Living room couch and table

Living room couch and table ()

Standing on an island of square tile in a sea of unpacked boxes, I did my best to fight off that familiar, overwhelming ache of homesickness as it began to fill my chest. For a moment, I found it hard to breathe. Our household goods had just been delivered to our rental house in Germany, and I was already struggling to make peace with our new living situation.

Despite having made three major moves in five years, looking around the tiny European kitchen — with its refrigerator the size of a gym locker and appliance instructions I had to decipher with Google Translate — this was definitely the most disoriented and out of place I had ever felt.

Just give yourself time, I thought to myself; this place will feel like home before you know it. I took a deep breath, and ripped the tape from the first box as if it were a Band-Aid.

Now that we’ve been in Germany for just over a year, I can say I was right to give myself time and space to adjust to our new life here, but it was so much easier said than done. Looking back at the months of transition, I’ve compiled a few tips with the hope that they will help make your new house in Europe feel like home a little sooner than later.

Set up “command centers” ASAP

Over the years, I’ve heard it’s best to take your time to get unpacked and settled into your home, but my best piece of advice is just the opposite. If you’re anything like me, the kitchen and bedrooms are the command centers of your home. The quicker you get these rooms set up, the smoother the following days and weeks of adjustment are likely to be. Start by getting all of the beds assembled and clothes in their closets. Then make your way to the kitchen and find places for your plates, cups, silverware and cooking utensils. Homecooked meals and a good night’s rest in your own bed go a long way when it comes to making a new house feel like home in the early stages of moving in.

Stick to routines

Routines are an anchor for families experiencing major changes, and they benefit adults and children, alike. Try to make the ones you had in place at your previous duty station work, if at all possible. Go to bed and set your alarm to wake up at the same time every day. Exercise on a schedule, even if you simply do a few stretches or take a walk around the block. Eat three square meals a day at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

For the kids, work to incorporate predictable nap and bedtime patterns, and communicate with them so they know what to expect throughout the days and weeks.

Carry on family traditions

Take your family traditions with you wherever you go. Whether they are simple, weekly activities you do together with your spouse and/or children, or special rituals reserved for certain holidays, they can help you feel more connected as a family, no matter where you are. For example, if you had a weekly pizza and movie night at your last duty station, get back into the swing of things as soon as you can, even if it means eating pizza off of a cardboard box in your living room while watching a DVD you rented from the installation library on your laptop.

Also, limit your social media use and allow yourself to be open to developing a support system of real-life friendships in your new area. Finally, give yourself permission and time to grieve the life you have left behind at your last duty station. It can take up to six months (sometimes more) to truly feel settled and comfortable in your new home in Europe.

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