Because this is not your college dorm room

This guest post was written by Christine Martin.

  • Prints (unframed) taped on the wall
  • Every memorabilia ever collected lined up on shelves
  • ‘Company’ furniture and not much more regarded as decor

Sound familiar?

Perhaps it does because it reminds you of your college days, when you hardly spent time at home and let’s face it, cared very little for home decor.

But, maybe these descriptions ring a bell because as you glance up from your screen you realize this is your current living space reality. Gasp!

As an international teacher, I’ve hopped around not only from country to country, but housing to housing (as they say). In the three years I spent in Medellin, Colombia, I moved three times. In Tunisia, twice. Korea, once. Each place I made Home because it was important to me. In the midst of shaking up my reality with a new job, culture, language, I needed to to have something familiar; something that tethered me to me.

For me, that’s creating a home.

Often, expats overseas have little time or interest in doing this because in a short two to three years, they will be likely moving again. I get that. It’s a pain to unpack, sort, decorate, take down, sort, pack. Repeat.

BUT, with a little effort, your space can become a haven, a representation of you, a home away from home.

In all the ideas of things to do to create home, there are two simple things NOT to do:

1. Do not clutter. 2. Do not ignore space.

I know what you’re asking: aren’t these contradictory?

Well, kind of. One of the keys to making your home overseas is striking a balance between the two. Let’s look at these closer.

Do not clutter.

This simply means that even though you’ve traveled the extent of Asia, South America, and Africa, does not mean that all of your “souvenirs” should hang on your wall, or sit on your shelves. Of course, you want to showcase that intricate Persian rug you bought in your travels, but does it have to sit in the same room with batik throws and ikat cushions on the sofa? Cramming all of your favorite items can be aesthetically painful. Instead:

  • look for color compatibility; this takes practice
  • watch for pattern busyness; mix solids with patterns for variety
  • allow for focal points; too many pieces do not let the eyes admire
  • rotate your treasured pieces

Do not ignore space.

Space is a designer’s canvas. It is both functional and aesthetic. Taken for granted, it can contribute to chaos or make a place feel empty, lackluster. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • minimalism is an artistic movement, not an excuse; select decor that showcases you
  • careful spatial layout can enhance the functionality of a room; create a comfy space for reading, have an open floor plan so you can keep an eye on your kids, designate areas with rugs or furniture
  • be creative: need more storage in your bathroom? find that corner shelf or cool basket that you can tuck in and use

Your home away from home does not have to be an attic where decor items compete for attention. Nor does it have to be a dorm room, hardly lived in. Take a few steps to strike that balance and home can be…well, home.

What are some things that help you create a sense of home in your space?

Christine writes here and here. You can follow her on Twitter here.


  1. thank you! after our first year in Tunis and Riga and Brussels before that I can not agree more – it is essential to make house a home. if only moving wouldn’t be such an expensive and time consuming endavour 🙁 my dilemma has always been – if you take up a furnished place it will very rarely feel like your own space, but if you don’t and distances are too big to ship furniture then you end up bying and leaving behind…

  2. Thanks for your comment. I completely understand this dilemma. We didn’t always have jobs that paid for our shipment, so we had to be very choosy about what was taken. Something that helps is finding second hand shops or buying off of other expats moving for those larger furniture items. That way, it doesn’t hurt so much leaving it or selling it when you go. Honestly, it’s about taking the portable items you love (paintings that can be scrolled and re framed elsewhere) + local things like plants that really make a space. How long were you in Tunisia? Were you an international teacher there?

    1. thank you for suggestions and ideas – will look into that as we are about to move house again. no, I am not from the community of international teachers, but I reallly enjoy reading about all of your experiences. my field is diplomacy, but right now I am taking some time off and we are here in Tunisia because of my husband’s business. looks like for another year at least 🙂 even if the first excitiment about this extraordinary country is kind of fading, we still love it 🙂

      1. wow! well, you’ve probably hit one of my favorite spots but there’s Sadika for gorgeous blown-glass items and rugs. there are about 3 other home stores whose names escape me at the moment. i love north african design and collected various items from there. have fun making your home there this year.

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