Three years ago, after spending the first part of my husband’s enlistment away from him, I packed my car and started driving to my new home, base housing on his permanent duty station. I imagined the day we would finally be living under the same roof for years; neighbors smiling and waving as I pulled into my double car garage, flowers lining our walkway, and a living room pulled straight from Better Homes and Gardens.
I could hardly stand the drive thinking about all the decorating I had to do before he arrived home from training. I had two weeks to win Yard of the Month, become the most organized person on the block, and to make my house the homiest of homes. Now, years later, I can only cross one of those off my list, but I am proud knowing that I’ve transformed our military house into our home.
After pulling into my driveway and walking to my door without a fanfare of neighbors or flowers, I spent the next two days moving furniture around, attempting to fill empty space. Since we hardly had any furniture to move, I spent the rest of the time staring at the white walls of my new house. These just weren’t white walls. They were the tallest and the whitest walls I had ever seen and they were surrounding me, from all sides.
I had to do something, I was going crazy and it had only been two days! I called my mother-in-law, an experienced military spouse that always knew what to do and I pleaded my case, “Yes, despite everything you’ve told me about living on base, for the sake of my sanity and the safety of your son I have to paint these walls.” So I did it. Within the first two days of living on base, I had gone against every bit of advice I had ever read and decided that I would rather spend the last few days before we moved painting everything white than to live in complete and utter colorlessness.
As soon as the walls were painted, the house started coming together. It matched our throw pillows, tied in the rug, gave me a project to work on, and most of all, it made the house feel more ‘mine’. If you’ve been avoiding paint, even though deep down you’ve been dreaming of a world full of color, consider shades that will be easily covered in a coat or two of white paint. If you are still dreading repainting before you move out, talk to your landlord or military housing community about shades that may not require you to repaint. Recently Atlantic Marine Corps Communities approved of four colors of paint that do not need to be covered before moving out. Painting is one the easiest and cheapest ways to transform a space into a cozier room.
When I first moved in, every item my husband and I owned had a place. As a young military couple, it was easy to keep track of where everything was because we hardly had anything. I remember converting a side table into a TV stand and having only one pair of sheets for our bed. We kept a list of items we needed to acquire, steak knives, a toaster, chairs for the back porch. I remember thinking that it was going to take forever to finally buy all the things on the list, but sure enough by the time our first deployment rolled around I was wondering why everything was so disorganized. Where had all of these things come from?
I spent the first part of the deployment pulling everything we owned from the closets and cabinets. I realized while everything we moved in with worked in the spaces I had them, they no longer did. We had managed to collect more items from our ‘needs’ list than I imagined and now everything needed a new space.
By placing like items in piles, I discovered that not only would I need more storage, but also switching closets and spaces and reutilizing them would make them more functional. When the second deployment rolled around, I went so far as switching our master bedroom and guest room.
As military spouses, we know to adapt and overcome and to do it by nearly any means possible. The same goes for our homes, adjust rooms and organization according to our ever-changing lifestyle. What worked a year ago, may not work now. We always have to make room for kids, pets, and a silly amount of military gear.
Change the lighting and bring the outdoors inside
After moving around my furniture and painting the walls, I loved my new house. In the morning, I would come downstairs, brew a pot of coffee, and soak in the sun that poured from all the windows. It was my favorite part of the day. However, when night would roll around I would turn on the florescent lights and my house just didn’t seem cozy anymore.
As a photographer, I instantly uncovered the issue. I needed to change the lighting. I knew that you could pretty much make Cruella DeVille look like a saint with the right lighting, and I was determined to make base housing look like one of my pins on Pinterest.
By the time I moved around lamps and replaced the ceiling fan over my kitchen table with a chandelier, the house was coming together. That summer, I planted flowers in pots and placed them by my walkway. I bought a palm and placed it in the corner I couldn’t figure out what to do with and revived the hanging plants I’ve had for years. It only took me a year after moving in, but I was turning our new duty station into a place I wanted to be.
Hang photos of family and friend
While this task may seem like a no-brainer, it took me a couple years of living in our current home to actually hang pictures. Sure there were some Pinterest-inspired paintings scattered here and there, but nothing personal, not a single photograph of family or friends. My house could have been a showroom floor, it looked nice but lacked the personal touch that makes any house feel like a home.
I started to dig around in my craft closet and found a dozen frames with pictures from various high school and college shenanigans, and I felt my heart skip a beat. I hadn’t displayed the pictures because I missed everyone in them. I started to pull photos from boxes of pictures and online albums and after a couple hours of sorting, I had chosen a variety of pictures of my husband and I ranging from childhood to our third Marine Corps ball.
I wanted the pictures to tell a story, our story, of a couple that’s lived through a lot in our first years of marriage, laughed with our family and friends, and loved every moment, even the tough ones. Hanging those frames on my walls did more than even a gallon of paint; it transformed regular military housing into our home.
When I was a little girl, I didn’t dream about my wedding or about my future husband. I dreamt about the future home I would have, down to the multi-colored dirty dishes in the sink. As the first couple of years living on our duty station passed, I tried to count how many times I had moved furniture, redecorated by swapping decor from different rooms, and window shopped for rugs and accessories attempting to achieve the picture I’ve always had in mind of what home looks like. While thinking about it, I realized that instead of achieving the look, I needed to let it go.
After all, I had never pictured that I would marry a Marine. I never even imagined living on a military base. And I also never guessed I would have the opportunity to make a dozen places my home, all over the world if necessary.
I baked chocolate cupcakes and met the neighbors. I went to every class I could on base, even if I already knew how to write a resume. I played some rounds of Bunco that only military spouses could make so rambunctious and I even embarrassed myself during Zumba classes at the fitness center. While it may have seemed like I was just getting involved, I was actually doing something entirely different. I was carving a place in my heart shaped exactly like my new home, and you know what? It’s way more beautiful than anything out of a magazine.