Movin' out?
November 10, 2011 2:36 PM   Subscribe

Help me hack my living space or the way I deal with it... or decide to move out!

I'm currently living in a tiny room in a major city. The room is dark, very permeable to noise from all sides (people walking in the hallway on one side, road noise on the other, then the last two are the kitchen and living room), and really cramped. All of the bedrooms in the house are taken for the foreseeable future and there's no way I can switch.

I have depression and anxiety issues and disturbed sleep really exacerbates these conditions. If I get awakened at 4 am by someone going to the bathroom, I might not get to bed until 6 am, and then I'll sleep until 11 am, feeling crappy and depressed the next day. Since I mostly do my own projects, that means I waste a day and get nothing done. I'm in a "What am I doing with my life?!" phase, and I get distracted and off track very easily. I'm pretty unmotivated, and frustrated with myself.

Move, you say?

Well, I live with three roommates whom I absolutely adore. Two are old friends I've known for a long time and the third is a new friend that I really love. It feels like home and family to me, which is really important because I had a very dysfunctional family background and stability in my living situation is very soothing to me. They are great roommates and we mesh well with level of cleanliness, sociability, etc. We have a lot of joint social events and I'm de facto invited to whatever they go to, which is nice because I travel a lot and when I come home I have a ready-made social life. I can borrow my roommates' cars whenever I like. And the location is fantastic.

Also, the rent is very inexpensive. I travel a lot for various projects and I don't have to sublet my room when I'm gone, which is lovely, because I can always just come home whenever I want to. It feels like the room in my parents' house that I can always come back to, that I never had. I have a lot of issues around having a place that is always there for me, and this place makes me feel safe.

Financially, I'm in a weird spot. I have a lot of savings, but not a lot of income. So low overhead is really good for me. But if I rented a more expensive place and sublet it while I'm gone, that might work out similarly on a financial level (with a lot more work). Also, I'm in a phase of not knowing what I want to do with my life, so I might want to travel for an extended period of time, but it's nice to have a home base. I LOVE the city this apartment is in.

I feel like I am moving on socially a bit from these friends. They are well-compensated professionals but very laid back about their careers. I want to be with go-getters, with big ambitions and classy dinner parties. But somehow in a place with low rent. Hmm...

Things I've done to deal with the situation:
- Get a powerful set of speakers for my room so I can block out the noise with music
- Buy new furniture for my room so I have a proper place to work in my tiny room, a nice bed, good lighting, etc.
- Take melatonin and/or Ambien when I absolutely need to sleep
- Talk to my roommates about being super quiet -- they are really nice about it

So... what should I do to make this place better? Or to make it easier to deal with? Or should I just move out?

This is kind of a last-ditch effort to keep living with these people I really like, if only I could solve the problems above.

Thank you, Mefites!
posted by carolinaherrera to Human Relations (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Crap, in all of that, I left out that I've tried ear plugs (but they make my ears feel funny), and that there is a long line of friends who want to move into this place because the people are so cool.
posted by carolinaherrera at 2:39 PM on November 10, 2011

You've named a lot of Big Non-Negotiable Reasons this place drives you crazy, and a few little reasonably easily worked-around reasons why you don't want to move.

Seems #1 trumps #2, no?

You can keep your roommates as friends and divorce yourself from the situational stress of their locale. You have the money to do this. You will be healthier and more productive away from there. the added productivity could lead to added financial benefits, nay? You can easily find a renter so you're not stuck in a lease? wtf are you waiting for?

tl;dr: move out.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:48 PM on November 10, 2011

I hated earplugs until I bought kids' size ones. They actually fit and didn't hurt my ears. I also cut of the extra length by about 1/4" so that I could sleep on my side without them hurting me.
posted by Vaike at 2:48 PM on November 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

If you stay, get an excellent sound machine. You know, the kind that creates very strong white noises of various kinds: ocean, rain, straightforward fan noise, etc.
posted by tacoma1 at 2:49 PM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

There are are variety of different kinds of ear plugs - try out a few different types. You may have to give it some time to get used to them, to really be comfortable sleeping in them.

Some good headphones with active noise cancelling might help you out too.

Well, I live with three roommates whom I absolutely adore. Two are old friends I've known for a long time and the third is a new friend that I really love. It feels like home and family to me, which is really important because I had a very dysfunctional family background and stability in my living situation is very soothing to me. They are great roommates and we mesh well with level of cleanliness, sociability, etc. We have a lot of joint social events and I'm de facto invited to whatever they go to, which is nice because I travel a lot and when I come home I have a ready-made social life. I can borrow my roommates' cars whenever I like. And the location is fantastic.

This seems like an amazing situation that you are unlikely to be able to replicate in another house.

I would say that good housemates are worth their weight in gold, and are comparatively rare. You are unlikely to get new housemates to whom you are as close to as these ones.

If you want classy dinner parties, organise one yourself.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:52 PM on November 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

You might try white noise. Like one of those $10 box fans. I have also used ear plugs but had to cut them to make them fit better (mostly because they stuck out so far)
posted by meeshell at 2:54 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you ever tried the type of earmuffs that people wear at airports or gun ranges? They really muffled sound when I lived in a noisy apartment in an Italian city (and I'm a pretty light sleeper) and like you I hate having stuff my ears.

Also, are you sensitive to light/lighting? Bright or certain florescent lights can really irritate me and I need to sleep in a room that's practically pitch black, even an little light from a computer can keep me awake, so I try to cover those with tape or black marker and I also try to buy alarm clocks that I can turn on their face. If it's light under the door from the hall, put a blanket over the gap, put black sheets over the windows, start dimming the lights an hour before you go to bed.
posted by deinemutti at 2:55 PM on November 10, 2011

Response by poster: I guess I should say that the social factor is really important here too. These friends are great, but they all work part-time on computer stuff and keep a low-key lifestyle. I find myself stagnating professionally and wonder if I might be more motivated if I lived in a house full of really active people.
posted by carolinaherrera at 3:00 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you considered a different sleep medication? IANAD, but my understanding is that Ambien isn't great for everyday use and melatonin isn't terribly effective.

I used to have sleep problems, and I took Trazodone, which helped me stay asleep all night long. It was very effective and had no side effects for me. It's not addictive (according to my doctor).

It's normal to wake up to noise, but unusual to have that much difficulty going back to sleep. I would definitely talk to your doctor about this.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:16 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

The place sounds amazing, esp. if you travel loads - it is great just to have somewhere to come back to, and I think you would really miss that. Defo worth trying a couple of other tactics for a couple of months.

And second - if you want dinner parties organise them. There is no greater pleasure than sitting round a table with friends. A big casserole and lots of wine is a lovely way to spend an evening. And you might inflence your flatmates into such activities - surely a win-win.
posted by cluck at 3:23 PM on November 10, 2011

Response by poster: Lonefrontranger -- not sure I understand what is Big Non-Negotiable (tm) and what is little and minor. Can you clarify?
posted by carolinaherrera at 3:29 PM on November 10, 2011

My bedroom is small and dark and has no windows. But I pretty much only use it for my bed - I spend all my home time in the living room which is bright, open and airy. Can you spend more time in the common space, and put on headphones if you need quiet?
posted by modernserf at 3:32 PM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know I wouldn't be more motivated moving from a house of people who really care about me where I feel safe, at home, and financially peaceful, to a house of people that I likely know nothing about beyond the priority they give in their lives to financial advancement....

My advice is to jettison the idea that you're somehow magically going to be a more effective worker with these fantasy roommates. The best case scenario to pragmatically work for is roommates who are respectful of shared space and private space, without personality conflicts. (And there's no guarantee of that).

Given the noise situation, you may still have to move. But try to make a sober accounting of the value of your current roommates in your life. To me, they sound priceless. Sleep may be the one thing that's more priceless.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:01 PM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you need clarity.

Buy a nice bed, table or desk, chair, good lights; it will all move with you to your next home, whenever that is. There have been a lot of AskMes about noise abatement. Every place I've lived has needed nice curtains, so line 1 wall with attractive lined curtains; that will help absorb noise, as will a nice rug. Or wall hangings that are heavy enough to help sound-proof. White noise machine, or white noise .mp3s, too.

There's no guarantee that you will find a new living situation with a new group that will fit the vague ideal roommate profile you want. So you'd be giving up a known good situation, with people you love, for an unknown. Stay put until you have something/someplace you want to go to.
posted by theora55 at 4:06 PM on November 10, 2011

There are ways to make your room quieter. You could put carpeting on the floor outside your room so that the sound of people walking by is less. You could put a rug on your floor which would absorb sound. If your room shares a wall with the kitchen consider tacking some insulation on the kitchen wall, like maybe a sheet of rigid foam insulation. Put heavy curtains on your window or even a quilt or blanket to cut down outside noise.

It sounds like you're in a good safe place, you just need to make it quieter. Then set yourself a schedule, get up at the same time every morning, go out and get some exercise, take a walk, whatever, then go home and do some work.
posted by mareli at 4:20 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Despite the noise, you might find your sleep improves if you make other changes to the room. Complete blackout curtains, a fan if the temperature is too warm, warmer blankets or a heater if it's too cold, a great pillow, a memory foam mattress topper, the best sheets and blankets you can afford...

There is an unbelievable difference in my sleep quality between my old bedroom that had thick but not completely light-proof drapes and my current one where it is so dark you might as well not open your eyes. I hadn't noticed that my old room was causing problems, but since moving I've found I wake up earlier and feel way more refreshed than I knew was possible. I would guess that even if there were more noise in the new one, I'd still sleep better.
posted by lollusc at 4:30 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Stop imagining that living with hypothetical other people will improve you. It doesn't work that way, even if you somehow luck into finding just the right hypothetical other people to live with.

Your living situation now sounds pretty damn good, with some minor correctable flaws. Everything has flaws; most you will find elsewhere will be harder to solve than an eighty-nine cent pair of earplugs, which it seems is all you really need here. (yeah, they feel weird for a while until you get used to them. So get used to them.)
posted by ook at 4:54 PM on November 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Get some really nice lamps, and see if you can request quiet hours for the spaces adjoining yours.

As far as productivity, see if you can create a meetup group (via or other social networks) for like-minded people to check in on goals, get together to work on projects, etc., rather than hoping for magical roommates to help you out. It sounds like talking to people who are also figuring things out might be comforting and potentially lead to new social or career connections... and there are probably more folks in a similar situation than you think right now.
posted by rivenwanderer at 5:22 PM on November 10, 2011

Response by poster: ook -- Your tone is a bit, er, off-putting. I am not looking for "magical roommates". People are influenced by their social environment; that's not magic, it's fact. And yes, I have tried 89 cent earplugs. I wrote that in my first comment.
posted by carolinaherrera at 5:42 PM on November 10, 2011

I think there are two things that will help you:

Earplugs. I like the little foamy ones that you squish, insert into the ear, and then they expand back up to make a nice tight fit. Combine that with a fan or a white noise machine that cuts the silence a little bit.

Get out of the room into daylight somehow. Getting myself into "sunlight is good, if the sun is up, I should be awake" mindset really helped me feel better about life.
posted by gjc at 6:26 PM on November 10, 2011

White noise is priceless. You can download it from SimplyNoise and play it on your new speakers.

I agree that trying to find new roommates that are "go-getters" is dicey. What if you move into a new house, and the go-getters soon move out? What if they are inconsiderate, have no time for you, or any of the other million things that unknown roommates could be? I think looking for ambitious acquaintances out in the world is the thing to do. Keep your comfortable roommates and your cheap rent, but throw your own dinner parties.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:50 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had almost the same problem when I was younger. I found that anti-depressants helped solve most of the problems. I was less depressed, worried and annoyed.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:32 PM on November 10, 2011

For some reason, the renaissance-era fashion of floor to ceiling drapes and tapestries is no longer fashionable in our society? Is it because they are hard to clean?
posted by ovvl at 7:55 PM on November 10, 2011

Nthing white noise. It really drowns out a LOT of the rest of the ambient noise. I have an air filter, ostensibly to keep the allergies from the kittens from killing me, but with the added benefit of blocking pretty much all the rest of the crap.

ANd there's nothing to say that you can't keep your current set of roommates with a low-key lifestyle, and find another circle to hang with... try out some local Meetup groups. A lot of the get-togethers are great ways to find new people you wouldn't have otherwise met.
posted by mornie_alantie at 9:55 PM on November 10, 2011

would your room-mates consider moving with you?
are their rooms as noisy?
posted by calgirl at 10:46 PM on November 10, 2011

Last time I lived in a really small room, I improved it vastly by building a mezzanine platform for my queen-size futon. It stretched from wall to wall across one end of the room, supported on floor-standing uprights to make it rental-friendly. I made enough of a railing along the cliff edge that I wouldn't roll over it in my sleep, and a fixed ladder to get up there.

This was in a room with a 9' ceiling. The underside of the beams were 6'4" off the floor, so I could just stand upright underneath without bumping my 6'0" head; that gave me a little under 2' between futon and ceiling to sleep in, which was just enough.

Putting my bed up there freed up a tremendous amount of space underneath. I put shelves along the end wall underneath the bed, and quite a large desk at the other end of the room.

It was fun to build and worked really really well.
posted by flabdablet at 11:54 PM on November 10, 2011

You don't need 89 cent earplugs, you need good earplugs. Slate did a review of earplugs. Have a read and pick some of the ones they liked (I like Hearos best off their list, they're much more comfortable than drug store brands). Then try them, and keep trying until you get used to them. Problem solved.
posted by hazyjane at 4:26 AM on November 11, 2011

Response by poster: Hazyjane - thanks, I'll try the Hearos and see how it goes!

Everyone, thanks for your suggestions!
posted by carolinaherrera at 10:05 AM on November 11, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, and I'm also going to try the blackout curtains and possibly the lofting. We'll see how it goes...
posted by carolinaherrera at 10:05 AM on November 11, 2011

I love the Leight Sleeper earplugs, which are mottled pink and orange -- until I tried those, I had never found any comfortable enough to sleep with, and my ears always get a lot by morning. Now I wear them almost every night.
posted by wyzewoman at 5:06 PM on November 11, 2011

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