All of Part II can be summed up in one simple step:
1. PERSONALIZE YOUR HOME.
Decorate. Show off your possessions. It doesn’t matter if you only have a six-month lease. This is your home. Live there. It may seem like really simple advice, but it makes all the difference, and so few people seem to do it. They move their furniture in, maybe hang up a single poster, but that’s it.
And if you’re afraid of losing your security deposit, don’t worry. There are plenty of ways for renters to safely add their own style to their home. For instance:
Buy wall stickers (they sell them at Dollar Tree).
Frame and hang some pictures.
Go to Habitat for Humanity and find some cheap, good-looking furniture.
Put up curtains. You can find them cheap from thrift stores, or you can make some. Curtains are the perfect beginner sewing project, and nothing alters the look of a room faster.
The important thing is that you don’t wait. Don’t wait for your next apartment, or your first house. You have your very own space, and that’s a true gift. Use it. Make your home somewhere you want to be. Go through your Pinterest “Dream House” board and put some of those ideas into action. Whatever you do, just don’t put it off. Six months turns into a year, and a year turns into five before you realize it. Don’t waste a single week living in what might as well be a hospital room.
Your home doesn’t need to look like a Pottery Barn catalog, it just needs to welcome you home.
You have permission. You’re an adult, living in your own home. Make it your home.
I’ve written peripherally about this before, but today I want to devote an entire post to this novel idea. So here it is: You should enjoy your home.
Groundbreaking, isn’t it?
I know it’s not a new idea, but it’s something that people say they do, or want to do, and never actually do. Unless you’ve already paid off your mortgage or bought your home outright, you’re paying probably a large portion of your income to live in your home, and you’re probably not getting your money’s worth. Even if you’re not paying much for the roof over your head, it’s still your respite from the world. It should be a place you absolutely love to be.
But let’s break this idea down. Firstly, you’ll need to create/establish your space. What does this involve?
1. Your home should be comfortable.
You have a workplace (unless you work from/at home) in which to be uncomfortable. Even if it’s not obvious, stepping into an uncomfortable home environment can really sap the life out of you. This needs to be a welcoming place.
2. It should be restful.
There’s nothing wrong with having a game room (sounds pretty good, actually), but there should be a place in your home where you can relax, whatever relaxing means for you.
3. It should be private.
Sometimes there’s not much you can do about this if you have roommates, but your home should be a place where you can be alone if you want to. That means you have control over the boundaries; no one can show up and enter your home if you don’t want them to.
So how do you get this?
Keep it clean.
When I say this, I mean whatever “clean” means to you. If you’re comfortable with a bit of clutter, fine. If you need every last corner to be truly spotless, okay. Mess makes people uncomfortable, so it’s important to keep your home at the level of cleanliness that works for you. I don’t mind visible stacks of papers or collectibles lining the walls of my home. But my stress level rises, however slightly, when dishes pile up or the floor isn’t clear and vacuumed. Determine what your comfort level of cleanliness is, and make time to keep your home at that level.
Keep it energizing.
This can mean very different things for different people. For me, I like quiet. Loud music, background TV, or a howling cat take away from my peace. You might like a more active environment, spending time on the Wii, having friends over, or turning up the volume on a favorite album. Whatever re-energizes you after a long day.
Maintain your boundaries.
As I mentioned earlier, this can be difficult when you have roommates, but even then it shouldn’t be impossible to have some control over the comings and goings in your home. If you’re the only inhabitant, this might mean learning to say “no,” which is not an easy task. From our earliest time as humans, our dwellings have been to keep us safe from the outside world, whether from the elements or predators. Today, it might not be a raging tiger after your life, but a raging human being after your peace of mind. You have the right to tell someone that now is not a good time. In fact, you have the right to tell anyone not to come around ever again.
Most of the time, however, this just involves saying, “I’ve got a lot of work to do here at home tonight. How about another time?” And that’s not a lie. Your work happens to be letting yourself get some rest, which is vital to your well-being.
If you have roommates, offer them a mutually-beneficial agreement regarding guests. This might be that no one has guests over without first telling/asking the other housemate(s). Or it might mean you set up visiting hours. From 5-8 each day, you know you might have other people in your home, but after that, they have to leave. Most people will understand that roommates work different hours, and will respect this arrangement.
Once you’ve got these measures in place, you’ll have established what your home is and how it’s maintained. The second part of making your home an enjoyable place to be is more on the visual side of things. See Part II here.
Since the previous blogs covered finding an apartment, home safety seemed like the next best logical step.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about feeling unsafe when they’re at home alone. This is rarely a problem for me, but the first few nights in a new place are always the exception. Still, I don’t lose any sleep. Why not? I know I’m as safe as I can be. The best way to feel safe when you live alone, is to be safe.
If you live in an apartment or rental house, you probably aren’t allowed to change the locks, but you can still make sure that those who have a key can’t enter without your permission. Products such as a door brace are 100% temporary ways to prevent anyone from getting inside, with or without a key.
Why do you need to prevent key holders from getting inside? I’m not paranoid when I say you can’t depend on your apartment managers to do a good job screening their employees. When you live alone, your safety is in your hands. An unscrupulous maintenance person can easily make copies of keys to use for unlawful purposes, so it’s always better to be safe.
Aside from intentional malice, some maintenance workers just won’t respect your privacy that much. I’ve once had someone just unlock and open the door to my apartment, ironically to drop off a replacement key. He meant no harm, but I was very taken aback, especially since I wasn’t dressed.
If you are living someplace where you can make permanent modifications, consider getting a door club or bar restraint. Windows and Back Door
Again, if you’re renting, permanent security measures may not be an option, and even if they are, iron bars aren’t the most attractive window treatment. A simple security bar will prevent anyone from opening a sliding window or glass door.
Keep your phone by your bed, in case you need to call for help
Lock your doors whenever you go out, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
Do a quick check whenever you return home, to make sure no security measures are out of place
When you know you’re safe, you’ll feel safe. For the first few nights in your new place, it may help to check the closets, behind the shower curtain, and other areas before bed. So what if you feel silly? You owe yourself a sound night’s sleep.
In keeping with the recent theme of renting an apartment, I thought I’d add a few words about renting versus buying – in the spiritual sense.
You know that Dido song, “Life for Rent?”
I always thought that I would love to live by the sea
To travel the world alone and live most simply.
I have no idea what’s happened to that dream
Cause there’s really nothing left here to stop me.
If we spinsters had a theme song, I’m pretty sure that would be it.
What we get from TV, movies, and the stories of our friends and family, is that life as an adult really beings when that special someone settles down with us, we buy that house, and start “living the dream.”
So, for many of us who aren’t married and living in the house with the picket fence, where we are in life may feel like a hallway we’re meandering down, looking for the right door. Or, as Dido might put it, a rental house preceding the dream house.
Believe me when I tell you there has never been a better time to buy. And the great part is that owning your life is nowhere near as stressful, costly, or risky as buying a house. But it might be just as scary. Maybe more.
What do I mean by this whole buy/rent analogy? When you buy a home, you can put nails in the walls, change the carpet, paint, put in a garden, even add some new rooms or knock some old walls down. In short, you can remake it according to your own dreams. You’re also investing in it. You put money into it, knowing that the improvements you make will increase its value. And that’s exactly what you do to your life when you own it.
People who pay rent on their lives don’t turn them into something that makes them happy.
If my life is for rent
And I don’t learn to buy
I deserve nothing more than I get
Cause nothing I have is truly mine.
For instance, when I was little, my parents owned the house that we lived in. It was their first home together. They painted the kitchen, built a back deck, and even put in a window over looking the back yard. They created beautiful landscaping, and I even got to paint my room.
Then they lost that house. We moved into a rental (and then another, and another). There were no more gardens, no landscaping, no renovations. No room was ever painted, not a single picture hung on the walls, nothing that would indicated we had any plans to stay.
And I get it. My parents had loved and lost, and didn’t want to lose again.
When I moved out and got my first apartment, however, I decked that place out like I had a 40-year mortgage. I only lived there for a year, and it was kind of a pain to have to repack everything. But I’ve never once regretted it. Living with all my things in boxes, indefinitely, is no way to live.
Your life circumstances may change dramatically in the future. You may break up with the love of your life, find the love of your life, or lose the career you’ve always wanted. But this is the only life you’ve got, so you’ve got to own it. And look, just because you paint the kitchen green doesn’t mean you can’t paint over it later. It’s your life. You can re-decorate as many times as you like.
Enjoy every wonderful moment of your spinster life, because in a few years, you may be somewhere completely different. But, no matter what, don’t wait for that new set of circumstances to arrive before you buy your life.
Buy it. Redecorate it. Make it yours. Make it somewhere you love to be.
Last week I talked about 6 things to look at while surveying your apartment options. This week we’ll go over what to do when you’ve narrowed your list down to a few places.
First, you’ll want to call the offices of your top picks, ask if they’re accepting new leasers, and – if they are – schedule an appointment to discuss your application and view a unit. Make sure you can sit down and talk to someone and see the inside of an apartment before you submit an application. It’s a good idea to bring a friend along when you go, for safety and as an extra set of eyes.
When you’re at the meeting, ask questions. Lots of questions. Even if you think you’re being annoying. Some import ones are:
Do you change locks between tenants?
How long do tenants usually stay?
What are the most common complaints from tenants?
What are the maintenance policies? Will they cover repairs on provided appliances without a fee?
Who should you contact if you encounter a problem?
If you want, you can also ask about the age of appliances and how frequently the carpets are replaced.
At this stage, you want to be an apartment complex’s harshest critic.
Look at other units to see how residents tend to live. Are balconies and doorways clean and trim, or litter-strewn? Also pay attention to the lawn maintenance. Is it overgrown or does it look regularly maintained? Is the area well lit with street lights and parking lot lights? Is it the sort of place you’d feel safe walking through at night? As I mentioned in the last post, it’s also a good idea to drive by the complex during different hours of the day to see what the activity is like.
If you’re the sociable type, definitely try to chat with some of the current residents about what life is like there.
If you like the place, it seems safe, and everything financial seems on the up and up, and your friend hasn’t found anything to worry about, go ahead and apply.
So it’s time to move out. Or at least, you want it to be time. Deciding on a place to live can be overwhelming. You don’t want to settle for the first empty unit in Cracktown, but you also don’t want to blow your monthly income on what appears to be the only safe place in town. You may have also heard stories about people getting swindled by shady apartment managers.
How do people do it?
First, research your options. Look at every apartment complex in your city (or the city you plan to live in). Go to their website (if they don’t have a website in this day and age, be wary). As you’re looking, make note of the following:
Floor plan options and their prices
Pet Rules (even if you don’t have one, it’s good to know how the apartment managers view them
Most apartment complexes have a few different floor plans at different price points. Make a list of the square footage or other important features (such as whether they have patios/balconies, how many entrances, etc), as well as the monthly rent.
The biggest concerns with the location are crime and noise. Use a website like Crime Reports to see the crime rate of an area. It’s also a good idea, if you’re able, to drive through the complex at different times of the day, to get an idea of the neighborhood. Are people partying? Are their kids bicycling around? Drug deals (seriously, learn to spot this). The distance from your job is, of course, another factor when looking at locations.
Most places will require an application fee from you. Generally this is just to cover the cost of a background check and to ensure that uninterested parties don’t waste their time. But do be careful; if the application fee is unusually high, and they won’t tell you whether or not there’s a unit available, you might be out the fee and have nothing to show for it.
What kinds of leases do they offer? Generally, a 6 month or month-to-month lease will cost more per month than a full year lease. Also find out what their policies are should you have to break your lease.
Pet Rules If you have a pet, it’s important that you know whether or not they’re allowed, the rules if they are allowed, and how much extra it’ll cost you. Most places charge an additional fee, additional monthly rent, or both. If you’re thinking about sneaking a pet in, consider that – at some places – that’s considered a violation of the lease, and if you’re caught, you could be evicted or owe a hefty fine.
Virtually all apartment complexes will require proof of income, and you generally need to prove you make 3 or 3.5 times your monthly rent. If you’re like me, this sounds crazy, because rent will be by far the biggest drain on your income. Some places will take your savings into account, or may cut you a break if you can show them that you’re non-rent expenses are minimal, and your employment status is stable.
Paying close attention to these 6 items can save you a lot of time and narrow your options to the ones that’ll suit you best.
Next week’s Part II will go over what to do once you’ve found the place you want.