Decorating Hacks for Cross-Cultural Living

Most of us have a vision in our head of how our ideal home will be decorated. Bold colors or comfortable furniture or a gallery wall. But cross-cultural living, as we know, comes with its own unique circumstances, and all of the decorating tips and tricks and ideas we find online can sometimes lead to homesickness and an intense longing to meander through our favorite home store. So how do we decorate our home without tears or frustration while settling into a new culture? Living in multiple apartments in multiple countries taught me a few hacks to decorating my new home while learning a new culture.

1. Bring a few of your favorite decorative items

Find out from teammates already in country how many of your personal mementos are safe to bring first but be sure to leave room in your suitcases for a few sentimental items. A box of special Christmas ornaments, a small trinket from a favorite adventure, a special picture frame – look around your current home and ask yourself what sentimental items you would grab if you had to evacuate for a natural disaster and then decide which of those items you’ll make room for in your luggage. To maximize weight and space in baggage, take loose photos and printables and purchase frames once you arrive. I always threw in a box of craft supplies that were geared towards decorating – patterned paper, washi tape, magnetic tape, all of which gave me flexibility for my second hack.

2. Be creative

Decorating in a creative way can be as simple as using washi tape to put pictures on your fridge when the outside of it isn’t magnetic, which is what I did in one apartment, or attaching patterned paper to provide color and a faux back to a bookcase. A few hooks (or nails), twine and clothespins are a fun way to hang pictures and display kids’ art in a playroom or bedroom without worry about purchasing multiple frames. A large scarf or small blanket can allow you to use a plastic tub as an end table without it looking quite so much like a plastic tub. Be as creative as you can, but also remember hack number three.

3. Budget for decorative items from your new country

Save some money in the months before you move to use specifically for decorating your new home. Yes, you might already have funds allocated for all of your necessary household items, but often decorative items aren’t included in those funds. Whether it’s local pottery or paintings or baskets, try to incorporate a bit of your adopted country into your new home. Play tourist for a day and find a few items you love to add to your shelves and walls or make it a goal to print pictures from your new adventures and display them. During this process, don’t forget hack number four.

4. Take time to make decorative purchases

If you aren’t shipping all or most of your belongings in a container, you’ll probably have a lot of household purchases to make – cooking utensils, bedding, towels, furniture, and the list goes on. The hours and possibly days of shopping can feel overwhelming, and all you want to do is have your home “together already.” But all of the shopping and waiting allows time to keep your eyes out for decorative pieces you might want to add to your home because you might discover a small home store or a local artist as you explore your new town or city. I struggled with this hack because I always wanted my new home to feel like home as quickly as possible; however, some of my most treasured items from all of my homes are items I found while exploring local shops not while wandering the shopping mall.

Decorating in a new culture or simply in a new apartment/house doesn’t have to be overwhelming or stressful, and you can make your new home uniquely yours with a little time and creativity.

What favorite or unique decorative items you’ve found while exploring in your adopted country and what special items you left room for when packing for your move?Any additional decorating hacks for cross-cultural living?

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


  1. Mom on a Mission August 14, 2018

    It has taken four years for my home to feel like my own. Printing out family photos for collages and decorating with local plants have helped make our house feel like home. I enjoyed your tips. I need to keep setting aside money to buy a local painting!

    1. Laura August 28, 2018

      Family photos are the best! I love the plant idea too, although I’m not good at keeping plants alive. 🙂

  2. Joan August 19, 2018

    Thanks, this is SO important for a sense of well being. I’m so glad I brought my colorful throw pillows–without their stuffing; I could get new stuffing here but the fabric is dull. I’m an artist and was so disappointed to arrive in grey England and find all the homewares in grey too! Some have told me it doesn’t matter but I know it does!
    There is a shite putty available in the US that will attach things as heavy as small stones to a wall on a non-porous surface (but never use blu-tac since it can harden, leave residue or pull the paint off).
    Landlords here rarely allow anything hung on the wall but ours was pleased to hear that a straight pin makes only a tiny hole yet can hold up to 25 lbs. If existing hooks are too high–monofilament can be used to hang paintings at the preferred level. Sun catchers can also be strung from curtain rods–I’ve especially enjoyed bringing these from home, wrapped in bubble wrap. Tension rods can be wedged into window or door frames to hang curtains (even an extra set for privacy) and/or suncatchers. If glass clip frames are available they can display computer printouts or local postcards and notecards.
    Thrift shops abound here and many things can be found in one or another though the prices are higher and the quality often lower.

    1. Laura August 28, 2018

      Joan, thanks for sharing all the tips on how to hang things! I found that to be one of the trickier parts of decorating overseas. 🙂

  3. L. Larsen August 20, 2018

    I have a collection of maps and postcards that I take with me everywhere I go along with a packet of removable mounting putty. I’ve had a lot of temporary living situations and it’s been a simple way to put a bit of myself into the rooms without having to spend lots of money (or do lasting damage to a wall!). And they’re all flat and light so it’s easy to fit in a suitcase.

    1. Laura August 28, 2018

      Maps and postcards are a fun way to decorate! Thanks for sharing your tips!

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