How to Make Your Current Home Work for You (When Moving Isn’t an Option)

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Photo: Ilya Titov (Shutterstock)

It is spring, which means it is the time of year that my husband and I thought maybe we would move into a larger home. It’s actually the third spring we have thought that — the first being right when the pandemic hit, the second being once we were finally vaccinated and ready to start looking but the housing market did what it did, and the third being right now when the housing market is still doing what it’s doing. “Maybe next spring!” has been our mantra for basically a third of the time we’ve lived in this house, and I’ve decided it’s time to take a different approach: I’ve decided it’s time to love (or at least better tolerate) the home we ‘re already in.

Of course, simply wanting a house to meet your every need doesn’t make it so. At nearly 100 years old, this house is not big on things like closets or large outdoor spaces or a driveway. However, at nearly 100 years old, this house has also been perfectly fine for many families over many decades, and there’s no reason it can’t be perfectly fine for us for a few more years, too — with some modifications. Some of this requires a mindset shift, and some of it requires strategic purchases, but here’s how I have been able to make myself stop pining over things like large backyard decks and a normal amount of counter space.

Make a list of what you do do not like

I’ve already mentioned a few of my own home’s limitations, and you’ve probably got yours, too. We’re not trying to dwell on the frustrating here, we’re looking for solutions. If you’ve ever been in my home, or spoken to me for any length of time, you probably know that kitchen storage (or a significant lack thereof) is one of my biggest frustrations. I love to cook; I don’t love to have to go down to the basement every time I need a blender, a hand-mixer, a stir-fry pan, a Crockpot, a can of chicken broth, some beans, or a jar of mushrooms. (Oops, I’m dwelling; it’s a habit.) OK, so I need more storage or a way to more easily access the things I use regularly.

You might need a space for guests to sleep, a dedicated play area for your kids, or a quiet place to work. You probably can’t fix everything (this house of mine will simply never have a driveway or a garage unless my neighbor agrees to tear his house down to make room), but it’s possible you’ve been there so long that you accept your home’s flaws as facts, rather than as hurdles you can overcome with some creative thinking. List out everything you wish you had, so you can figure out how to actually get some of it.

And the things you can’t get? You can probably live without. I would love a four-bedroom home so I could have a dedicated guest bedroom, but just the other day, I was able to let go of that fantasy by saying out loud, “You know what? People can just stay in a hotel. It’s fine. ” For the handful of times a year that we actually have out-of-town guests, they can either crash on my pull-out couch or air mattress, or they can stay in a damn hotel. Maybe it’s not ideal, but it’s fine.

Buy the right furniture

For literal years now, I have been hesitant to buy anything decorative or even functional that I thought would work especially well in this house for fear that then we’d move and the new stuff wouldn’t work in the new home, and I would have wasted all that money. Here’s what I have come to accept in the past year, though: If you really love a piece of furniture, you can probably make it work in the next home (should you ever actually move) —and if you can’t? You can sell it or donate it to someone else who will love it. In the meantime, if it makes your current space more usable, it is worth it. I am, of course, referring to the buffet I bought in January, which has my undying love and affection:

Image for article titled How to Make Your Current Home Work for You (When Moving Isn't an Option)

Photo: Meghan Moravcik Walbert

I used to have a smaller, decorative table in that space, which I also loved but which did not come with three cabinets and drawers like this lovely piece does. I still have to go to the basement for crushed tomatoes but NOT for my Crockpots, my Dutch ovens, or my handheld appliances. One piece of furniture opened up so much additional storage for me that it feels like a literal game-changer. For you, the right piece of furniture might be the sleeper sofa that helps your home office double as a guest bedroom or the partition wall that helps you block off a separate play area for your kids. All of these things are cheaper than a new homeso really you are saving money.

Repurpose a space

Just because a room or space once served a certain purpose doesn’t mean it always needs to serve that purpose. My house has three bedrooms, which is a pretty good ratio for the three people who live in it. The third bedroom has been a number of things over the years — first a guest bedroom, then a bedroom for kids when we were foster parents for a couple of years, and now it’s my home office. Our unfinished basement was once primarily used for storage until we turned half of it into a makeshift “kid cave” a few years ago.

An unused corner of a bedroom or a walk-in closet could become a nook reading. A formal dining room that currently gets used a couple of times a year could become a playroom that gets used every day of the year. A garage could be a play space. An enclosed porch could double as a home office with a view of nature. Try to see the space with fresh eyes—not for what it is now, but what it could give you with a few changes.

When all else fails, add on what you need

Adding an addition to your house isn’t exactly the cheapest option, especially with all the inflation and supply-chain madness right now. But if you’ve got some cash saved up for the next house and you’re discovering there isn’t likely to be a next house any time soon, that money might be better used toward making your current home meet your needs — particularly if those additions also increase the value of your home.

Add on entire rooms or in-law suites if you like, but even smaller jobs — such as enclosing a back porch — can create more livable space. We’re currently considering turning an enclosed back porch into a walk-in pantry and half-bathroom, which would mean 1) I would no longer have to go to the basement even for canned goods and 2) we’d improve our home’s currently unacceptable three-people-to-one-toilet ratio.

For your purposes, you might want to add a shed to the backyard to store tools and lawn-care materials. Or you might want to add a deck or an awning to be able to more thoroughly enjoy your outdoor space. The goals are cross off as many items as possible on that list we made at the beginning so your current home can start to feel less like a trap and more like the space you want or need it to be.

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