My family and I know how incredibly fortunate we are to have found a summer rental that will give us more than enough fresh air and a brief respite from daily life during what has been inarguably the toughest summer ever.
But a short-term rental, whether it’s a cabin, cottage or tiny house, isn’t supposed to be exactly like your home and that’s something we learned quickly when we moved into a little ranch house near the beach.
We were warned not to walk barefoot on the deck due to splinters and one particularly jaggedy plank but there were other quirks, as we soon discovered. For example, the floors had an unfamiliar creak, the spices in one cabinet were over a decade old, we practically had to hop on one foot to get consistent WiFi and the smell upon opening the front door bore, at first, a musty hotel-like assault on the senses.
Taking a shower came with its own surprises—one shower-head rains water down like a firefighter’s hose—and upon laying down on one bed it felt like we’d landed in a deep crevice, only to realize it was harder than we realized to hoist ourselves up when the birds started chirping at 4:30 a.m.
Despite it all, we fell in love with the place. And, after a few weeks spent settling in, we actually found some pretty failsafe ways to make it feel more like our faraway home. Follow these tips and I promise that you, too, can make any temporary abode feel homey—even if it's the basement in your parents' home that you've retreated to for a while.
Pack up a few fave condiments
Remember: Depending on the cooking prowess of the homeowner you’re renting from, you might not find basic spices in the kitchen cupboards. In our case, there were spices (lots of ‘em) but the majority had long expired. Even the salt was clumpy and quickly deemed unusable. Instead of wondering what you’re going to find—just tuck your basics in a side pocket of your overnight bag.
Maybe I’m obsessed with my coffeemaker—I even wrote about my love affair with this appliance—but I’m a big believer in the power of familiarity when it comes to your morning joe. Just think how nice it will be to plug in and power it up before you unpack a single bag. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee alone will harken you home—just don’t forget the filters, grinder, and your favorite beans.
Wash everything down
Pretty soon after you’ve unpacked, you’ll want to conquer the kitchen. This means washing down everything you’re planning on using, from flatware to pots and pans, mugs and glassware. Use your own dishwashing liquid to, again, bring your favorite smells in and scrub off any lingering cobwebs, mouse droppings (eek!), or dusty sheen before you even consider serving dinner on them.
Light a scented candle.
Remember that unusual home smell I wrote about earlier? You’re guaranteed to have a visceral reaction to the smell of your rental. That’s because the house may have been closed up tight for the season or perhaps no human being has lived in the space for years. No matter. First order of business: Throw open the windows, turn on any fans, and giving the entire home a good airing. Then, unpack the candle you brought along (my favorite are these 100 percent soy wax ones from Homesick), light it to cozy up the place, and then sit back as a familiar fragrance replaces a mildewy one.
Put away the personal
Depending on the homeowner, your rental may not be as ‘rent-ready’ as you might have hoped. This might mean rooms that have become shrines to a lost relative or endless framed philosophic sayings. If a creepy doll collection or stacks of waterlogged paperbacks are bumming you out, gently pack everything away in a closet or bookshelf or anywhere you don’t have to stare at it during your stay. Just don’t forget to put everything back before checkout.
Reconfigure the furniture
The easiest way to make someone else's home work for you, is to set it up for your family's needs. To that end, move things around to whatever extent possible. Spotted a sunny corner in the living room that's perfect for reading? Move an armchair in. Take a table out to a breezy patio for lunches outside. Move a footstool in front of the sofa. But remember: lift, don't drag—and make sure to put things back in place before you leave.
Prepare for the bed to be lumpy
This is the thing about someone’s house: You can’t exactly demand to know what sort of mattress is on the bed nor are there any guarantees that the bed will be to your liking. Besides accepting the fact that you might have to sleep on the couch for however long you’re renting, get creative. One thing we did was to layer every comforter we could find in the rental closets and pad them under our fitted sheet. Better yet bring your own sheets, towels and a bunch of your favorite down comforters for that maximum home-away-from-home feel.
Invest in quality bath products
You know those lovely perfumed soaps that perch on most hotel sinks? Well, it's slightly unreasonable to believe you’ll have access to that same level of luxurious lather when you rent someone else’s house. You can, however, treat yourself to a little extra-fancy pump soap (I’m partial to Coastal Breeze hand soap from Stonewall Kitchen) or a sumptuous shampoo that you take along with you. Think of it as a well-deserved treat for your hardworking hands and body.
In the end, while you might not be able to smooth out creaky floors or install a more soothing shower spray, you can find ways to feel more comfortable in your home away from home. Then you can do the work of starting to decompress. And isn’t that what you were seeking when you signed that rental agreement in the first place?
What do you do to make short-term rentals feel more like home? Tell us in the comments.