A Millennial’s Guide to Homemaking

oday, I accepted the reality that I would never be able to buy a house. Despite what people say about millennials, it’s not that I don’t have that dream. Quite the contrary. As a child, I even played architect and sketched out my ideal house. It had three floors, a big kitchen, a movie theater, and a waterslide that went out the bedroom window into the pool.

Except for the last part, my dream hasn’t changed much. I not only want to own a house, I want it to be custom-built.

But at age 34, I’m still renting. I’ve struggled for years to get even a modest amount of savings. I graduated during the Great Recession, and I’ve simply never earned enough to afford a home. And before you start wondering about my spending habits, I don’t even like avocado toast.

Just because I can’t buy a house doesn’t mean I can’t have a home. In lieu of my custom-built open-air kitchen with a tiki bar, I’ve spent a lot of time cultivating a sense of home in whatever dump I happen to be renting. I’ve learned the basics of homemaking even when I can’t have my dedicated theater room or hardwood floors.

Looking to turn your rental into a home? Here are a few pointers.

Quality Towels

My first post-college boyfriend had a nice house, and he’d converted the spare bedroom into a theater room (!). The kitchen was cute but versatile, and he recorded his bland music in the garage. Unfortunately, there was only one bathroom, and it was stocked with Irish Spring soap and threadbare grey towels. For someone who threw money around, he sure didn’t care about towels. They were so ineffectual that I may as well have been rubbing a wad of strings over my wet body.

Having a good set of (matching) towels is one of the first signs of true adulthood. They give your bathroom a unified, homey appearance. If you take care of them, they’ll last a long time. Not only will you enjoy having nice, soft, fluffy towels, but also any guests you have will greatly appreciate them. Be sure that you get hand towels, too. No one visiting your home wants to dry their hands on the towel that dried your butt.

Good Dishware

As with towels, a set of quality dishes ties your home together. And let’s face it, those cheap melamine dishes fade, crack, and generally look crappy. While I loved my collection of plates and bowls with whimsical designs, they didn’t exactly scream “fully functional adult.” They’re also not microwave-safe. Eventually, I grew tired of the melamine plates and the unpleasant tinkling sound they made. I yearned for dishware that had personality to match the eclectic cuisine I cooked.

Good dishware lasts years, and it’s not that expensive (although as with anything, you get what you pay for). Invest in a set that you’d be proud to serve food on. I recommend high-quality glass or ceramic dishes, including dinner plates, dessert plates, soup bowls, mugs, a serving platter and bowl, and ramekins for sauces.

Sturdy Furniture

I remember my first trip to IKEA. I had some money to spend and a cheap apartment to furnish, and I feverishly filled my cart with items as we walked down the labyrinthine hallways. I loved the cute, modern style of their strangely named furniture — and just a few short years later, I loathed it as it gleefully collapsed before my eyes.

Sadly, I’ve had a hard time escaping the millennial’s curse of particle-board furniture. I’ve spent a decent sum on bookcases, bed frames, and dressers that quickly fell apart. But I simply didn’t have the budget for real-wood furniture. That changed in time, and I was able to get some deals on secondhand dressers, sofas, and dining tables. I scored a set of matching oak dressers with gold inlay that are beautiful and durable. Having these handcrafted pieces makes me feel like there’s artisanship in my home. My quality of life skyrocketed when I started investing in sturdy furniture — which was also easier to clean and move around. But the best part was the feeling of comfort and security.

Real Art

One of my roommates was unnaturally excited to plaster a large decal reading “Live Laugh Love” across our living room wall. (If you knew her, you’d know how ironic that choice was for her.) Another lugged home cheap canvas prints from Ross. Even the man I ended up marrying adorned his walls with battered posters. In each case, the walls didn’t seem homey. They seemed cluttered.

One of the greatest investments you can make in your home is to fill it with art — and not just the mass-produced prints of the New York City skyline or a raindrop falling off a leaf. Purchase art made by an independent artist. Choose works that speak to you, that inspire you. When you put such art up on your walls, your home will be an extension of your personality, as opposed to proof that you know where the discount art bin is at Wal-mart.

Efficient Organization

It wouldn’t be homemaking if it didn’t involve some home organization. I am one of those people who drools over organizational products, but I understand that not everyone shares my passion for shoe racks. As someone with OCD, I was predisposed toward color-coding and hyper-organization, but even after treatment, I appreciated order. In my university theatre, I worked in the scene shop. Our director, Mike, ran a tight ship. Every single spare screw had to be returned to its assigned bin — down to the length, width, and type of screw. I definitely learned the meaning of “a place for everything and everything in its place.”

Still, you can strike a balance between manic organization and total slob-i-tude. Try sorting each room into zones, then make it easy for things to land in those zones. If you, like many millennials, live in a slightly-too-small place, you can repurpose sections of your home. There’s no rule that you can’t store spare toiletries in the kitchen or canned goods in the linen closet. Just be sure that you’re consistent. That way, you can always find the things you need.

Chore Management

Part of ensuring that your house is a home is setting it up to run smoothly. Chore management is a necessary life skill, especially if you have roommates/spouses/children who don’t pull their weight. Make it easy for everyone to get everything done by following these tips:

  • Create a chore wheel. It doesn’t have to be an actual wheel. It can be any scheme that assigns certain tasks to certain people. Make it, discuss it, agree upon it, and stick to it.
  • Keep supplies in stock. It’s going to be hard to do the dishes without dish soap. Part of homemaking is ensuring that you have what you need to do the work. I recommend using a product subscription service to ensure you never run out.
  • Plan ahead. It’s simple to remember to do the dishes when they start piling up, but hidden tasks such as changing the AC filter (you’re doing that, right?) are easily forgotten. Set reminders on a to-do app or events in a shared calendar to make sure that these tasks get done.

Above all else, help all members of the household understand why the chores are important. Clean filters mean lower energy bills and reduced risk of fire. Clean dishes and counters mean lower risk of food poisoning (and general yuck). And so on.

The key to homemaking is to spend time, well, making a home. Take time to decorate. Take time to find pieces that speak to you, that will bring you comfort. Your home deserves an investment of love and care. Some say that it’s a reflection of your inner state. As someone whose mind tends toward creative chaos, I’d say that’s true. Whenever I start feeling stressed about work or writing, I find it helpful to spend time homemaking.

It’s also something that brings me and my husband together. We’ve created a home together, each bringing in our respective aesthetics and preferences. (Thankfully, he abandoned the battered posters.) Homemaking is more than a chore: It’s an act of creation. While we may not have children or own our house, we’ve made a home together.

So if you’re feeling uncertain about life and the world, if you need a dose of comfort, spend some investing in what makes your home special. You might just find that you appreciate the little things more — and worry a little less.

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Writer by day, circus artist by night. I write about art, media, culture, health, science, and where they all meet. Join my list: http://eepurl.com/gD53QP

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