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Decorating on a Dime: Decor Tips for Military Families

by PCSgrades Staff - August 25th, 2021

As the founder and host of the TV series Moving with the Military, Maria Reed set out to help military families create “home” wherever they were living. Here’s what she shared with us.

The goal was to do a home improvement show helping military families because home is such a strange word for all of us. We took the show to the major networks, and they all said no one cared enough about the military to do a show specific to them. Well, we did it anyway! With a lot of grit and gumption, and I’m thankful to be part of it. 

I’m also a co-founder of the Inspire Up foundation, a non-profit that supports military and first responder families. We have a conference coming up in November to support the military, first responders, and veterans. 

How do you define “home” for military families?

My answer to that is simple: home is people, it's things, it's four walls and a door. I became a military spouse later in life, in my 30s, and it was a whole new experience because I had lived in the same house, with the same neighborhood kids, going to the same schools, my whole life. 

It’s a little different for each person. Home is where you’re from -– your roots, culture, food, and music. That’s part of who you are. It’s also the address where you lived for any amount of time. It’s all the duty stations. Everywhere we go, I take some memories and moments with me. It’s also the “stuff” that connects you to your memories and all the places you have lived. It’s the four walls you are in now, and the four walls you are going to next. 

What does a decorated space look like, especially in a military home?

It’s going to look different for everyone again. A lot of people get stuck in the Instagram or Pinterest world and want their space to look like that right now and they don’t realize that might cost $20,000! But you don’t have to buy everything new or all at once! Try thrifting, Facebook Marketplace, yard sales, etc. But you need to figure out what you like. Our tastes change over time.

I’m going to give everyone homework. The spaces that you go into next -– stores, coffee shops, etc -- try to figure out what you like about them or how they makes you feel. Does it make you feel happy, peaceful, or energized? Color theory tells us that colors can impact our mood, hunger, and energy levels. Menus are red because that stimulates hunger. The colors used in gym spaces all evoke an emotion or reaction. That’s the same thing we need to do in our own spaces to determine what is healing for us.

Sometimes I use a closet or a corner, but I need a small place to meditate and find peace. And it can be outside, too! It’s so important to bring greenery inside. It’s okay if you feel like you always kill plants but bringing in plants actually helps change the way we feel. Even fake plants help set a mood. 

How can we make healing spaces for military families?

When there is a lot of chaos in your home, that feeds into how you feel. When there is a lot of clutter, it impacts you. Work on one space, one thing at a time. It doesn’t have to be your entire house at once! Seeing all those boxes after a PCS feels very chaotic because it increases your stress levels. For me, after all the boxes are delivered, I take a day out of the house to have an adventure and get my headspace right before I can get my home space right. You should organize your spaces and make them work for you somewhat quickly because you are going to move again and won’t be here forever. 

What did your cross-country makeover trip look like?

We spent 75 days traveling across the country doing makeovers for military families. It was incredible! But what surprised me was when we got to the desert, I learned that Joshua Tree really is a special place. For me, it was a place of discovery, learning things about myself. I fell in love with the desert, which brought new pieces to my home to help me tell the story. Places really can change us. When we travel and discover new things, we want to make those things part of our home and part of our story. Having things from other duty stations helps define who we are, and it can help us get settled quickly after a move.

What are some ways home design connects to mental health?

I look at design as a creative art. It is proven that art therapy is fantastic for veterans with PTSD. In art, woodworking, etc., there is a connection between working with your hands and healing your heart. It takes a little time to move from being overwhelmed. It’s like a study, so it’s great if you have a designer friend who can help. I encourage people to send me photos and ask me, “what do I do with this weird space?” I’m happy to give some ideas, but I think it is a healing process to refurbish furniture and create your own art pieces or display things from different duty stations.

Don’t leave things in a box to be unpacked in your “forever home,” because you will continue making those memories and having those moments right now! I didn’t realize that I liked painting until I started painting. I’m not a trained artist, I just went on YouTube to learn. Our date nights are always about creating art and making new things. It’s building our relationship and building something new that we can bring into our space. Having been married for 20 years, this is important for us. 

It’s great to have local artists do a DIY Night for the duty station, so people can take a piece of local art with them and talk about why art is important to them. Whether you create things or refurbish them and put them in your home, they have a story and become a talking point when someone visits your home, so it can help them heal too. 

How do we create new spaces in military housing?

On social media, we are all influencers. How are we helping or influencing others? I want to be able to help people by giving them a space that helps them for a long time. Often, when we do this, it creates a ripple effect, and people go on to help others. 

Sometimes it’s the simplest things, like rearranging what you already have.

One of the biggest things people struggle with is layout because as military families, we have the same furniture each time, but in different shapes and spaces. Try putting things in a new place or space and live with them there for a few days and see if you like them. Try paint and removable wallpaper to change colors. It’s great, even if you have to paint over it! If you don’t want to do that, try art! Hang something that brings you joy.

Moving furniture is stressful, how do you reduce stress in your military marriage?

When the service member is deployed, many people want to rearrange the house. But don’t do it as a surprise! Talk to them, communicate about the changes you are considering, and try to involve them in the decision. I would tell my husband I was thinking about painting, and ask him, “do you want this color or this one?” Try to just do one space at a time. Don’t worry about rearranging everything all at once. There are always memories to be made and growth that can happen when you define what home is for you. 

Sometimes as military spouses, we put everyone else first, and it’s easy to forget who we are. When we always put the mission first, we aren’t focused on what is happening in us and to us. We sometimes heal from the outside in. 

Does redesigning always cost money?

Not always! You can get paint for free! Around duty stations, people are always getting rid of some paint when they move. Also, Habitat for Humanity resells designer furniture from model homes, so you can find great design items there. I’m all about keeping things low-cost. 

You can also agree to set a dollar amount with your spouse before you have to consult with each other, so that you are free to do small things without needing to ask forgiveness. Pausing can give you the chance to ask, “do I really need this? Will it make my life better?”

How did you get into home design?

Some of it came about because whenever my husband left, Murphy’s Law would hit, things would start breaking, and I would have to figure out on my own how to fix them. I could either call someone for help, or I could save a lot of money by just getting the power tool and figuring out how to do it on my own. And you can learn how to do almost anything on YouTube videos. Learn how to make things because it can end up costing you a lot less. When you start small and start to create, you build your confidence and figure out how to do the next thing. Even if you never make it a business, learn it for yourself. It helps you find yourself.

How does your home environment impact a military family?

Yes, your identity changes over time. As you start to change and transition, don’t get rid of your old things. Put all the things together in the eclectic style that helps show the story of where you have been and how your journey has changed you. Incorporate new things that speak to you and represent you, while keeping some pieces that show where you are coming from. 

Don’t be afraid to change, make your memories now, and find the things that you love that will work for your family.

PCSgrades Staff