We all have different ways of expressing individuality: clothes, haircuts, hobbies, habits, tattoos, piercings, interests, nicknames, quirks. If you’re like most people, your home is another way of expressing who you are—and it’s up to you how much of your individuality your home is to reveal.

Individuality on the Outside

Think back to your childhood. Imagine the much-anticipated visits to your friends’ homes for birthday parties, picnics or just random play dates. Those of us who grew up in the 1980s or earlier will have memories of cozy tree-lined streets, where every home looked nothing like the one next door, or the one across the street. Every home on the street boasted its own unique design, size and color scheme. You could easily find a one-story bungalow next door to a three-storey brick home (where the third floor may have been added on by the owner). We’d speak to our friends not in terms of house numbers, but in terms of description. We’d say things like, “The house with the yellow roof” or “The home with the gi-normous front porch.” And it was understood exactly which home we were talking about.

Someone growing up in the 1990s or later will have different memories. Their friends’ homes (and, indeed, their own homes) may look exactly like every other house on the street. As the suburbs sprawl outwards, forming bigger and thicker frames around city centers, many North American cities have opted towards a more “cookie-cutter” approach to home construction. Bedroom community developments tend to develop one style of house, then build that house over and over, filling an entire street or even an entire neighborhood. The result: many of these houses look exactly the same.

So, which is better? The old-school, one-of-a-kind houses of the past, or the photocopied housing developments of the future? That’s not really a question for us to answer in this article. It is, however, a question you must answer in your own head when deciding to buy a home.

Really, it’s a question of individuality. It’s a matter of preference whether you express your individuality by the way you decorate the inside of your home, or whether that extends to the way your house is constructed.

For example, you might be a tight-knit kind of person who likes to have friends and family close by. You find a cozy little house, so cute and small you can practically smell gingerbread when you get close, that just has your name written all over it. It screams you. It’s located in a middle-class suburb, signaling to others that you, like your neighbors, earn a middle-class income and like the peace, quiet and privacy of the suburbs. But unlike the sprawling thing next door, your house says something very specific about the kind of person you are.

Or, you might be more extravagant. Perhaps you’ve started a company from scratch, then watched it grow and grow. Now, it’s worth several million. You feel like a king (or queen)… and want to live like one, too. So, you decide to purchase a ten-bedroom replica of the White House with a tennis court and swimming pool in one of the three backyards. Again, this house expresses who you are, and illustrates your individuality.

Then again, you may be a firm believe of the age-old saying, “It’s what’s inside that counts”, and perhaps you apply this philosophy not only to the people in your life, but to your home, as well. Who cares what your house looks like? Who cares if it’s similar to the house next door or across the street? It’s got all the features you need, plus a great view of the lake. If you want individuality, you’ll hang up a couple of photos in the den. After all, where are you going to spend more of your time: within the rooms of your house, or outside on the sidewalk looking up at it?

When deciding how much to individualize your house, start with the outside. Decide if you care whether or not your house is one-of-a-kind. Perhaps you do; perhaps this is a non-issue. Or, perhaps you prefer the anonymity of living in a homogenously designed neighborhood, and prefer to save the personal touches for the private realm.

Individuality on the Inside

The possibility of expressing your individuality on the inside is absolutely endless. Once you own a home, you can do whatever you want (within reason, and within the law) to make that home your own. This can range from accessorizing your home, to color-coding your rooms, to completely renovating—knocking down walls to turn to small rooms into one large one, or adding space on to your home altogether.

The beauty of owning your own home is, it’s yours, it belongs to you, and no one else can tell you what to do with it (other than law enforces and the other people who live there, that is). Remember that apartment you and a friend moved in to back in college? You wanted so badly to paint the dung-colored walls a cheery bright red, but simply couldn’t justify spending all that time and money on a six-month lease. After all, your landlord was the one who would ultimately benefit from your creative efforts. So, instead, you invested in a few cheap tapestries and hung them as close together as possible, trying hard not to look between the cracks. Or even worse was your landlord the following year, who refused to let you paint at all. I personally once had a landlord who strictly forbade pinholes in the wall, so my posters were held feebly against the wall by weak dollar-store blue tack, each piece of which appeared to have a lifespan of between 48 and 72 hours. Towards the end of my lease, there were more posters slumped sadly against the bottom edge of the wall than there actually were hanging on it. Well, you’ll have none of these worries once you have your own home. You can spend all the money you want knowing you can enjoy your home improvements for as long as you want. You also have much less restrictions. Short of setting it on fire, there’s very little you can be told not to do with the inside of your house.

Feeling strapped for ideas? Consider these examples.

Maya, a photographer, desperately wanted to own her first home. When she brainstormed as to what she was looking for, she decided that location was of utmost importance. She often had to work with magazines and studios, all of whose offices were located downtown, so she decided she’d take what she could get as long as it was in short commuting distance of where she had to get for work. She finally found a decent house in an excellent location. There was just one problem: the mortgage payments would come up to more than she’d intended. Disappointed but not discouraged, Maya began examining her current expenses and looked for possible adjustments. The ideal solution came to her very quickly. She was currently renting out a darkroom on a monthly basis to develop her photos for some of the freelance and pleasure work she did. She decided instead to take out a combination mortgage-home improvement loan, and convert a room in her basement to a small but perfectly functional darkroom. She not only found a great way to save on monthly expenses, but also added a huge dose of individuality to her home. With the money she had left over, she bought several cans of paint and colored the rooms in her house in deep, bright colors: purple, orange, gold, wine, violet. Then, on each of these vibrant walls, she hung up samples of black and white photography: some store-bought, some done by friends and colleagues, and many done by Maya herself. The inside of the house now screams with individuality; there’s no denying that its owner is an artist.

Andrew, a copywriter, never quite realized his dream of playing in the NBA. He trained for years, but accepted a lucrative position with a fast-paced Internet marketing company and eventually made partner there, instead. Soon, he had saved enough money for a down payment on a house so big it rivaled the size of his office building. Once he’d moved in, he realized he didn’t really need four living rooms, so he decided to knock down a wall and turn two of the living rooms into a mini home gym—complete with a basketball court! Now, he could enjoy his prosperous career and live out his basketball dreams—all within the comfort of his own, highly individualized home!

Meanwhile, Aidan and Danielle, a young newly married couple, had just purchased their first home. Over their two years of marriage and three years as a couple before that, they had discussed their views on everything, from politics to censorship to all-time greatest movies. However, one of the things that never really came up was how they’d decorate their future home. When the time came to move in, Aidan wanted to fill the home with hockey memorabilia. Danielle, however, had envisioned incense, lavender walls and charms to symbolize her Pagan beliefs. Not surprisingly, disagreements erupted. They finally reached a compromise: he could decorate the den, while she would have control over the living room. Now, their home represents not only their unique individuality, but the diversity that defines them as a couple.

There are so many ways to add little touches of individuality that make your house truly your own. Get creative, and do what you want! After all, your home is your own private universe!