table and chairs on a balcony

H is for Home, but what is it that makes one?

It’s not enough to lay my hat somewhere to make it a home, although it’s a start. And home isn’t always where the heart is so just what is it that transforms a place to live into a home?

Given how many times I’ve had to create one, I’ve found the formula that works for me.

Flowers at home
Flowers, my hammock from Venezuela and a heaving bookshelf make my living room very cosy indeed.

I’ve lost count of how many different homes I’ve had over the years. As a child, my family moved around the UK enough times that I haven’t got a suitable answer to the question “Where are you from?”  As an adult, I’ve lived in several different countries and am very happy to have finally established some roots and made Portugal my home.

But before ‘Juliefying’ the Portuguese house I now share with Mike and Daisy, I managed to transform even the most basic of living arrangements into a place I could call home. I remember turning a rented room with just a mattress on the floor and a set of drawers I’d found on the street into a cosy inviting place. I used sarongs as blinds and throws, stuck arty postcards on the walls and strung some fairy lights around the shelf. Nothing luxurious but the personal touches made a real difference.

One flat I rented came fully furnished, granny style. That was harder to personalise because I couldn’t change the brown floral carpets or the hideous sofa or fireplace. I did what I could with some throws, pictures and cushions but I was never really comfortable in that place.

Living room
I used curtains, scarves and African wraps to cover the rather ugly furniture in this rented apartment in Coimbra, Portugal.

I think my need to Juliefy my home intensified when I returned to the UK after backpacking for 16 months. After sharing rooms with strangers for that long and living out of a rucksack, I really needed a refuge, a place that was mine and mine alone. My nesting instinct surfaces whenever I move and I’m never truly relaxed or comfortable living somewhere until I’ve put my stamp on it. There’s more to making a home than prettying it up with pictures though. For me, a home needs to be:

A safe haven

  • Secure from intruders so I can sleep easily and also not have to worry when I leave the property unattended.
  • A space where I can shut out the rest of the world if that’s what I want to do. I decide who comes in.
  • A place which affords me the privacy and freedom to relax in my own space, to dance around naked if I feel like it.

 Familiar and comforting

  • My things are in places where I choose to put them so they’re easy to find (in theory).
  • I can arrange the furniture and my belongings for maximum convenience and comfort.
  • Decorating my home with my favourite objects makes it a unique space that reflects my personality.

What makes a place feel like home for you? Please leave a comment to let me know.

This post also forms part of My Personal A to Z of Portugal.

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26 Comments

  1. I am an expat living in Shanghai and after 3 years I call our apartment home, but really it is just filled with some of our things. I haven’t the time to make it more inviting and knowing we will not stay has made it hard to personalise it as much as I would like. Photos certainly make the difference and make it more ‘homey’. Home for us is Canada, but until we have our own place again…

    1. It is much harder to achieve the ‘home’ feeling when it’s a rental, and you know that you’re there temporarily, I agree. For me, it was really important to try and cosy up the places I was living so that I felt as settled as possible under the circumstances. Unlike you, I didn’t have anywhere else that was ‘home’ for me as I’ve never intended to live in the UK again so before I moved to Portugal, it was more of a case of making the place I laid my hat as inviting as I could.

      Now that I’ve settled in Portugal, it’s much easier. We own our house so we’ve been able to make drastic changes like renovating the kitchen and bathroom and tearing down an old barn to make a garden. Its the first time I’ve ever owned a property and I love the fact that we can pretty much do what we want with it. Getting things done, on the other hand, is frustratingly difficult at times but that’s another blog post 🙂

      1. A place that is yoyur own always makes the difference. I guess not knowing how long we would stay or where we would go next I didn’t want to buy all kinds of things that would not make the next trip. It was hard enough to get the things we needed in a suitcase. I am a teacher, so most of it was heavy books…. so to have more stuff to lug to the next place wasn’t feasible. Easier just not to do it I guess. I did bring my cat from home, couldn’t leave her behind and that certainly made our place feel more like home.

        1. Author

          I know exactly what you mean about being reluctant to accumulate stuff, especially after the shipping nightmares I’ve had. I’d be seriously tempted to sell or chuck almost everything if I had to move abroad again and couldn’t transport it all myself. I think the dog would have to come with me though 🙂

  2. Interesting as I was reading the comments on your post, I kept looking for the like button….

    1. Hi Celia, I know, I’ve switched to wordpress.org and the like button doesn’t appear to be a feature. I’m looking into other options but I’m sorry it’s not there. Thanks for taking the time to comment, though.

  3. I think adding personal touches to the space, the people you have around you and just being comfortable there makes a house a home. When you know it’s somewhere you want to return to at the end of the day – not a place you try to avoid.

    1. Absolutely! The people you live with can make or break the sense of calm and comfort that you want from a home. I’ve experienced both extremes and several in betweens of that over the years!

  4. Yes your’re right, it doesn’t take much. Isn’t it wonderful that a favorite sarong can change the feeling of a room and give you a sense of ‘home’. 🙂

    1. I’m glad you agree. I used my first sarong in so many temporary homes that it eventually ripped and faded. I was very reluctant to throw it out but had to in the end.

    1. Thanks, Andrew. I’ve switched to WordPress.org so that’s probably why. It’s a shame – they transferred my followers in theory but if my posts aren’t showing up in your readers then the transfer is somewhat redundant. If you don’t already follow me by email, maybe that’s worth a try?

      1. I worry about WordPress. My guess is that the code behind it all is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster! They change something and it creates problems elsewhere. None of their improvements seem to improve the site and it all feels rather fragile! I’ll follow you through email but this is not so convenient!

        1. Sorry about that but I’m happy you think I’m worth the inconvenience 😉

  5. I love what you did to your Coimbra rental apartment. Quite colourful.
    I also love to put my stamp in the places I live by painting feature walls and putting up my art on the walls.

    1. Thanks, Sami. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on it so I did my best with the bits and pieces that I already had.

  6. I like your photo with the hammock in the background!

    Also, couldn’t help but notice the comment on the ‘Like Button” – I have a self hosted blog too, and a fellow blogger told me about a plugin that will add the ‘Like Button’. It’s called “Gravatar Like”. Readers do have to enter in their email though, which allows the plugin to find the gravatar. So it’s not just a one click ‘Like’, but it’s as close to one as I’ve found.

    1. Thanks, Peter. I’ll try that because I’m a fan of ‘like’ buttons and I know how frustrating it can be to not be able to simply like a post.

    1. Author

      Sorry! I’ve moved over to wordpress.org and some features, such as the ‘like’ button, have disappeared. Shame, I liked it 😉

      1. Three blogs I follow have done that too. Two of them have disappeared off my reader as well. What does it give you to compensate?
        I have enough trouble choosing a theme!

        1. I’ve yet to start reaping any benefit – it’s been a bit of a headache so far and I’ve still got a lot of work to do to configure it properly. The long term goal is to have greater flexibility over what I can include on the site and to find ways of monetizing my blog without littering it with annoying adverts. We shall see whether or not it was worth it …
          Do I still show up in your reader, by the way? I asked to have my followers transferred over but I don’t know how that affects things your end.

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.