us (while the other travelled), which is always hard, both being apart and just holding down the fort by ourselves. 

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Leaving home to head out on the road in August, way too early in the morning.

So we did what any semi-nomadic, entrepreneurial, homeschooling family would do… we up and temporarily moved to Nashville.

We set out on August 15th, bright and early, and drove the 30+ hours from Vancouver, Canada to our friend’s home in Indiana in a record 2 1/2 days.

We only stopped for 6-7 hours at night to grab a short sleep, get breakfast and coffee and head back on the road. We packed our van full of snack food and water, took turns driving and napping, and took the shortest pit stops possible, just enough time to nurse the baby, take the kids to the bathroom, and do a few jumping jacks. 

On August 20th, we drove the last 5 1/2 hours down to Nashville and Ryan dropped me off at a weekend blogging retreat with some good friends, then went and met our temporary landlord to get into our rental house. 

Our small rental row-home from the back.

This is the back of the small row home we rented on Airbnb

When I re-joined the family a few days later and finally got into our “home” away from home, I mildly panicked.

The house wasn’t bad. Not really. But it didn’t feel like a home, either.

The kitchen had only the very barest of basics. The house was sparsely furnished, without even a dining room table (only four non-child-friendly stools at a counter). There were only two small dressers in the whole house, not many hangers, no hall closet for coats or six people’s shoes, no laundry hampers or baskets, and practically bare walls. It was echoey and loud, with no private yard for the kids to play in (only a small shared green space and some sidewalks), and the kids were already going stir crazy. 

In short, it looked and felt like a temporary, sterile rental, not like a place that would be enjoyable to live in for nearly two months. 

We weren’t prepared to fork out a bunch of money to fix up a place that was only short term. On the other hand, we knew from experience that some things make a big difference when it comes to nomadic life feeling doable. 

For us, there are a few key things that really make the difference in a rental home:

  1. Having sufficient kitchen tools and food supplies to make decent homemade meals.
  2. Being able to put away our stuff and maintain some semblance of order and organization.
  3. Making sure our kids have a bit of their own space and ways to have fun and occupy themselves.
The kids painting birthday pictures for Daddy on the borrowed table.

The kids painting birthday pictures for Daddy on the borrowed table.

That said, here are the specific things we did within our first week or two, to make our house as much of a home as possible: 

  • Stocked up the kitchen with extra pantry and freezer supplies. Two months is long enough that having a bit more stock in the house makes cooking much less stressful
  • Borrowed a folding table and chairs from local friends, then bought a cheap but pretty tablecloth from Target to make it feel more homey. 
  • Bought flowers almost weekly. Just something cheap, like a small bunch of tulips, but it definitely added a cheery look to the house.
  • Went to a thrift store and bought a basket for the kitchen/dining room counter (to store odds and ends, important papers, etc. since we had nowhere to put things like this), plus two large basket-like containers to use as hampers in each of the kid’s rooms. 
  • Also at the thrift store, bought a few bags of small stuffed animal toys (a favorite of our kids – they love playing make believe with small stuffies), a tub of plastic army men for our boys, a tangram puzzle, and a few other cheap toys that would entertain them simply because they were new and different. 
  • Got creative with finding solutions for storage. We turned cloth shopping bags into “toy bags” (since the kids had no shelving or bins for toys), turned the boiler room into storage for homeschool books and extra shoes, used the master bedroom closet as bedroom for the baby’s playpen, his clothes, and also for storing our work-related gear, etc.
  • Let our kids earn extra money to put towards special things like lego, new dolls, or fun outside toys (skateboards and scooters are the rage with our kids at the moment, and in this house, a safe sidewalk to ride on was something they actually had).
  • Since there was no hair drier and I really prefer using one (and was now kicking myself for not bringing my own), I bought one for $1.99 during my thrift store outing.
  • Bought roller skates and a scooter, one as a birthday gift and one for the kids to all share and bring back home with them. They were things we’d wanted to get them for a while, but we bought them now in particular because we knew it would give our kids a better way to enjoy the small outdoor space that they had, especially since we didn’t have room to bring things like bikes with us. 
  • Bought a few practical things for the kitchen – plastic cups and bowls (because our kids were breaking the incredibly cheap glasses that came with the house and we didn’t want to stress out every time they had a drink of water), a mixing bowl, cookie sheet, casserole dish, grater, measuring spoons, etc. 
  • Bought an inexpensive set of drawers (really, like $10) for our daughter’s bedroom which had no dresser and clothes were continually spilling out all over the place. 
  • We also brought our blender and french press from home, along with a few spices and pantry basics, so that we could easily make things we adore, like smoothies. And coffee. Because I’m a self-proclaimed coffee snob and no drip machine was going to cut it for two months. 
  • Bought a large pack of plain computer paper. We do this pretty well every time we’re somewhere for a month or more. Our kids are drawing fiends and having blank paper so they can freely create is huge for them. Plus, we end up with plenty of kid art we can use as decor!

All together, I think I spent about $35 at the thrift store, another $20 at Target (set of drawers/tablecloth), and $25 on the extra kitchen items. That was $80 well spent to help make our family more comfortable and our home more functional for two months. 

For just one or two week stays, we wouldn’t normally buy things or go to such lengths. We just make do.

But when you want to actually set up shop and temporarily live in another place, these sorts of small and inexpensive things really help us to function more comfortably in our new setting, wherever it may be. 

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Testing out the rental bikes on our first walk around our new neighborhood.

Two other recommendations to help you feel more at home: 

  1. Start driving places without GPS as soon as possible. In our experience, the faster we stop depending on GPS and learn to navigate our way around town, especially our local area, the better. It helps us to feel more grounded and engaged, less like outsiders, and there’s something to be said for that. 
  2. Within your first week, walk around your immediate neighborhood as much as you can. You’ll get a far better feel for it on foot than by car. It can also help you to find gems you would have missed otherwise, like a sweet coffee shop just a few blocks away, or a playground that you wouldn’t have noticed driving by. 

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Four days ago, our family completed the looong, 70+ hour trek back up over to Ontario and to visit our country’s capital city, Ottawa, and then all the way back across our gorgeous country to the Vancouver area, where we crawled, exhausted but happy, into our own beds.

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” Lin Yutang

How do you make yourself at home in a temporary location?

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