Four Simple Ways to Make Your Home Abroad Cozy and Tidy


When we moved overseas, I had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start over with my home decor, and I didn't want to squander it. I had a vision for a home that would help us breathe, make others feel welcome, and inspire me to do more of what I wanted and needed to do -- like be creative and hospitable, rather than stare at my phone, procrastinate, and mope. My goal was to strike a balance between minimal, for sanity’s sake, and showing off all the stuff I love, for joy and beauty.I'm not a naturally talented interior decorator, so I needed tools to help me. With guidance from The Nester's book and her seasonal classes, I found ways to be inspired and also choose realistically for my space. Let's face it, I can't work my home's radiators into my decor, but I can put something beautiful nearby to draw the eye away. Unless you're building your own home abroad, it's likely your home has some design quirks or obstacles. It probably feels foreign and weird, thanks to the different outlets or a funky layout. Maybe you need to hang mosquito netting, make room for a water purifier, or cook for your large family in a closet-sized kitchen. It's okay to notice what you're lacking.For example, my son's bedroom is almost the same size as the walk-in closet I had in my basement bedroom growing up. In addition, all the windows in our space have frames that are the ugliest shade of brown known to mankind, and we have zero outdoor space. I'm certain some of you face much bigger issues than ours. Nonetheless, I took a deep breath and allowed myself a moment to grieve the TLC-channel worthy home I will probably never have, and got to work.First, I created dream boards for each room - I pinned every image that I loved for each room. I gave my boards cheesy, alliterative names like "best bathroom", "living room love", and "beautiful bedrooms." After I had a big collection of images, I evaluated the photos and found the details each image had in common -- such as type of furniture, wall colors, or quirky decor.Then, I made a board I called Mi Piso Actual (“My Actual Flat” in Spanish). On that board, I only pinned images of things I could actually buy or create. Basically, I have a lot of images from IKEA on this board. There are plenty of furniture places in Spain, but IKEA is affordable and doesn't look like it was built in a monastery. Furthermore, copying an IKEA spread in my bedroom saved mental energy I just didn't have thanks to my ever-present friend, culture fatigue.Speaking of culture fatigue, a clean space can help with that. When I clear off the dining room table, fold the blankets, fluff the pillows and dust the TV console, I find that I can exhale freely. I can take a deep breath and do something good – the next right thing. This might be to keep cleaning, to put away the dishes, or to fold the hanging clothes and hang a new load to dry. Maybe I need to get out my language study workbook and complete a couple of pages. The next right thing might also be to make a cup of tea and pick up my Kindle for some reading time, or to make another mess on the table from water coloring, or to create a flat lay because the light is right. The point is -- when I can breathe, I can work.I might sound like a minimalist, but the moment I open my eyes from that cleansing breath, I want to see colorful rugs, excessive greenery, textured blankets and throw pillows, and a little shine. If you're like me, you want a clean space that also looks beautiful. To that end, I have four tips to help you create a cozy home that is also a tidy space, and I think you'll be able to put them to use no matter what part of the world you live in.PlantsWe only have two windows in the living area, and they’re tiny – one compact corner window and one square window. However, I’ve got an IKEA plant stand with three plants in the corner, and they bring me so much joy. I’m currently looking for a plant that can thrive a few feet away from the window, because I want more. They really make a difference! And, even if I kill them, they earned their spot for a few months. It’s worth it. Plus, they’re often included in my selfies and life stories, making me look like there’s a forest behind me, rather than an intersection that looks like a parking lot.PrintablesI brought irreplaceable pieces of art that I had purchased and framed in the States, and I bought art on previous travels that also found its way to my walls. Minimalism prevailed when packing these items, however, and I had room for more once I started decorating my new space. Enter free printables. I'm handy with Photoshop, but there are some incredible designers who offer some of their work free to print for personal use. You can find your style with a quick search on Pinterest or the New York Public Library Digital Collection (this is especially nice for vintage postcards or botanical prints). I found a monogram print in the colors I was utilizing and a world map silhouette that looks like gold foil. Sometimes I swap these prints out for holiday prints for storage-free decor.Chore CalendarA clean home is superimportante to Spaniards. I don't know how they do it without house help when most households include two working adults. Somehow mops (I’ve learned at least three words for different kinds of mops here) and window washing tools and laundry contraptions have remained a top priority in our host culture. It is a common topic of conversation in the school pick up line, and we are judged by the cleanliness of our home and how frequently we do a load of laundry. Because of this, I feel like I can't invite people over unless I set aside time to keep our home clean, at least to Spanish standards. Some people might benefit from assigning certain chores to certain days. I sweep every other day, wipe counters and mop every couple days, and set aside time most weekends to wash windows or shake rugs. This way, I keep a clean home without feeling like I've lost a whole day to chores.Closed StorageWe can’t homeschool where we live, but I love the Charlotte Mason method and try to supplement my kids’ education with items from nature and living books that teach, entertain and inspire. Needless to say, we have a lot of books. We have two open shelves in our home, and I do put books on them. I pretend my home is a gallery and I curate what goes on those shelves so that it looks beautiful and remains useful. But the thing that helps my tiny living space feel its size (instead of smaller), is hiding the books. It’s not bins on shelves, but cupboard doors, that keep my living room organized and my head space clear. Plus, more surfaces for plants! We use two IKEA Ivar cabinets and, lest you lament your lack of IKEA, these are unfinished wood cabinets any carpenter could make in a day. This same principle applies in tiny spaces: if you choose closed cupboards to store everyday kitchen supplies, no one will know you have to store your beloved mixer in your bedroom.Would your home benefit from plants or closed storage? What are some ways you've made your space feel like home? How have you creatively used what is available to you in your host country? Please let us know in the comments if you make any changes in your host country home to help it feel a bit more cozy and tidy.