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How to Know When You’re Home: Making the Most of a New City, New Apartment, and New Life

Making a home, a place where you live, isn’t as easy as it sounds. How do you make a place feel like its yours? How do find attachment with a physical space? A specific location?

Just at the beginning of the New York Pause & my own self-isolation, I privately celebrated my 2-year anniversary of living in New York City. It was a strange celebration because life had abruptly changed, but it also felt very special.

When I moved to New York in 2018, I was taking a leap—like so many people do. Moving to a new city alone isn’t really very easy, and New York City isn’t necessarily the easiest place to start fresh. It can feel big and overwhelming, scary, and sometimes difficult to make friends.

In the few months leading up to my two-year Brooklyn-versary, I knew by that time that New York City was, in fact, my home. How did I know? Well, it just felt right.

If you’re struggling to make a new city feel like home, learn how I’ve managed below.

When does a place start to feel like home? How long does it take for a new city, a new place, a new apartment to be your place, your home?

Home is an abstract concept, but it’s also very physical and concrete. To feel like you’re home, that you’ve made a home for yourself requires a few things.

First, a home isn’t just a singular unit of space. It’s the greater location—whether it’s a city, a neighborhood, even a specific street could and should feel like home.

When a New City Feels Like Home

For me, New York City started to feel like home just as I approached my two-year mark. The first year living in New York City was a lot of fun, and a lot of learning. But it was the second year where I really started to feel like this was home.

Personally, I’ve found that when you move to a new city, the first 4-6 months are spent really learning the city. You have to discover the neighborhoods, find your local haunts.

You might have signed a lease for an initial apartment in one neighborhood, but then after another 6 months, might realize there’s a better neighborhood more suited to your interests and needs.

By the time you reach a full year in the city, you’ve hopefully made friends in different friend circles. You’ve found your best neighborhood, and you’ve started to build a solid footing for the future. But at that one-year mark in a new city, you’re still in the honeymoon phase.

Everything is still fresh and new, exciting. You’re still discovering new places, getting recommendations for restaurants you haven’t yet heard of. Money goes quick during the first year living in a new city, especially if you’re trying to make the most of it.

Living my best life in New York City

That second year living in a new city—that’s the sweet spot.

By then, you probably know the city relatively well. Maybe you’ve started dating. Hell, maybe you’ve even found fresh love. You’ve likely met more people, made new and better friends—those more aligned with your passions.

First friendships in a new city are strange because you’re likely more open to new experiences and new ideas, but as you start to settle into a new city that increasingly feels like home, that’s when you discover who the true friends are.

What Makes a Place Feel Like Home

My experience trying to make New York City feel like home went on a trajectory like the above. The first few months were spent exploring different Brooklyn neighborhoods, Brooklyn gay bars, exploring Manhattan’s gay nightlife.

I moved into my first Brooklyn apartment, but with limited financial resources, I didn’t really make it my own. I was still trying to make friends, explore, and meet new people. That’s also when I started dating a lot—with Grindr, especially.

I spent a lot of my second year trying to ground myself. I was saving money, building strong relationships, sticking to a budget, and continuing to explore more and more of the city by eating at new restaurants, partying at clubs, and just generally having a lot of fun.

At home in Brooklyn

How long does it take for a new place to feel like home? For me, it took a bit of time. I’d say it can take up to two years before you start to have a rhythm and understanding of your new life in a new city.

In my second year in my new city, I’d felt like I’d made NYC my own, and I was enjoying it. I was traveling with friends, enjoying a life I’d wanted full of love and busy with activities. There was a relationship—intense and emotional—and eventually, a breakup.

As my two-year anniversary approached, I knew the city was my home. Because I’d love and lost, I’d built myself a new life and learned what I needed and what I wanted from New York.

At home in my hipster apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn (still trying to discover my decor and design theme, though)

Making an Apartment Feel Like Home

Besides trying to make a city with all the social and physical characteristics feel like home, the second most important way to make a place home is on a more granular (and dare I say, capitalistic) level. Making a place feel like home requires making a place feel like your own.

That means mean decorating it to your own interests. Being able to show off your personal knick-knacks, souvenirs, memorabilia.

When you move to a new apartment and into a new city for the first time, you may start off with starter furniture—the brand basics from online and retail stores like IKEA or Amazon or even maybe a rental-subscription site. Moving a new city takes time and money, and furniture is sometimes the hardest to invest in.

Moving between apartments and hiring a mover—a sign that the city feels like home

But after living in a new city for a while, that’s when you can start building out a home just as you like it. Invest in the furniture and home-goods that best match your style and show off your own personal interests.

Decorating a new home can be a lot of fun, and it actually helps to ground you and eventually make a place feel like your own—even if you’re just renting an apartment.

For my New York City experience, it was my third apartment in the city which finally started to feel like my own. Having just moved around my two-year mark in the city, my new apartment feels the most like my own place since I first moved to the city.

Designing my new space with new furniture, new plants, new colors and designs; I’m building my own space the way I want, the way I always saw myself living in hipster Brooklyn.

Making a place feel like home doesn’t have to involve a lot of money, either. It’s possible to do home decorating on a budget—especially if you have the time (hello unemployment).

How long does it take for a place to feel like home? Not too long. It’s about how you decorate and what you do to make it feel your own.

I’ve found myself doing lots of crafts and slowly re-building my kitchen accessories to include all the things I want and need in my new home. Just one piece at a time to make sure I stay within a budget.

Cooking with my cast iron skillet in my home kitchen

Once I started to build my new furniture, and put up the artwork I always wanted, my little apartment in Brooklyn started to finally feel like a home. My home. With some fresh plants (still looking to name my plants, though) and new life in my space, a home can actually feel like home.

The idea of home is kind of funny, when you think of it. For some people, a home is a city. For others, it’s a person. Maybe home is your bed and comforter, or a favorite book. Home can mean so many things.

Our physical living spaces, though, it can be a challenge to make it feel like your own—to make it feel like home—if you’re just a renter and not a homeowner. If you’re single and unattached, making a home feel like a home isn’t necessarily easy.

The most important part of making a place or a thing feel like home is grounding it to you, to your being, to your interests and passions. How long does it take to make your new home, new apartment, new life to feel like home?

That’s up to you.

With that solid connection, whether through an idea or an object or a feeling—that’s what home feels like. When you finally find that connection, you know you’ve found your home.