We are currently stationed in Manila in the Philippines for the second time and all of our stuff, except for five thousand pounds, is in storage. The first time we were here for only a year and we traveled much of the time. I didn’t find happiness in my home during that year. This time, however, we are here for three years (with only seven months left until we PCS). Both times we have been stationed in Manila we have lived in places that are completely furnished. We bring with us all our kitchen needs, sheets, towels, and anything else to make our assigned living quarters feel like home. We are allowed to paint the walls, but I haven’t really been interested in doing that. We have blackout curtains courtesy of the embassy as well. Upon moving to Manila, I really struggled with our living space. I loved the location of where we were assigned to live and loved our actual apartment, but all our furnishings are beige or a medium brown except for two random green chairs. It was hard for me to feel at home.
I brought unframed artwork that we had purchased at previous duty stations with us because good quality framing is really a bargain here. I had ten pieces framed for only one hundred dollars! Once the frames were done, I put in a work order for the embassy to come hang the pictures. The day they were hung up I cried and instantly felt more settled. At that point, we had been living here for about eight months! I’m not sure why I resisted doing it for so long because truthfully that is exactly what I was doing—resisting. Manila is a hard place to live and I have a stubborn streak. If I didn’t make myself comfortable then it could never truly be called home. But hanging those pictures flipped a switch for me. I began to purchase plants for inside our apartment and on our balconies. I started looking for local textiles and handicraft pieces that brought happiness into our house.
All of these things really made a huge difference in the happiness that I felt at home. But there were a few more changes I needed to make. I hated our couch. The color and fabric made me cringe every time I looked at it. The chairs were the same. I found a couple of lifestyle bloggers who were part of the embassy community and scrolled through their posts. They are both with the State Department and only make moves with no furniture. I knew they would have good ideas on how to solve the issue of the not-so-appealing couch. I found a local seamstress who came and measured our couch and chairs and made beautiful covers for them. They are now white and look so fresh! They unzip easily and wash well, too. We also got an area rug for our living room, which made a huge difference!
SETTING UP OUR NEXT FURNISHED MOVES FOR SUCCESS
We will likely have more moves with furnished living quarters and I feel like I now have a great tool kit of knowledge to help these places feel like home much faster. It starts with what I send in our small household goods (HHG) shipment. I will definitely bring more area rugs. I had no idea how much an area rug can really make a space feel more like yours. Rugs also add instant coziness. I will also bring throw pillows or at least covers for the throw pillows supplied to add an instant pop to a possibly dreary couch. If the couch happens to be amazing, throw pillows will only enhance it. I will email the housing office to find out the type of couch that is in the quarters and get a couch cover for it to bring in our HHG. These are a few really easy things that I can do to set myself up for happiness.
BEYOND THE WALLS
Feeling happiness in your home goes beyond the walls you live in. Your location also plays a big part in your happiness. There often isn’t much choice in where you get stationed, which can make it hard to find happiness, especially if the location wasn’t your first choice. Sometimes, even if it is your first choice, it can still be a hard place to live. Moving to Manila twice, even though it was our first choice, has been hard. This time I forced myself out of the house on day one. The difference that made in how I felt here and how much more quickly I settled in was huge. I explored on foot while pushing my daughter Harper in the stroller. It was Christmas and Christmas here in the Philippines is amazing. We walked around looking at all the holiday displays. We found a local weekly wet market (kind of like a farmer’s market) in our neighborhood and shop it every Saturday. They have food stalls selling ready-made food as well as fruits, veggies, fish, breads, handicrafts, soaps, etc. I talked to the people running the stalls. The more I talked to local people, the more Manila felt like home. Harper is preschool age and we found a local preschool for her. I fully immersed our lives with the locals as much as possible. I did it so much that until Harper was four she thought she was Filipina. All this to say, that being happy outside of the walls you live in, makes a difference in how you feel inside those walls.
How do you make yourself feel at home after a PCS? Do you paint your walls? Do you buy a certain souvenir from each duty station to display? Fifteen years in this crazy military life and I am still learning. If you have any tips to share I would love to hear them!
Elizabeth Bosse is an Army wife of almost fifteen years and mom to a four-year-old daughter. She has moved eight times, with four of these moves overseas. She is a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance with two years of experience. She also has a certificate in the Roll Model Method and is a reiki practitioner. She loves to run, read, and drink chai lattes.