Degree? Check. Job? Check. Cheap apartment? Check.
When the dust settles after the initial chaos of transitioning from college student to young professional, fledgling graduates may look around at their empty, white-walled apartments in unfamiliar cities and start to miss the comfort of their old communities. But homemaking and hospitality are skills developed through practice, and those who’ve made it through that disorienting first year of independence have plenty of advice to share.
“You feel like you’re a freshman all over again when you first graduate,” said Josephine Von Dohlen ‘19.
Von Dohlen lives in Arlington, Virginia, where she moved for a job in journalism the summer after graduation. She documents her exploits in cooking, baking, decorating, and hosting on her Instagram. Being the oldest of nine children, she has always lived in community and wanted to intentionally build a home that would bring people together in her new environment.
“There’s so much beauty in essentially sanctifying the everyday,” Von Dohlen said. “It’s such a gift to the people around you to really go the extra step just to make them feel cherished, and it doesn’t have to be difficult. I think sometimes we might think, ‘I have to own my own house before I start hosting people,’ or ‘I need to have this or that before I have a dinner party.’ That’s not what the reality is — you can use what you have and make it beautiful. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to be difficult.”
The first step, she said, is filling your apartment or little house with everything you didn’t know you needed.
“It sounds crazy, but just gather more things,” she said. “You don’t realize how little you own until you’re in an empty white apartment, and you’re like, ‘I don’t have anything really, just clothes and books, and my bed I ordered off of Amazon.’”
Thrift stores and Facebook Marketplace are your best friends in this regard, according to Von Dohlen. She purchased most of her furniture and artwork for cheap through these means.
A thrift store is also where Von Dohlen found “The Magnolia Table Volume I” by Joanna Gaines, and cooking through all the recipes became her quarantine project.
“I really got into cookbooks mostly because I was able to find them at thrift stores for good prices, and I had the idea similar to the whole ‘Julie and Julia’ project,” Von Dohlen said, referring to the movie about French chef Julia Child. “It was kind of a joke because ‘Julie and Julia’ and then ‘Josephine and Joanna.’”
Beyond cooking, there are very simple ways to “make your environment really intentional” that
“don’t have to be anything beyond lighting a candle and buying flowers for $3.99 at Trader Joe’s,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid to invest in your space around you because it really does affect your mood,” Von Dohlen said. “Just the other week someone asked, ‘Why does your place feel like a home and not an apartment?’ And I think there are ways to cultivate a home through art on the walls, a tablecloth on the table, and just little things like that.”
Senior Caroline Greb, who got married last summer and lives in downtown Hillsdale with her husband Ethan Greb ‘19, agreed that the heart of hospitality is simplicity and openness.
“It’s a simple thing of just offering a space and offering a beverage,” Caroline said. “We always have tea on hand, and those kinds of simple, inexpensive things. It doesn’t need to be grand, but I think it’s just in the act of being bold enough to be open — that’s true homemaking. Vulnerability is being willing to share things even if it is not perfect, because it’s never going to be.”
The Grebs had the benefit of a wedding registry to help get their home started, and Caroline reiterated the importance of investing in the right material things to make a house a home.
“We thought about this while making our registry, not because it’s this materialistic activity, but because you’re doing it with someone else, and you’re envisioning a life together,” she said. “You’re thinking about what you’re going to do as far as things like hosting dinners and these very tangible, physical objects that meant to be used as objects of service to other people.”
She and Ethan were of the same mind when it came to making their home a restful place for others. Caroline’s practical homemaking tips include thrifting and simple recipes (such as her three ingredient peanut butter cookie), and Ethan added that reading scripture and budgeting help as well.
“The first practical tip I would say is to read the New Testament,” he said. “There are countless instances of hospitality, especially in Romans 12 when Paul says to show hospitality to fellow Christians. Then number two would be to set up a budget for hospitality, which will give you peace of mind.”
Von Dohlen concluded that making your space welcoming and beautiful is not a selfish act if done for others, as well as yourself.
“It brings such a light to others when they are able to truly rest in your home and at your table, and find comfort and joy in your home.”