How to Feel at Home, No Matter Where You Are

Whether you’re couch-surfing, living in base housing, or renting a room, here’s how to make yourself at home anywhere.

So it turns out, despite our best efforts, we don’t all actually have the kind of “home” that commercials and catalogs like to pretend we do.

Not that we wouldn’t want it. Who could say no to a quaintly historic house towering over the neighborhood like an architectural cupcake? Who would turn down a wraparound porch, complete with attractive spouse and loyal Golden Retriever?

Catalogs represent an ideal, but the reality is the concept of home is hardly universal (for example, some porches don’t even wrap around!).

The meaning of home

In its most basic sense, home can be understood as simply having a place to live. But home is more than that. It’s a sense of safe, comfortable, familiar permanence. For a variety of real-life reasons, a lot of us don’t actually have that.

Some of us travel for work. Some are in military families, going from base to base as needed. Sometimes we run out of cash and resort to couch-surfing, relying on the kindness of family and friends to get a roof. And then some of us — and stop the shaming, folks — have had to move back in with our parents until a job comes along.

But being between homes, or not having the kind of cash or loan-worthiness to actually purchase one yourself, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the feeling of home. We just have to be a little more creative and learn to cultivate a sense of home that resides within us, rather than the other way around.

Here are four tips to help you get started feeling at home, even if you’re not quite there yet.


It might seem counterintuitive, since many of us live according to the gospel of “stuff equals self,” but if you want to carry from place to place things that reflect you  (photos, a special crocheted pillow, that karate trophy from second grade) the rule should really be “less is more.”

It’s basically about curating what you really care about, and paring down the mountain of belongings into a small, movable pile of what makes you happiest. Not to mention, throwing out (or donating) belongings actually feels good.

I recently helped my mom downsize her book collection from maybe 300 strong to the 20 or so she actually wants to keep. And it was surprisingly easy for her to say “Nope, chuck it.” (We donated the books, meaning there’s a library out there somewhere newly rich in Agatha Christie mysteries.)

Keep pictures — actual pictures

This is an easy, but surprisingly underused, way of creating a sense of “you” wherever you go. Photos of yourself, your family members, and your friends are an instant way to create a sense of home.

The reason we tend not to do it is that most of our visual history now lives online — Facebook, Instagram, or just on our phones. Not that the Internet isn’t a great way to share images, especially when you find genuinely decent lighting and look incredible, but a few photo frames, tangible as well as conceptual, can make a strange space feel a bit more like your own.

Enjoy your smells, so to speak

This can be a tricky one. Scents — the nice kind — are incredibly evocative. Scent “plays an important social and emotional part” in human life, according to the Journal of Medicine and Life.

That doesn’t mean you have to run to your nearest Yankee Candle and endure the intense mixture of cinnamon bun, French vanilla, and spruce pine candles to find a way to feel like you belong to your current digs.

But any smell that’s evocative of home — maybe it is a certain candle scent, fresh flowers, or even the regular application of Windex to dirty windows to remind yourself of childhood chores — can help you feel more at home.

Find a space of your own

When you’re regularly in new territory — couch-surfing, changing military bases, or renting a room in someone else’s place — it’s not just the house itself that feels … un-yours. It’s the outside. Whether its sketchy neighbors or creepy woods, these familiar sights may actually feel really unfamiliar to you.

Don’t shy away from exploring the neighborhood, no matter how temporary it might be in your life. Find a (safe) walking path or nature area, check out a local café or bodega, and say hi to people if and when they’re not looking at their smartphones.

And this counts for indoors or outdoors. Whether you’re a nature lover or prefer aggressively air-conditioned malls, there’s probably somewhere close by that might feel normal to you — a reminder that wherever you are, you’re never without a sense of belonging.

And that’s what home is, at its core: belonging somewhere. The trick is, you can do it anywhere.

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