I left my favorite shelves behind when we moved across the country.
They were clean, smooth shelves that perfectly fit the space between the two windows in my craft room. They held my growing spider plants, leaving plenty of room for their leaves to cascade down. Below the spider plants sat art supplies, journals, and the trinkets and tchotchkes I inherited from my family. After I installed these shelves, they looked like they belonged there.
Now those shelves are a part of someone else’s home.
After our last PCS, one task on my to-do list was to set up my new craft room. But as I tried to create a space for myself, I realized I had become attached to the creature comforts of my old home.
Moving multiple times across the country has meant learning how to find comfort in each new place, knowing there’s a time limit on how long you’ll be living there. It’s especially tough to feel settled in a new place after you spent years making your previous house into a home.
I used to think that feeling settled was something that happened naturally. And it can, but I’ve learned it’s gratifying to take steps to help myself get there. To approach moving into a new home with a sense of acceptance and intentionality.
In the past, I tried to reduce moving to a to-do list: unpack boxes, get rid of cardboard and paper, arrange furniture, and so on. And while having a to-do list helped keep me sane and more organized, checking things off a list didn’t make me feel more settled.
Feeling settled came from both action and from mindset.
Taking action is important, especially for shared space. Setting up a new home requires so many decisions, and I’ve accepted that it takes a lot of mental energy. Between days spent driving and nights in hotels and a total disruption of routine, it’s a lot at once. With that much stress, it’s hard to think straight long enough to figure out where the TV should go, how to arrange the couches, and so on.
As nice as it sounds to unpack everything and be done with it, that doesn’t always happen. But even if it’s six months later and you haven’t organized the bookshelves in the living room, there’s still time. Any action toward organizing or rearranging your home that helps you feel comfortable is worth doing. And it’s worth doing from the perspective of self-care rather than only doing it to check it off a list.
This is why I believe action and mindset are both important after a PCS. The errands and to-do lists help lay the foundation, clearing away the stress of being surrounded by clutter and cardboard boxes. But this is only one piece of feeling settled. When you take away the stress and don’t replace it with something else, you might find yourself in a house that seems full but still feels empty.
For me, the missing piece was mindset: learning to be compassionate to myself. I did that through intentionally creating comfortable spaces. These spaces can be small, like my end table that holds my art supplies.
My journals and notebooks sit inside the storage space within the table. The bottom holds a wicker basket with pens, pencils, and markers. In the evening, when I’m relaxing with my spouse and pets, my creative tools are within reach. Keeping them nearby grounds me and helps me stay connected to my creativity.
So too with my craft room. I grew up in a creative family, and I loved spending time in my grandmother’s room. Her space was filled with boxes of craft supplies: fabric and felt, yarn for crocheting, and all sorts of sequins and beads. Just being in her room made me feel happier, and it makes me happy to have my own crafting space.
While I liked my craft room in our old house, I didn’t realize that it had truly become a sanctuary for me until after we moved. Over time, I built the association between that space and my art, calming music, and meditation. So when I stepped into that physical space, my mental space shifted as well. After we moved, it took time to build a new association between my space and my mindset.
And though it’s nice to have a room for yourself, especially when you’re an artistic sort with heaps of craft supplies, it’s not about the size of the space. Creating a sanctuary doesn’t require a room, and it doesn’t require you to be alone. I’ve found that it’s more about building that mindset to ground yourself and treat yourself with compassion.
It’s about setting up all those small, comforting reminders of who you are, where you’ve come from, and where you’re going. Once I did that, I could start creating a new sanctuary for myself.
The space will change with each move. But moving is easier when I know I can create safety and comfort wherever we go.
Catherine Yeates is a freelance writer and artist. They enjoy creating science fiction and fantasy stories that draw on their experiences as a neuroscience researcher. They live with their spouse, cat, and two rambunctious dogs. See more of Catherine’s work at their website.
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