Our Guest is Maria Reed of Moving with the Military

I’m the founder and host of the TV series Moving with the Military. I created the show about 5 years ago 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. So 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 military, first responders, and veterans. 

And on the side, I also develop apps! I co-created an app called My Ultimate PCS to help military families who are PCSing to make the process a little easier. 

How do you define “home” when you never really feel like you have a home?

My answer to that is all of the above: it’s people, it’s things, it’s 4 walls and a door. I became a military spouse later in life, in my 30’s, 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, for 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 4 walls you are in now, and the 4 walls you are going to next. 

What does a healing 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 it or how it makes you feel. Does it make you feel happy, peaceful, or energized? Color theory tells us that colors can impact our mood, our hunger, our energy levels, etc. 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. 

What do people need to do right now?

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 have to organize your spaces and make them work for you somewhat quickly, because you are going to move again and won’t be here forever. 

Tell us about your crazy cross-country makeover trip!

We just 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 actually 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.

How does design connect to mental health?

I look at design as creative art. It is proven that art therapy is a fantastic therapy for veterans with PTSD. 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 to talk about why art is important to them. Whether you create things or refurbish them and put them in your home, then it has a story and becomes a talking point when someone visits your home, so it can help them heal too. 

As a writer, it’s hard for me to write the initial thesis statement. It’s difficult to look at a blank screen. How do we start to create a healing space?

When we heard the news of the 13 service members in Afghanistan, I literally fell to my knees and wept. It took me back to OIF I when I was pregnant with my daughter and learned that a hand grenade had been thrown into my husband’s unit. All those feelings came back. It’s hard to talk about home design when you are hurting. 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 create their own non-profit or help others. 

Sometimes it’s the simplest things, like rearranging. Take what you already have, and move it around. 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 it for a few days and see if you like it. 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. We’ve been sitting in our houses during COVID, staring at our spaces, trying to decide what to do with them. 

Change is such a constant in our lives, so moving furniture can feel like more stress and change. How can you reduce that stress in the couple?

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’s always memories to be made and growth that can happen when you define what home is for you. 

Sometimes as a military spouse, 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 designing 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 designing?

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. So 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.

After a move, I sometimes go through a PCS “identity crisis” because a part of me changes whenever my environment changes. Do you notice this?

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!