The joy (and terror!) of your first solo apartment

By Caitlin Kelly

One of Broadside’s most faithful followers — Rami Ungar, whose blog is here –– is moving into his first apartment on his own as he starts his first post-college full-time job.

 

IMG_20151219_080332133_HDRThe view from my friend’s studio apartment on East 81st, in Manhattan

 

Big step!

 

Independence. Self-reliance.

How do you make rice? Boil an egg?

I’ll never forget (does anyone?) my first apartment where I lived alone for the first time. A studio, with a sleeping alcove just big enough for my double mattress (on the floor), it was on the ground floor of a building facing an alleyway in a not-very-good part of Toronto.

The rent? $160/month — while my monthly income was $350.

I was so broke! But it was mine, all mine, even still sleeping in my childhood bed, under my red and yellow and blue patchwork quilt.

I was an undergrad, in my second year at University of Toronto, an easy walk to our downtown campus.

It was really, looking back, a terrible choice for a single woman, not safe at all.

I ended up having to move out within six months after one spring evening, when — my bathroom window open to the breeze — a man (yes, really) leaned into my bathroom window, at his waist height, and tried to pull me out of the bathtub.

Terrifying.

I moved next into a gorgeous studio on a much nicer street, on the 6th floor, with a balcony facing over the lush treetops of a nearby park.

No one could get at me.

IMG_20150530_152345263_HDR
A table set for one of our dinner parties

Ever since that first first-floor home, I’ve lived on a building’s sixth, and usually highest, floor, usually facing trees — both beautiful and with zero possibility of a stranger accessing my door or windows.

But living alone is such heady stuff!

Everything is up to you: when and where and what to eat. Buying and cooking groceries. Learning to cook. Deciding who to bring home for how long and how often. Are they safe?

Doing laundry. (Or lack of same.)

You’re now negotiating your home’s care and safety directly with strangers — your landlord, maybe a superintendent or janitor.

Your rent is due exactly when they expect it. Every month. In full!

I was out on my own at 19, which, in retrospect was pretty young to be on my own in a major city. But I didn’t want to live in a dorm — after years spent sharing space with people at boarding school and summer camp.

Some people loathe the solitude and loneliness of solo life. For a while, I loved it.

Now, having been with my husband for 16 years, I really cherish the comfort and company of married life. I’d find it difficult to be alone now. (Not to mention his help getting things off those higher shelves.)

IMG_20150101_191017330
A French laundromat washing machine…quite incomprehensible!

I liked this recent New York Times story about New York’s newest micro apartments:

It’s a nice place for a sleepover. The 302-square-foot unit I stayed in rents for $2,670 a month, furnished, which includes convertible and small-space objects from Resource Furniture. That company’s sofa-wall bed combination called Penelope (my destiny?), made in Italy by Clei, is the linchpin of the space: a Murphy-style bed, surrounded by deep cabinets, that unfolds over a diminutive charcoal-gray sofa.

I spent a good half-hour practicing opening and closing that bed, which is heavier and trickier than anything Bernadette Castro ever tackled, but much, much more comfortable, because it has a proper-size mattress and a firm base. (The two photographers who had accompanied me on my mission declined to help, perhaps taking their journalistic ethics too seriously.)

I know, I know….that’s about the size of some people’s walk-in closets!

I also loved the writer’s nostalgia for her first apartment:

My first single-person’s apartment in New York City was a studio on Christopher Street, in a prewar tenement building with a hallway that smelled of cat and scorched garlic. There was a kitchen of sorts in a cubby space with a tiny Royal Rose stove, a sink and a mini fridge — but I never cooked there.

I was no Laurie Colwin (I don’t recall owning a pot) and anyway, the Korean market on Bleecker Street was my cafeteria. It was 1984; on weekends, the young men who came downtown to showboat kept me awake until 5 a.m., but I didn’t care. When I wasn’t cursing them, I loved watching the performance.

The kitchen and bathroom windows looked out onto a grimy air shaft, and right into my neighbors’ apartments, so at night I did a lot of ducking, being too slack to install a shade or even tack up a sheet. If you closed the bathroom door, you’d be stuck until a PATH train rumbled past and shook it free. (My first night in the apartment, I spent two hours trapped in there, having closed the door firmly to clean the black and white herringbone tile floor.)

Mostly, my tiny apartment was a launching pad, and I was thrilled to be living alone.

As was I in mine.

 

Do you remember your first apartment?

What was it like?

 

 

9 thoughts on “The joy (and terror!) of your first solo apartment

  1. these are some of the greatest places to launch an study of life and the real world. i love your story about your first apartment. i got married young and divorced young, and the first time on my own, was a flat in a house, upstairs, living across the hall from a beekeeper who had just returned from his stint in the peace corps in africa, such an interesting time in life. i remember that i fixed my landline phone on my own, and knew i could somehow make it in the world.

    1. So true! You learn a lot, and quickly, what you love (and hate), what you do well (and poorly). I loved the independence and it sure taught me how to budget HARD as I was living on very little income then. Your beekeeper neighbor sounds amazing!

  2. Oh my goodness — a man tried to pull you out of the bathtub?! How frightening!

    At the moment, I’m still living at home. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not independent — I pay rent, and I know how to cook, sort out paperwork and all the other things that adult life requires…

    Of course I’ll move out at some point in the future, but for now it works well and I’m happy. 🙂

    Congrats to Rami on your first apartment. All the best with your job too!

  3. It was very very scary! Luckily he did not hurt me physically and I was able to move quickly into a gorgeous sorority house in a good neighborhood (and NOT alone) for the summer. That helped me heal. Congrats on your life skills…not surprised to read this. 🙂

  4. I read that first line, and I had to do a double take! “Wait, what did she say…Oh, holy crap!” Thanks for the shout out. I really appreciate it. And by the way, I’m loving living alone. It reminds me a bit of living in the dorms, except so much bigger and better! And I’m even making my apartment more homey. This past weekend I went to the Columbus Arts Festival, and got two prints, which are now hanging in my living room. Really adds a nice feel to the place.
    And by the way, I started my new job, and so far I love it! The people are really nice, the work’s good work, and the pay’s really good. Right now I’m just doing a ton of online training, but once that’s done I’m going to devote 110% to our office’s mission (which is promoting equality and diversity for the staff in our organization. My group does special emphasis programs, like Black History or LGBT Pride months. Lots of work, but also lots of fun).

  5. That NYC micro-apartment is the spitting image of mine in Paris (mine’s a bit bigger). Whereas its rent is $2,670, mine is 680 euros a month.

    My first apartment was in Vancouver in the 1980s. Loved it. Its space was MY space. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. What I loved most was decorating it. I felt grown-up and very independent. Not to mention responsible (paying rent, utilities, cleaning, etc.) It is my opinion that every young woman and every young man should live on their own for at least a year before moving in together as a couple. It’s an important rite of passage.

    1. So true!

      I loved my little apartment (the second one w the park view, on St/ George St in Toronto, a block off the U of T campus) and all it represented for me. The next home was one I shared with my boyfriend (top floor of a Victorian house on Alexander Street) but I had lived on my own at that point for at least 3 to 4 years….which was helpful since I would later live alone for long periods.

      I can’t imagine never living alone. It teaches you a lot!

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