8 Practical Tips for Returning and Furnishing Your Home {The Grove: Returning}

Here at Velvet Ashes we are passionate about holding your hand as you go through re-entry, because we know what a roller coaster it can be. Most often we focus on heart issues. Some of our re-entry posts that have really resonated are:

Re-entry in the Cereal Aisle

Are You Less Than Those Who Stay? 

Walking on Jello

How to Know if You’re a Pre-Griever or Post-Griever (and why it matters)

How to Welcome Her Back (to share with your family and friends)

Today I wanted to share some practical issues involved in returning and setting up home when your return from the field. I don’t know about you, but while all of the heart transition stuff was going on in me, it was the 5,001 practical decisions involved in re-entry that put me over the edge and had me crying in Wal-mart.

So here’s your first tip:

1. Many grocery stores (including Wal-mart), now offer pick up service for free (with a $30 order minimum). You order your groceries on the store’s app and chose your pick up time. Then just pull into their parking lot, park in the “pick up” spots, and they will bring your groceries out to you. Glorious. No schlepping your children through sensory overload, while you try to remember which brand of toilet paper you used to buy. Even without kids, grocery stories are a prime place of stress for me when reentering. Let online ordering save you the stress until you feel ready to venture in and explore.

2. If you’re going to be living in a temporary home, settle quickly. Obviously, do the travel you have to do, but then try to set up your home with whatever you can beg, borrow or… ok, not steal. I know most of us want a place that feels homey, but if it’s going to be in a temporary home, you’ve probably already learned that you can live with just about anything. So graciously smile and accept that hideous hand-me down couch. Throw a blanket over it if it makes you feel better, then take a deep breath and remind yourself it’s only temporary. Right now your focus needs to be on things other than aesthetics. You need a home base that gives you a stable center in the midst of all the change.

3. If you’re going to be settling into a permanent, “for the foreseeable future,” long-term home, then take. your. time. Here’s the story I’ve seen play out: People arrive back fresh from the field. In their eagerness to have stability and to find a home, they buy a house quickly, and then furnish it with whatever happens to be on sale, or whatever hand-me downs they are offered. It might feel fine at first, but after a while these people often find themselves discontent, looking around at their home, saying, “This doesn’t fit who I am (or who we are).”

4. Realize it’s going to take you a while to figure out who you are now. Your time overseas changed you. It will likely take time to figure out how it has changed you and what your values are now. And it may not be what you (or others) expect. People might think you’ll buy a house in a rough inner city neighborhood now. Maybe that’s where you feel like you should live. But maybe you need a haven. Talk to God about that one. I know people who had a big house before living overseas and they came back and bought a small one. I know people who lived in tiny apartments overseas, and they came back ready for some space.

My husband and I had never owned a home in 13 years of marriage. We had only ever picked out our first newly wed apartment together. After that, our overseas homes were chosen for us. So when a one-year furlough turned into a long-term change, we had to decide what kind of house we would buy. I was starry eyed towards the charm and character of old, historic homes. My husband liked the idea of a brand spanking new house. I wondered how we could like something so polar opposite. I told him my soul would wither without trees (dramatic sigh), and I despaired of us ever finding a home we would both love.

For multiple reasons, we lived in four temporary homes for two years after we returned. I remember one day when I was especially weary of moving and living in other people’s space. I prayed, “God, I don’t care where we live, I just want a place of our own where we can STAY.” Turns out God took longer than I wanted to give us that place, but now, looking back I am so glad we didn’t rush the process.

We house hunted for a year, looking at a lot of homes, figuring out what we wanted, what location would best fit our family and ministry, and what we could afford. We surprised no one more than ourselves when we found our dream home in a foreclosed fixer upper built in the 90’s. We love it.

For the last year, we’ve slowly been transforming this place into a home, into a place that feels like us. Here’s my advice for that process:

5. If it’s going to be long-term, live without it (if possible) until you can get what you want.We arrived back in the States with just our suitcases. So the list of furnishings we had to get was overwhelming. We decided to take it very slow and not fill our house with things we didn’t want long term. The result? We still have parts of our home that are very bare. But what we do have, we really, really like.

This approach has meant welcoming many guests into a nearly empty house. I simply say, “When we moved into this house we owned zero furniture, so we’re slowly furnishing.” When we moved in, we made sure we had a kitchen table and mattresses on the floor, and that was about it. For everything else, we decided to wait until we could figure out what we wanted and be able to afford it.

This was both invigorating and overwhelming. It felt exciting to start a new home with a clean slate, but figuring out how to furnish an empty home was stressful. How do you choose what you like, when there are countless options, and you don’t know what you like? And how do you decide how much to budget for each thing you need?

Here’s what’s helped me:

6. Find your style. (If you’re in the midst of packing up your life right now, you don’t have the brain space for this now. Simply bookmark this part to read later. This is for when you’ve settled and are trying to figure out how to furnish your home.) Part of my re-entry process has been a journey of discovering my “style”, and practically, it’s been really helpful with decision-making. Before, I’d walk in a store or look online, and I’d see a million options for what I was looking for. Stress-full. Now that I have my color palette and style narrowed down, options for that certain item are wonderfully narrowed.

While finding your “style” may sound frivolous, but it’s actually been spiritually significant for me. It’s been a process of figuring out how God has wired me and identifying the things that are life-giving to me, things that I have always enjoyed, regardless of changing trends. For me it’s plants, pottery, natural wood, and more plants. It was important to me to find a style that could highlight our pieces from Asia, to reflect the story of who we are. After this journey of discovery, I’ve landed on a “mid-century modern bohemian with Asian accents” style. This has been a huge part of creating a place that feels like home to us.

Not sure where to start? Find a friend with a style you like and let her be your style guide. Bonus if she’s the kind of friend who will quickly answer texts. This comes in very handy when you’re at the store and need to decide “Which one should I buy??”

Here are some other helpful resources for discovering your style:

Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith. Although it’s a little bit dated now, her decorating tips are timeless and super helpful. She helps you know what items to buy used and when to invest in new. I found the section on “communicating with your husband” to be very insightful.

The Inspired Room and Simple Decorating by Melissa Michaels. These books help you find style that’s authentic, practical, and beautiful.

Pinterest– Yes, it can be deep dark hole of comparison-inducing perfectionism. But if you can filter that out, it can be a place of inspiration that helps you figure out a style that reflects who you are. Create boards for each room, and pin examples of things you like. After a while, you’ll see there’s a commonality. That’s your style (or combination of styles).  What I like about the authors listed above is that they help you take pinterest perfect images and translate it into real-life, budget friendly.

7. Save yourself hours of research with thewirecutter.com. For anything that you want to buy new, use this site. Seriously, this is one of the most helpful things for finding furnishings for our home. This site has done all the research on nearly anything you could buy new for your home. Want to know what kind of vacuum, mattress, sheets, etc. to buy? Don’t want to spend hours scrolling through reviews? Simply search for the item on thewirecutter.com and it will list their top pick based on testing and comparisons they’ve done. They often have their “top pick” and their “budget pick.” You’re quite welcome for all the hours of life I just saved you.

8. Consider creating a registry and ask your sending churches or supporters for a house warming party. The costs for furnishing a home from scratch are huge. Churches and supporters are beginning to understand the need to help returnees with the re-settling process. This is a really practical way for them to partner with you.

That, friends, is my practical advice for you as you return and set up home in a place that probably doesn’t feel like home… yet. Know that a piece of your heart will always remain in your foreign home. But God can and will create a home for you where you are. I hope these tips help you on that journey.

We here at Velvet Ashes are here for you. Share with us in the comments below. Are you returning? Where to? Where from? How is your heart? What feels daunting to you? What tip was helpful for you?

Share with us on Instagram with #VelvetAshesReturning and prayer requests with #VelvetAshesPrayer.

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This is The Grove and we want to hear from you! You can link up your blog post, or share your practices, ponderings, wisdom, questions, ideas, and creative expressions with us in the comments below.

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8 Comments

  1. Jennifer May 31, 2018

    And I thought I was the only one who had the “midcentury modern/Asian” style! 🙂
    This is all very good advice!
    I found that living overseas and transitioning there and then back again made it easier NOT to compare my stuff with someone else’s stuff once we moved back to the States. It was freeing to know I’d lived with less and my tastes had changed because of where I’d been and and what I’d seen and I hope I always hang onto that.

    1. Danielle Wheeler June 1, 2018

      Fun to hear we have the same style! I love the combo!

      And YES, it is so freeing. I think living overseas helps you get used to being different, as well as learning to live with less. Here’s to always hanging on to that!

  2. Elizabeth Trotter May 31, 2018

    I love the differentiation between a short stay and a long stay! Very wise.

    As to grocery store stress, even Aldi overwhelms me at first! And it’s not very big in comparison! I just get decision fatigue there. So many more choices than where I usually am. I don’t cry but I get very overwhelmed and super exhausted afterward!

    1. Danielle Wheeler June 1, 2018

      Decision fatigue is so real. I found that I handled the grocery store better after I’d been in country for a week. My husband offered to be the one to go get the essentials for that first week, and it made my first grocery store experience more doable. And yeah, it didn’t matter the size of the store!

  3. Katherine June 1, 2018

    Even though I’m blissfully not in this type of transition at the moment, its such a hard time I still feel a little anxiety just reading about it!

    I had shoe buying issues when we were back in my passport country (Australia) for two years. In Cambodia I pretty much just wear thongs (flip flops) all the time but I needed to cover my feet for 2 years so shoe shopping was essential.
    I totally wasn’t used to Aussie prices of course (even though I had reminded myself things would be more expensive, I was still shocked) plus, I knew I was only going to need them for 2 years so I didn’t want to invest too much, plus all the shoes looked really strange and ugly to me. After 5 years away I couldn’t remember what type of shoes I would feel comfortable wearing (apart from thongs).
    I think I bought something cheap as I needed them right away, and then of course they broke, so I had to buy more….And it went like that with pretty much everything, trying to decide how much money to invest in things we would only use for 2 years. Too long to be living out of a bag, too short to spend 2 months of a Cambodian wage on shoes.
    I really missed the “hugging pillows” we have here in Cambodia, I can’t sleep without them anymore, and I couldn’t find anything like it that I could afford. So, more recently, when we went to Aus for a few months to have a baby we bought vacuum packed hugging pillows with us.

  4. Danielle Wheelee June 1, 2018

    I still feel a struggle with shoes! The good ones that last are so expensive! When we had to let go of our plan to move to Thailand, one of the things I had to grieve was year round flip flops. I was so looking forward to that (and no socks!!).

    We also did a two year stint one time, and yes, so hard to make decisions for that amount of time. It’s not long term, but it’s longer than short term.

    So glad you figured out a way to get your hugging pillow! Three cheers for vacuum bags!

  5. M'Lynn June 1, 2018

    “We decided to take it very slow and not fill our house with things we didn’t want long term. The result? We still have parts of our home that are very bare. But what we do have, we really, really like.” YES!!! After living in Chinese apartments furnished by either the school we worked for or Chinese landlords for years and years, I have found that I’m not willing to have something I don’t like in my home for long! And, we also have empty places in our house because we refuse to buy junk just to fill the spot. My prime example is our TV stand… it’s a folding breakfast in bed tray that holds the Xbox right now because we hadn’t found just the right TV stand, and when we did, it’s pricey, so it’s on the waiting list! Someone gave is patio furniture, and it turned out I hated the way it looked in our yard. It had to go! LOL. I’m enjoying the freedom of getting to say “I don’t like it. Let’s get rid of it!” Because in most of our Chinese apartments, anything in the apartment when we arrived had to be there when we departed (those horrible orange and being couches…)!

  6. sarah June 2, 2018

    In the theme of this I’m wondering if any would have words, advice or comments on “unexpected returns.” Due to civil unrest in our country I left with our kids over a month ago, but thinking it was something that was going to blow over, and we would return fairly quickly. A week ago we had my husband leave and now I’m faced with so many questions and fears. We literally have nothing to our name here, the very little we have is no in the country we have no idea when will be safe to return to. In the midst of normal reverse culture shock I’m now facing these fears of what now on top of the where is home questions.

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