How to make a house a home, from a military spouse

We move a lot. I'm learning how to make each new house feel like a home for my kids.

How to make a house a home, from a military spouse
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When it comes to moving, you'll be hard-pressed to find someone with more experience and insight than a military spouse.

Military families are used to relocating with very little notice to parts of the world we've never been to.

It's all part of the journey that is loving and supporting a service member.

Here's something that I've learned about that journey: Every time we move, we're a different family with different priorities. The shortest length of time we've lived in one place is eight months. And we were a different couple when we were unpacking those moving boxes than we were just eight months later, sealing them back up.


Each move begins and ends a new season of our lives. These moves help us reflect on what we've learned, how we've grown, and what we want out of life.

And how we've grown! Most importantly, we now have two children. Our family has grown and so too, have our priorities when it comes to making our house a home.

One of the first things I unpack: our wedding cake topper.Jamie Orsini

My military moving experiences can be divided before and after we had kids.

Pre-kids, we tried to make each apartment and house ours by hanging pictures and artwork that reminded us of where we grew up.

I printed a zillion photos of our parents, our siblings, our nieces and nephew, and even my parent's dog. We hung gallery walls and displayed frames on tabletops and mantles. We missed our families fiercely and so, we brought them to us.

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I made art, too. Sometimes I painted, other times, I drew. I enjoyed crafting and filled our house with my projects.

Before we had kids, the first two rooms we'd really set up were the kitchen and my craft room/office. We needed to unpack the kitchen for practical reasons. You can't do much in a new home if you can't make lunch or reach the sink.

We'd work through unpacking and breaking down boxes, piling things in the general areas where we thought they'd go. We took our time and lived in the chaos for as long as needed.

When we finally had enough space to move around, we'd tackle my office. My husband used to say that he knew I wouldn't feel at home until all my books were on shelves. Honestly, he was right. There's something deeply comforting about seeing my books all stacked up, ready to be read.

Now that we have kids? Well, my office was the last room set up in this house.

Our kids are both toddlers, and every aspect of our most recent move was colored by that.

Moving with two toddlers is a herculean task.

Before we were able to unpack a single box, we swept through this new house, identifying potential hazards and areas where our kids could get into trouble.

Baby gates were installed and window blind cords got tucked up high. We brought cabinet locks, outlet and doorknob covers with us, but since we moved into a larger house, we didn't have enough.

We quickly ordered more, along with a foam kit to soften the hard edges of a stone fireplace and adhesive bath treads for the kids' tub. A soft, plastic whale was placed over the tub's spout before any of our clothes made it into dressers.

Once our furniture arrived, our attention turned to our kids' rooms first.

Cribs and toddler beds were built, dressers and bookshelves were anchored to the wall and shelves were put up, so we could have a safe place for baby monitors and sound machines.

We made sure their rooms and each level of the house had an assortment of books and toys. We drove cross country with a plastic tub of them, just so our kids would see their favorite things in our new house right away and hopefully, feel a little more at home.

Items that we previously would have driven with, like my preserved wedding bouquet or my husband's cadet sword, traveled with the movers. When push came to shove, we felt it was more important to keep our kids' favorite toys with us. The one sentimental item I always take with me? Our paper wedding cake topper. It's too delicate to trust to military movers and I love seeing it set up, even in an empty house.

Once the kids' rooms were mostly settled, we were able to dive into emptying the mountain of boxes stacked around the rest of the house. We worked methodically, finding new homes for items that have traveled across the country with us.

Pre-kids, I didn't feel like we had fully moved in until our walls were covered in photographs and art. Now, we live by the 'less is more' approach. We've patched too many holes and repainted too many walls to be interested in hanging photo galleries in every room.

We're more judicious about what goes up. On our first floor, we hung a wedding portrait, a cross-stitch from my mother, and two large portraits of our kids.

After my husband hung the kids' pictures, our son ran between them, happily shouting, "That's Jack! That's Claire! That's her! That's me!" He recognized the pictures from our last house and was delighted to see them again. For weeks after, he would ask us if we wanted to go see his picture. Yes, of course, we'd say, and we'd let him lead us over.

On a whim, I ordered peel and stick wall decals in the shape of dinosaurs for my son's room. Together, we decided where each dino should "live." For me, they were a colorful way to decorate his room without adding holes in the wall. To him, they made his room his.

We have lived in this house for seven months and every time we FaceTime friends and family, Jack still asks if they want to see his dinosaurs. He'll carry the phone to his room, spinning around and showing off where all his friends live.

Sometimes when I'm tucking him in at night, Jack will sleepily tell me stories about his dinosaurs, the leaves they eat, and the volcanoes they live near.

I don't know how long we'll live in this house but I know this: The next time we move, we're bringing wall decals with us.

Should I order the same set, so he feels at home right away? Or should I let him pick something new?

This is what I mean about moves marking the seasons of our lives.

Here, in this house, those dinosaurs mean everything to my son. And so they mean everything to me.

But two years from now? He might be in a car phase or an animal phase. He might be too big for colorful characters on his walls, though I hope not.

Look, moving is hard. Packing up your life into boxes, relocating to an area you've never before visited, finding new doctors, schools and specialists, or a new job and figuring out how to incorporate it into your life—it's all so hard.

Doing it with young kids is even harder. Here's what I've learned, mama: Every move is unique and comes with its own challenges. It doesn't really matter if you're prepping for a cross-country move or just heading over to the next town. It can be emotionally, physically and logistically difficult.

But.

It's temporary. Even if you have a terrible moving experience—I'm talking broken dishes, missing furniture, trash packed and valuables left behind—it will end.

This was most likely the last move for our family where I'll unpack bottles and bibs while my husband installs cabinet locks on anything that can open. The next time we move, our kids will be older and we'll have a whole new batch of worries that come with that fact.

This is what I know: Before we had kids, we settled into our new homes at a leisurely pace, opening boxes when we had the time and leaving messes strewn about. We hung picture after picture and I filled the house with projects I made that reminded me of us.

We move because of my husband's career, but now, the act of moving is all about our kids. We race through unpacking, simply because it's unsafe not to. We babyproof everything to make sure our kids have a safe place to live and play. We hang their art projects now, instead of mine. And we put all our efforts into making sure they feel at home.

When it feels like home for our kids, it feels like home for us.

This is the season of our lives.

My advice is this: Figure out what works for your family. If you need to unpack your books or set up a work-from-home station, then do it! Pack that paper wedding cake topper, even though the car is bursting and there really isn't any room. You're part of this family, mama. Your needs matter, too.

If setting up that well-loved soccer net first or hanging colorful wall decals helps your little one settle in, then do that, too.

Try not to get bogged down in the sheer enormity of all the changes that come with moving.

Figure out what works for your family and you'll find that house will soon begin to feel like home.

Jamie Orsini is an Emmy Award-winning journalist, military spouse, and a mom to two busy toddlers. In her spare time, Jamie volunteers with the Solar System Ambassador program with NASA/JPL and reads anything she can get her hands on. She’s currently working on her first novel.

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