How to deal with living in a less-than-ideal place?
September 27, 2012 7:37 PM   Subscribe

How to deal with living in a less-than-ideal place?

My current apartment is pretty okay, but there are some things I don't like about it. The real issue is that I feel like I am living in limbo until I move in less than a year to a new awesome apartment in a fantastic city. So while I have that to look forward to, it is also a bit paralyzing. I am trying to frame it as focusing on the fact that I am 22 and most 22 year olds aren't living in Apartment Therapy style dwellings either. Pinterest doesn't really help as well.

Basically, how can I get over this mental block and feel like I am living my life right now? My physical space has always been incredibly important to me. I suppose some people are just like that. Like I said, my apartment is pretty okay, I've done the best I can, and I am not really able to invest any money into it. It is clean, relatively cute, and spacious. But I dislike the carpet, the location, and mostly where I am in my life (metaphorically and literally).

So while I am thrilled that I am moving, it is still quite a few months away. I have already compiled plenty of ideas for the new place, inspiration boards, etc. but want to try and enjoy my life now, in this in-between period.

Moving, I guess, kind of represents a brand new start for me in many ways, and an improvement in others. It could be that I am just making it out to be more than it is.

So any advice and words of wisdom are appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Decorate with lots of plants. That's literal.
Bloom where you're planted. That's metaphorical.

Otherwise, put up a count-down board that shows the number of days left until you're in your place? I recommend the 'Velociraptor Free Workplace' poster, just for fun.
posted by matty at 7:48 PM on September 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

You've got plenty of ideas. Put them in a drawer and stop looking at them until the move happens. (This also applies to virtual idea posting websites.)
posted by cobaltnine at 7:50 PM on September 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

It sounds more like you don't like where you are in life. Clean, cute, and spacious are much better than many people have. An awesome apartment in a new city is something to look forward to, but that doesn't solve your problems. Focus on your life now instead of dreaming of enjoying it in a year. A crappy carpet is nothing to waste time worrying about.
posted by Sal and Richard at 8:02 PM on September 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

Keep your eyes open for decor items that can move with you - gorgeous textiles can really liven up a place - pillow covers in bright colours, a lovely area rug, a beautiful blanket over the couch, or even an amazing piece of fabric that you cover the wall with . These are all totally practical useful things you can get and use now that you'll still have in the next apartment, so you won't be wasting any money. Also, since it's a year until you move, you don't have to get anything in a hurry - you can spend time thoughtfully combing the local thrift shops and bargain fabric stores for exactly the right items.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 8:03 PM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't know if this helps, but I'm in the same boat. I spent the last two years living in a somewhat shitty apartment which I shared with someone who I don't see eye to eye with in terms of decor. So I just got used to not being in control of my space, over the course of that time. And then in May I gave that apartment up with an eye towards moving cross-country. Now I'm subletting a place temporarily. No point in fixing it up, since I'm only here for a few months.

This can be really depressing. Like you, I take a lot of inspiration from my physical surroundings, so not being able to hang a picture or pick out a new shower curtain can be demoralizing.

My solution has been to try to think more about the future, and what I'd like my home to be like when I get settled again. I'm purging things that don't matter to me and figuring out how to ship what I love. Looking at apartment listings obsessively. Because I don't have to commit to anything yet, I'm letting myself be a total snob about it. Hardwood floors. Plenty of natural light. None of that mirrored closet bullshit. I know when I actually settle down that there's going to be some hard realism in there somewhere, but the beauty of fantasizing about your future home is that it's a fantasy.

On the other hand, it sounds like you've already done lots of cloud castle building. This will depend where you live and what there is to do, but what about trying to get out of the house as much as you can? Are there experiences you can't have in your new city? Adventures yet to be experienced? Parks to walk in? Places to say goodbye to? There's something about the liminal period of a long distance move that can be very romantic. Almost like being nostalgic for something that isn't over yet.
posted by Sara C. at 8:08 PM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

A well placed lamps and higher wattage bulbs will make any place look cleaner and brighter.
posted by Mercaptan at 8:08 PM on September 27, 2012

Choose one new thing you will like. A throw. A shower curtain. A set of pillows. A new rug. Whatever. It can be bought new or perhaps raid your friends/family's homes for one piece? My mom was always willing to give her kids nearly anything in the house they might like.

Also, might sound silly, but: Spend less time at home! Get out, hang with friends, don't obsess over the apartment.
posted by manicure12 at 8:20 PM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Could you pretend you're staying in a hotel? I mean, that's pretty much what it is, temporary accommodation, so of course it's terrible and not ideally placed and you don't want to decorate. Accordingly, keep yourself busy outside it and come home to sleep, bathe, and change.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:27 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's how you deal with it: be thankful you don't live in my apartment. At least yours is "clean, relatively cute, and spacious." Mine is dirty, ugly, and small. My kitchen is so small I feel like I wear it.

But nothing is forever, and some day I will live in a nicer place.
posted by Rob Rockets at 8:31 PM on September 27, 2012

You didn't say where you were, but I've found craigslist to be a pretty good place to get cheap or free stuff. You have to keep at it, check it daily, and some people on craigslist aren't the most honest. But if you have a car, you can take a chance and catch things when the owners have to sell it in two days, or are about to throw it in the nearest dumpster. I am amazed how I have found items--appliances, furniture, clothes--in nearly perfect condition sold for a pittance. Or free. One man's junk is another man's treasure...and all that.
posted by zardoz at 8:48 PM on September 27, 2012

Some pretty common advice to women about clothes is "dress the body you have" instead of shopping for clothes that will fit a future size. I think the same is true of homes.
  • Natural light in the day time. Maybe some cute curtains for the windows if you have crappy apartment blinds.
  • Revel in the fact that you don't have to constantly wipe up the spills and empty the cat box that belong to someone else no I'm not harboring resentment over anything current. why would you ask?
  • A pair of pretty throw pillows for your sofa, even if your sofa is a busted beer stained futon that you pulled out of a dumpster your sophomore year of college.
  • bright dish towels for your kitchen.
  • invite people over, they will see your place differently than you do. Have a game night, make some fun snacks. Having fun in your space makes it more enjoyable when you're just hanging out there alone.
  • Hang art. And pictures from places you've been, people you adore.
  • If you must go to pinterest, don't look at the "everything" tag, or all of the pinners you follow. Only look at things that are not going to bum you out, say, landscapes or kittens instead of interiors (which are not lived in. They are styled and impractical.)
  • Read books at home. Be looking at a different universe, one created on the page and made vivid in your brain. This takes your focus off your housing. Better still if you can read bleak stuff, like a lot Dickens.
  • Yard sales, garage sales, estate sales are places for great finds.
  • Don't buy inexpensive things just to have them or fill the space. Wait until you come across the right thing. This is true of furniture, dishes, rugs, all of it. For a few reasons.
    1. once you have a mediocre thing, you stop looking for the right thing
    2. the mediocre thing will be slightly annoying in it's wrongness
    3. you will have spent the money or devoted the space to mediocre thing, which will make parting with it difficult. So when Perfect Thing comes serendipitously along, you may avoid it, because also:
    4. putting furniture on Craigslist is sort of a pain.

posted by bilabial at 8:59 PM on September 27, 2012 [10 favorites]

I had a housemate who taught me something. Even thought he was only going to be living with me for six months or so, he took the time to paint his room and make small improvements like hanging curtains and putting up a hook for his keys. He said that the small amount of time it took was worth it in terms of his mental health.

I thought back on times when I was living someplace where I saw myself as a short-timer, and I remembered the squalid feeling that came of having no art on the walls, my stuff in boxes, etc. -- and I realized he was right.

Effort you put into the place where you live has a ways of paying dividends. This can be especially helpful when you don't like where you are in life.

In short, keep making your place nicer in little ways, and see if you don't start feeling better about the place and your life in general.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:05 PM on September 27, 2012 [18 favorites]

Basically, how can I get over this mental block and feel like I am living my life right now? ... I dislike the carpet, the location, and mostly where I am in my life (metaphorically and literally).

Make a list of 10 good, interesting, unique things about the area where you are now, and spend the remainder of your time there exploring/experiencing those things. You're leaving that area for new-city within a year and it doesn't sound like you'll be back, so make sure you take that day-trip to such-and-such, climb Mount Whatever, go through the corn maze at the pumpkin patch, do a photo shoot of all the interesting brickwork in Old Town, etc. A mini-bucket list for this chapter of your life. That way you will carry some nice memories/experiences away with you when you start the next chapter.

For your apartment itself, plants for sure, like matty said. But keep an eye out as you're exploring your mini-bucket list for one interesting thing, like maybe a lamp or a mixing bowl or piece of art, that you can see living with for a long time. It will make where you are a nicer place, and make where you go next a familiar place.
posted by headnsouth at 3:22 AM on September 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Sounds like the real issue is 'what do I do for the next year'?

Absolutely DO NOT spend your time staring at a countdown board. That's both demeaning for where you are (metaphorically and literally) and is a sure way for disappointment.

Plan you year ahead; there's lots of things you want to do, right? Figure out what's good around you and what you should do before you move on, then arrange to do it.

-Is there a good cycling trail in the area? Set a date for doing it; Spring maybe. Build and bike and get in training.
-How about taking an art class and investing in a drawing board/easel? Stained glass? Pottery?
-Are there any local festivals you can get tickets for and invite some people to stay?
-what's the local food? When's it in season? Where's the best place to eat it?

(um, basically what 'headnsouth' said)
posted by BadMiker at 3:34 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unlike i_wear_boots, I think you need to quit Apartment Therapy. I used to read it, and other design blogs, and check out Pinterest, and then feel bad about my perfectly nice apartment that I don't have the time/energy/money/skill to make really beautiful. So, I just quit reading them. Now, instead of thinking about my carpet magically turning into hardwood and that Hy-Vee down the street magically turning into an Ikea, I just appreciate the good stuff about my apartment, which really is the nicest place we've ever lived.

You can always go back to Apartment Therapy in a year when you're in your new, fabulous apartment. Until then, find something else to read. I still read a couple of DIY type blogs, which I find still fill that designy niche, but in a more "someday when I have a house" kind of way.
posted by that's how you get ants at 5:58 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Since you're where you are for a limited time, try to do EVERYTHING you can in that area. Eat at all the good restaurants, go on all the good hikes, go to the museums, find the farmer's markets.

Concentrate on where you are NOW, not where you'll be in a year. Another option would be to get a second job. You can bank the extra money for pretty new things in your new place and you can concentrate on filling your coffers for that.

If I've learned anything in my 50 years, it's that NOW is the only time that matters. So make it matter.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:19 AM on September 28, 2012

I bought a house because I watched HGTV and was reading Apartment Therapy. Apartment decorating is a very valid and time consuming hobby, just like any other hobby. If you don't have the resources (time, money) to devote to it, do yourself a favor and accept that your apartment is not going to be featured on AT.

It's your space. It's cute, spacious, and clean. That's actually really nice already.

I'm seconding the suggestions above for buying affordable things that you can take with you to your new apartment. Maybe a cute rug at a flea market, or a meaningful poster that's nicely framed, or lots of plants. Things like that.

Another thing I did when living in temporary apartments was to go out a lot. I spent my time at home sleeping or doing homework. If you honestly don't like your apartment, don't spend so much time in it.
posted by ethidda at 6:29 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have personal things displayed in your apartment? I find that things like photos and books really change the way a place feels. And not just photos on the fridge but in a frame, on a shelf/table/on top of the tv. And use photos that bring back great memories of fun vacations, awesome parties, etc. so you smile every time you see them. I love books and seeing a stack of books on a shelf makes me feel at home (plus, they are colorful and take up a lot of space, so make it feel less empty) And I second (third?) the suggestion for plants.

Something really important to remember about photos in Apartment Therapy and places like Pinterest is that they are professionally styled and photographed. If you could turn around and see the other side of the room in a photo there would be professional lighting, fancy cameras, a stylist that brought along half the interesting knick-knacks in the photo, a pile of the homeowners belongings in the corner and the rest of the furniture pushed out of place. And non-professional photos are often the work of someone for whom this is a job and/or an obsession. They devote a lot of time and money to thrifting, shopping, designing, painting, constantly tweeking things to make it perfect. Think of it like fashion magazines – sometimes fun to look at, but often an unattainable ideal.
posted by Sabby at 6:46 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get a mat cutter and start framing some art, prints, or even nice images from magazines. Iowa has cheap frames. Then you can hang you art in your current place, and take it with you to your next pad. I recomend any projects that can brighten up your current place, and be fun in the new place. Do you sew? If not, look for a beginning class - making pillow covers and curtains are all straight line stitching projects. Focus on making nice accents for any place - if you don't want them in the new space, give 'em to friends.
posted by leastlikelycowgirl at 6:49 AM on September 28, 2012

I'm in a similar situation to you, except I'm a lodger, so while my house is a nice enough place it's not right for me and it isn't 'mine' either, if you see what I mean. I'm moving in six months but I have that limbo feel too - I'm 30 and I just don't want to live out of one room or house-share at this point in my life, but there are practical reasons for me staying put there over the winter.

We're not allowed to paint or hang pictures in rented places in the UK so all the 'small space hacks' in Apartment Therapy were of no use to me, and just annoyed be because it's unlikely I'll be able to buy a house any time in the next ten years (housing market in London is not great). Dingy white walls and stain-attracting colours of carpet suck, and the general decor of the rest of the house is dated to say the least - but I keep remembering that it isn't my place and in the meantime I can save cash to make my next place easier to live in. I'm taking time to declutter, sell off things I don't want/need or taking them to the charity shop, and thinking about whether I want X or Y in my shiny new place. While this is living in the future to an extent, it's a good project to occupy your time that's more useful than just feeling crapy about your space.

Nice bed linen and a comfy chair and cushion will go a long way.
posted by mippy at 7:17 AM on September 28, 2012

There is some great advice here on how to make your place feel and look nice. I love this kind of stuff.

I will advise you to stop caring about your carpet right now and go live a life. As a 40-year-old woman who used to worry too much about what my house looked like, I can tell you that's it's (mostly) a waste of time. Sure, it's nice, even important, to make your surroundings comfortable and beautiful, but don't get caught up in comparing your home to Pinterest, shelter blogs and magazines, or your friend's places. Those pictures and spaces are not reality. Most of them are staged. Most of them come from homes of millionaires, not 22-year old students or 40-year-old suburbanites. A lot come from interior designers, architects, artists, and such who make their living designing. It sounds like you know this.

Don't ever apologize for your carpet and don't be embarrassed, or feel badly, about your house. If you feel good about your carpet other people will too and really, nobody gives a shit what your floor covering is. It's more interesting, and fun, to add personal touches and be creative than to fret over carpeting. Work with what you got and be fine with it.

At your new place: Spend within your budget. Don't go into debt buying furniture and accessories. Acquire things over time. Remember: People, friends, relationships, experiences, your health (financial, physical, and mental), leisure time, hobbies and creating are the most important (and interesting) things.
posted by Fairchild at 9:00 AM on September 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Another vote for stop reading Apartment Therapy and mulling about Pinterest. Get of your house, and out of your head, and experience life.

Some people focus on their bodies as the Thing That Would Make Me Happy, and spend years poring over fashion and celebrity magazines trying to fit some ideal to bring about joy, never being able to admit that their love handles aren't the problem. You've attached that sentiment to your living space instead of your person. Your place isn't the cause of your unhappiness, it's not even a symptom. It's a scapegoat.

I left a sad boring town I hated to move to an exciting city and people told me that it wouldn't solve my problems, and they were only partially correct. It certainly solved my rather large concern over horrible public transit and I am honestly happier here, but unfortunately my procrastination and anxiety came with me.

Your new place will be an improvement, it will undoubtedly give you some joy, but if you learn to be happy where you are now, and feel like you are living your life even with a lame carpet, then some of problems you are hoping to escape won't be dragged along with you.
posted by Dynex at 9:17 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

When I was twenty-two, I was living in a shitty loft (not a nice loft, but an actual semi-converted warehouse) with a bunch of Ikea furniture that was falling apart. I didn't have a closet, and I hung my clothes on some rolling rack thing that a bought at Target. The rolling rack was a piece of shit, though, and it kept falling over. My room flooded whenever it rained, but the rent was cheap.

You're twenty-two!

I am finally getting to the point that I have nice things, but you know what? My roommates spilled wine on my couch, my dog keeps licking my nice bedspread, and a friend drunkenly broke a vase. You're young; shit happens. Hang some posters, paint if you won't have to paint it back, and pick up some knick knacks or whatever, but step away from the pinterest.

I have a friend who's a furniture designer, and his living space is split between show-room quality decor, and not showroom quality. His pieces are regularly featured on apartment therapy and other design blogs. His bedroom and his workspace are a fucking mess. In sum: Design blogs lie!
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:30 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

1. Re-focus. What will you need for your new life? If you'll have a new job that needs a new wardrobe, start planning and making lists for it. If a pair of beautiful shoes is on your list, and you find a perfect pair really on sale, you buy them. Or focus on the training you're doing for your next job, so you can get a head start.

2. What stuff that you have or need now will go with you?(as mentioned above) Use an online room planner to make plans for, say, your perfect bedroom. Windowshop on AT, Pinterest, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, etc. Even if you just window shop and never buy anything, you can still have fun doing virtual design. Or you can shop carefully, get great deals, recover a cool vintage find from Goodwill, etc., to take with you when you go.

3. The 'perfect' rooms where somebody went out and bought a bunch of nice stuff? They'll look dated pretty soon. A home full of things you pick out over time is far more interesting. It might not photograph as well, but it's more satisfying to live in.

4. Meanwhile, there are some inexpensive personalizations. Make sure your room smells really nice with a bowl of apples or oranges, or really nice scent. Use a nice lamp, or hang fairy lights, if all you have is an overhead light. Or hang a paper parasol over the ceiling light. Hang a poster of a piece of art or a person that inspires you. Get a cheap wood chair at Goodwill, and paint it your favorite color, even if, or especially if it doesn't go with anything. Disposable decor can make your space personal without serious commitment.
posted by theora55 at 11:55 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

This doesn't answer your question but I'm just coming out of where you are entering - living in limbo because something better is coming. All I will say is it's worth it:) Through sacrifice and hard work, I'm coming out of the recession in a much better place than when it started. I just bought an awesome house (for a great price at an all-time low interest rate) in my new city and am wrapping up a few loose job-related ends in my old city before it's complete.

I guess one thing I could say to answer your question is I wish I had spent a little more on my temporary place, especially since it ended up lasting longer than anticipated. I did nothing - no pictures on the walls, no painting, no plants, etc. and it was sort of depressing.
posted by thebriguy72 at 7:00 PM on September 28, 2012

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