There’s a lot of happiness in having less. As Fumio Sasaki’s teaches in Goodbye, Things: “There isn’t a single person who was born into this world holding some material possession in their hands.”
As an expat, I’ve have long wrestled with the “I might be moving soon” predicament, keeping the number of things I own to an almost bare minimum. Right now, I am in the throes of a contradictory issue. I am having a minimalist moment but my lease is up in November. I currently live in a hotel apartment but I want to switch to an unfurnished pad, where I can have carte blanche on interior decoration. In theory, I love the idea of living in a sleek minimalist box. But in reality, I want my burgeoning Pinterest board to download into existence. But each time I consider what’s involved, the cost and upkeep forces me back to a minimalist state of mind. All this while realizing that I really do need a home, a purpose-furnished sanctuary. Despite Sasaki’s wise words, unlike him I couldn’t just have a roll-up mattress as my bed.
But then again, who knows how long I’m going to be here? Will it be worth the time and effort? This stresses me out the most and makes me question everything, draining away my time and energy along the way.
Dr Saliha Afridi, a clinical psychologist and managing director of LightHouse Arabia says: “I see many people who don’t hang up their pictures or don’t decorate their home, because they ‘will move soon.’ Soon could be one or two years from now, but they feel that it isn’t worth investing the time and energy to settle in when you have to move again.”
That state of self-imposed limbo, she says, has a direct effect on mental health, resulting in symptoms of anxiety and depression.
“Human beings need stability and consistency in order to feel emotionally safe and contained,” she says. “If they feel unsettled externally, they will feel unsettled internally.”
Expat life is by default an elastic existence. Circumstances can change at the drop of a hat and thus breed a sense of displacement. Contrary to what you might think, however, even a six-month posting should warrant a long-term vision when it comes to your home.
“We contend with a lot of things outside of our homes,” adds Dr Afridi. “We should be able to let our guard down, relax and be able to feel a sense of familiarity and accompanying safety with our surroundings when we are in our home.”
A sense of belonging, safety and stability is the triptych for a positive expat experience. I’ve known and understood this: who doesn’t want a warm and welcoming nook to come home to? But the expense of it all is mind-boggling. I really want this U-shaped sofa but I don’t want to haemorrhage 12,345AED on it.
Kelthoum Dumonceau is an interiors stylist and space beautifier who is originally from Morocco and based in Dubai. She takes tired, empty or dull areas of your home and injects whatever is lacking, either with a full set of tools or simply using whatever she can find that’s there already. From six-day projects to month-long overhauls, a space can be transformed to give that sense of what Dr Afridi calls “a space of our own that reflects who we are and our character.”
According to Dumonceau, the biggest mistake we make when furnishing our homes is to make a beeline for IKEA.
“There are lots of other places with a similar price-range, so you don’t get that showroom feel,” she says. “Another mistake people make is getting a huge corner sofa in a small living room. It will clutter your space no matter how comfy and beautiful it is.”
Her most important piece of advice is to keep it consistent. “Mismatching styles can be very jarring and won’t feel like a home.” Too intense, in other words.
Here are Dumonceau’s five ways to turn your house into a home:
- Paint is cheap, it can add depth to a room, accentuate the silhouette of your furniture, refresh your space or work as a visual separator.
- Buy second-hand. A lot of people come and go so there’s a lot of pre-loved furniture on the market. You can find some amazing deals as some people need to get rid of their furniture urgently before leaving the country.
- If you don’t like the color of your dresser and you don’t want to get rid of it, transform it into something new: paint it, change the drawer knobs or add a glass top.
- Don’t buy too much or rush the process. Furnishing everything in a week is an overwhelming task. A few carefully-chosen pieces of furniture and home decor are enough to make a home both attractive and functional. Be honest with yourself and ask the right questions: do I really need that huge sideboard? Also, plants are inexpensive and will instantly add color and life.
- Wait for sales to buy the expensive pieces.
By the way, I waited six months to get my sofa and it was 50 percent off when I found it. Making a home need not be expensive, but it will lead to greater peace of mind.
Featured photo Unsplash
Georgie Bradley is a British/Greek editor and journalist based in Dubai after being bred in Bahrain. She's been published by The Guardian UK, The Telegraph UK, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post UK, Buro 24/7 and Harper's Bazaar Arabia. Most recently she was the deputy editor of Emirates Woman. You're most likely to find her in the aisle seat.