When we got married about two-and-a-half years ago, Alex and I moved into a 450-square-foot apartment in an up-and-coming neighborhood in Northwest Washington, DC.
It’s the original tiny house and lacks a dishwasher, garbage disposal, washer/dryer, and central air. We’ve dealt with three bed bug infestations, the first just weeks before our wedding. Most mornings we wake up at 6:15 AM to our neighbor’s dog barking, or her owner shouting at her even more loudly to stop barking. Our kitchen is home to a breed of (thankfully) small cockroaches.
During the first walkthrough, our landlord explained that the scuffed hardwood floors would be refinished before we moved in. On moving day we discovered that they been covered with matte-finish deck paint, which is impossible to keep clean.
Shortly after moving into the building we complained to management about a foul odor in the hallway. After it persisted for several weeks I went on a sniffing mission to discover the source… a festering pile of poop (from an animal, we hope?) in a stairwell.
So, why have we stayed? I ask myself this question every few months and search frantically on Craigslist for a new home. But after two and a half years, we still haven’t moved. My patient coworkers have listened to me rant on and on about this question, which reflects how much I think about it, which is a lot.
Here are the positives: since moving into building, two other couples we’re friends with have joined us, one right next door. We assemble for impromptu nightcaps, water each others’ plants while we’re on vacation, share clothes, tools, and more, and watched all of the Presidential debates together. Though weeks go by, sometimes, without getting together, its always good to know they’re there. And, they keep extra sets of our keys, which is helpful because I lock myself out… often.
Our building is three blocks from the metro and two from the grocery store. While yes, we still do drive to the grocery store sometimes (too much to carry!)… the proximity is helpful for forgotten items, cravings, snow days, and simply saving time.
While our windows are north-facing, there’s enough sunlight to sustain my herb garden, which is currently thriving for the third year in a row.
Alex and I have a lot of hobbies, and hobbies come with supplies. My sewing machine and collection of fabric are tucked in my closet and under the couch, respectively. Our camping equipment lives in a milk crate in the entryway closet and our sleeping bags are perched high in the bedroom closet. Alex’s bartending supplies are on display in the living room. Our bedroom is home to four (!) musical instruments. Our books are stacked on custom-built shelves in the hallway. We’ve found places for all of the things we most enjoy having, and the limitation of space has kept us from consuming things we don’t truly need.
And, importantly, our rent is below market rate. Far below market rate, actually, which makes the opportunity cost of moving very high. Rent control is a blessing for the conscious, but a curse if you’re just using it to save up and move up.
Because moving is a lot of work, and the opportunity cost is high, my list of musts for another home is long. I want all of the conveniences: a dishwasher, garbage disposal, washer/dryer and central air, and I also want hardwood floors, lots of light, outdoor space (or deep windowsills, at least), more closet space. But one-bedroom apartments with these features cost about $700-$900 more per month than what we’re paying now. This is what I mean by opportunity cost: it’s high.
Last weekend, we looked at a giant one-bedroom apartment a block from where we live now. It had all of the conveniences, but the floors were bad. We were on the fence about it for several days. At one point I said to Alex “what if we move there and then something even better comes along?” He responded: “It won’t if you stop looking at Craigslist.”
I am so restless sometimes, even when life is good. I’m spending my time well, I think, but my phone tells me what else I could be doing, where else I could be, what else I could own. In an interview on the Freakonomics podcast, actor, comedian, and astute social critic Aziz Ansari shared that he once found himself browsing Google for information about what toothbrush to buy. Stepping back and realizing how unnecessary this was, he joked “I’ve never heard anyone say ‘You know how he died? He chose the wrong toothbrush!'” Via the internet, we have access to more information than ever before. But is it helpful? I have a strong desire to make a home, but I can’t decide where. There are too many options. My wheels are spinning.
This spring I took it upon myself to sow flower seeds in the planters in front of our building. The planters had been filled with just dirt and garbage for as long as we’d lived there. So I didn’t know how to feel when, just as my seeds were sending up promising green shoots, I came home to discover them uprooted and replaced by an ornamental tree surrounded by struggling annuals. I suppose my landlord finally took it upon himself to beautify our stoop. It was bittersweet.
Below us, in the same 450 square feet, lives a family of four: a mom, dad, 5 year old girl and 16 year old boy. So, sometimes I feel that my desire to move comes from a feeling of entitlement. I don’t need more. My home is enough.
But let me know if you hear of any affordable one-bedroom apartments that fit my description…