^^ Please excuse the couch cover that needs to be mailed back in the middle of the room. ^^
A week before Thanksgiving, encouraged by a friend to just do it, I spontaneously booked an appointment on TaskRabbit to have my apartment painted. I had been casually flirting with the idea since the summer when, during a rough mental health patch, I had looked up from my couch — which had become my new favorite companion — and realized my walls were gray. Had they always been like that, I wondered, or were they just reflecting my own current state of being? Painting felt like a fresh start and coupled, with a large clear out of my belongings, a way of truly claiming it as my own. I went with yellow and cream, both which I hoped would fill the space with cozy warmth, and since then I’ve been on a mission to make this space into a home.
When the first paint swatches went up, I immediately panicked that it was too bright. Against the gray, the color looked like I was suddenly living on the sun. But the more paint that was applied and the more unused belongings I donated and art that found its proper home on the walls, the more the space began to feel like mine. It’s hard to make a home for yourself in New York City and it’s hard to make a home for yourself in somewhere you rent. Both things, due to expense and a lack of actual ownership, make you feel temporary and that feeling can make you never really settle in.
Early this summer, I was seriously intent on moving out of my apartment of three years. I had my spreadsheets and was scanning through apartment listings obsessively. It wasn’t that I wanted to leave my space, I actually really love it here, but I had started to feel pressure around how much I was paying in rent and believed only a drastic decision could put it right.
After an intense month of looking with summer moving prices, I quickly realized that New York does not mess around. Broker’s fees, first and last month’s rent, moving costs, security deposits, it would have taken me years to save back all I had spent on moving this summer. This moving decision also, due to its influx of sudden stress, caused a huge mental health spiral that brought to light about a years worth of anxieties that had been bubbling under the surface (isn’t that always the case?). So after many many long talks with my family and actually sitting down to make a solid budget that gave structure to how I spend my money, I realized I actually could stay in my apartment and save smart.
Like every good home transformation project, painting turned into a new couch cover (green velvet, to be exact) which turned into a new hallway mirror which turned into moving all my art around. As I moved things around for the painter, it only seemed right that I clear out my closets and containers under the bed, which turned into an entire apartment clear out with 40 books finding themselves in the arms of friends and the free library box on the corner.
In order for this space to feel really warm and open, I only wanted to keep things that I loved, that I use often, or that serve a specific purpose. While it’s easy to hold onto clothes I might wear and books I might read and 18 sentimental mugs, I realized this stuff was just overcrowding and making me forget about the items I loved. Once donated, I have never thought of any of the items again and feel an unexpected peacefulness when I look around my apartment now knowing every item bringing a small sense of joy.
When I first moved into my apartment, I saw it as my own private island away from the chaos of New York City. Everything in its place and a place for everything. But in looking to transform my space, I realized my intentions around my apartment were shifting as well. Even though I love a good tidy and having everything in it’s spot, a home without people doesn’t really seem like a home much at all. While I still want this space to be my own oasis I can retreat to — filled with books and color and cats and tea — I also want it to be a place were I can host people, have my family stay comfortably through the holidays, and invite friends around for dinner or a movie night.
At the moment, I still have quite a few empty walls looking for their perfect matches, photos of family to print, a mirror to hang, a couch cover to reorder. I am learning to lean into the unfinishedness of it all and while there are still quite a few projects I want to do, I am not waiting for the perfect moment to open my home up to my loved ones.
Now, every time I open my front door, I am overwhelmed with how much I love my space. It makes me feel safe and calm and happy, it allows me the space to energize and to me, feels like an extension of my own personality. Deciding to really nest — paint the walls, get a new sofa cover, frame new art — has felt like a small act of rebellion in this city, a small way of declaring that this 350 sq. foot space was going to be my home. Should you be looking to nest more into your space this year, here a few things that made a huge difference for me:
- Pulling out everything you own and sorting through it one by one. Yes, this can take a while, but throw on a movie you know by heart, and give it a go. Having a clean clutter free space has set a valuable foundation in which the rest of this project has flourished.
- Art can be anything. I am a huge fan of frames and gallery walls, and in creating different ones over the years I learned that art can be anything — drawings, handwritten cards, post it notes, tea cups drilled into the wall, cross stitch, ceramics, books, stain glass. My apartment is a mixture of everything and looks more colorful and put together thanks to the diversity of frames that I’ve used to tie everything together. To me, a frame just gives a polished finish to things — even handwritten post it notes and cookbooks about ham. I also learned this from a friend, move stuff around! It’s okay to put some pieces away that might be sentimental but don’t excite you in this moment.
- Measure, measure, measure. I just learned this from ordering the wrong couch cover but measure your space before introducing anything new into it. I am so bad at doing this but it’s so important to make sure you’re buying things that will realistically work in your space.
- There is no need to do everything at once. Social media was a major source of inspiration for me when I started out thinking about what I wanted to do with my space. I would save photos of rooms or ideas I loved and soon saw the common themes of colorful and whimsical appear throughout all of them. Social media also gave me ideas on how to repurpose pieces of art in my house, introduced me to independent artists whose art I bought, and taught me how to be more sustainable — something that feels deeply important in the face of global warming. On the flip side, social media also gave me a comparison complex as I saw so many YouTubers renovating entire houses and decorating them to perfection in a matter of months. It felt hard to see other people with unlimited budgets put together their space in such a quick period of time, and took some reminding that I didn’t want to replicate their behavior. While I wanted to make my apartment feel more like home, I don’t want to fill it up with stuff just to have it finished, I want to take my time with it.