In the last five and a half months, I’ve signed three different leases and moved between five different apartments. I’m totally exhausted.
Just to be clear, this was not intentional. I wasn’t even moving between cities—all my moves have been throughout the north side of Chicago, three of which were in the same zip code. I’ve just had bad luck, made impulsive lease-signing decisions and, more than anything, not followed my instincts when it came to packing up and moving in with somebody.
But first, let’s go over these leases and these moves.
I knew I wouldn’t be renewing the lease for the studio I’d lived in and loved for my first two years living in Chicago. Not only was my next door neighbor, with whom I shared a wall, an otherwise unemployed rap-star who played bass till my walls shook by day and had screaming matches with his girlfriend by night, but I was in a part of town that made no sense. I lived a 30 minute bus ride away from my long-term boyfriend, whose house I spent probably 2/3 of my time at anyway. I lived far from work, far from friends, and not even close to a good 24 hour taco shop.
We’d been dating two years and my boyfriend very much believed we should move in together when my lease finished at the end of the month. I was far less sure. Coming from a far more conservative family, I was terrified to tell my parents I was “shacking up” with a guy I wasn’t even engaged to. I was scared of him seeing all my dirty laundry, of him discovering my gross habits, the way I eat cheese straight from the container and consume tacos drenched in sauce in my bed. I was scared I’d never have alone time to sit in my room and cry about nothing, not that I do this often, but commit to completely whenever the urge hits me.
Furthermore, I was having doubts about my future with this guy. Moving in with him seemed like the next step toward getting engaged, getting married, then having kids and dying next to each other, all of which, despite how much I cared about him, I could never picture myself doing with the guy. Signing a lease together became, in my mind, an ultimatum. I’d either have to do it with him, now, or tell him it all was over before the papers were signed.
So I took the easy route and signed the lease for a gorgeous 2-bedroom in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood, which we planned to move into together June 1st.
That First Week of May:
I made it with the guy less than a full week.
Once I was in his place, which we planned on staying in until we got the keys to our “together place,” I had no place of my own to run back to. It seemed like every fight we had about what to buy at the grocery store and where to put my boxes just multiplied and intensified. I knew quickly I didn’t want to do this anymore, I didn’t want to move into a new place with him June 1st because, more than anything, I didn’t want to be with him anymore.
It sucked, a lot, but I broke it off with him after less than a week of living together.
Again, as I signed the lease to a spacey 2-bedroom, this time in Chicago’s Rogers Park, I knew something didn’t feel right, but put my name on that line anyway.
Since I’d broken up with the guy, I’d been couch surfing between friends places, left all my stuff at my exes, sneaking back in there every other day or so to swap out the clothes in my backpack for the next couple of nights. The day after we broke up, a lazy Saturday morning at work, I started telling my coworkers about the breakup and how I had to move out immediately. One girl leapt at this part of the conversation, telling me her roommate had decided not to renew their own lease, and come July, she needed a roommate as well. She clearly saw us together, to the point of making me promise, on the spot, that I was serious and would actually totally live with her. Oh, foolish Kati.
Have you ever had a friend-bully? Someone who, although you’re pretty sure you’re friends, domineers you, decides you will hang out with them that night, what you will do, how much of the bill you will foot? The girl I signed my next lease with was a friend-bully, and friend-bullies, I’ve now learned are the absolute worst people to sign a lease with, even worse than a soon-to-be ex-boyfriend.
My face had been breaking out from stress. I had marks and little scabs all over my arms where I couldn’t stop myself from picking out of nervous habit. I had bags under my eyes and was halfway crying at work when my boss/best friend told me, “I can actually see how much living with this chick is getting to you.”
The girl had only lived with me for two months (moving in mid-June despite not paying any share of rent until July) and I was at my breaking point, knowing I’d never be able to make it through the entire lease. What started out as a less-than-adorably messy roommate who paid far less than half the rent for the place but was overall mostly bearable soon turned into something much more toxic when I couldn’t keep up with her emotional baggage. She’d bust in my room crying at 2 am, expect me to comfort her, be inconsolable about her love life and ability to afford rent.
It got much worse, though, when I got promoted above her at work, something she took very personally. Suddenly, anytime I had to tell her to do something at work or ask her to get off her phone for the third time, she took all that aggression she couldn’t spew at her boss at work and threw it at her roommate. It was such an unhealthy living environment, and even worse, I couldn’t even escape it by going to work. I felt hated, stepped on, trashed no matter where I was. I had to get out, and did.
Mid-August through September 17:
Thank my lucky ever-living stars I have friends interested in real estate. One of my closest girl friends runs an AirBnB in Logan Square filled with the most adorable vintage furniture that fairy-girl finds in alleyways, and also rents out her house to suitable AirBnB guests. Thanks to her, I had a place to move into immediately after telling the other crazy roommate I had to go. I stuck most of my stuff in a storage unit, and for the next month, my cat and I enjoyed the plush living and multiple wide windows afforded my staying at my friend’s digs.
Although I could have stayed at her places (cat and I moved between her spare place that had private rooftop access which I regret only having one impromptu party on top of and her even more adorable mint-green painted apartment that I out of respect had no parties at) for much longer, couch surfing through all these moves, boxing stuff up, unboxing it only to box it all back up just a month or two later, really showed me just how much I loved my own bed, my own couch and wanted a place all my own. And so, I began looking at places, now in Logan Square, close enough to my friend and this neighborhood that seemed to magically take my cat and me in with open, supportive arms.
I found the perfect place for me on the second day of looking. It’s cheap—a studio I transformed into a one-bedroom by snuggling my bed into what’s supposed to be a dining room—so much that I’m paying hundreds less than I was when I lived with that crazy roommate. I live three blocks away from the friend that let me crash at her place and a 10-minute walk from the new boy I’ve been seeing the past few months/have become crazy about. I have my coffee shop within a seven-minute walk, multiple taco places surrounding me, some even open the requisite 24 hours I require. Although I look around me and see what is left in my place to nest (need some art for that empty wall, still need to fix the lightbulb in the closet), I am settled and I’m happy.
As good as things are for me, now that I’m settled in happily with a cat as my only roommate and a perfect location, it’s a process I wish I didn’t have to go through to get here. And so, before you sign any new lease yourself, please please follow these few pieces of advice I’ve learned this spring and summer:
1) Never sign a lease with someone simply because it’s easy at the moment.
My first mistake in this whole process was moving in with a guy I knew was not my (as another LD writer coined the phrase) “forever man.” Girl, I know breakin’ up is hard to do, but trust me, it’s easier to do that first and not add two moves on top of it. DON’T move in with guys you don’t see yourself with long term. Please, just don’t.
And as far as non-romantic roommates go, think hard before you leap into signing that lease. How are they with money? Are they constantly borrowing from you at the bar, asking you to cover the cost of their cheese fries? Don’t think this pattern won’t carry over when it comes to rent. How are you guys at arguing? Does she steamroll you, not listen to a word you say until the two of you figure out a way that she can get what she wants with you losing as little possible? This ain’t a healthy person to live with, babe (I’m wishing I could yell this at five-months-ago Kati).
2) Think about what you REALLY need in a place.
I know you “NEED” your place to be spacious and cute and cheap all at once, but more than that (and trust me on this), you need your place to also be close enough to those you love that your friends don’t have to take an hour bus ride out to come visit you. You need a place close enough to them to not be cut off from support. You need a place that’s within your price range, not one that’s a little bit more than you wanna pay, but so cute and so worth it for the value! You need a place that has all the quirky aspects you personally find to be a major deal, like in my odd case, a 24-hour taco place within walking distance to minimize your 2 a.m. Grubhub orders. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT settle for a place that doesn’t meet all your needs. Take your time, stay where you are, or crash with friends/rent an AirBnB or month-to-month apartment until you find that place with all your must-haves rather than getting stuck living somewhere without your necessities for an entire year.
3) Reduce, Remove, Recycle.
Not exactly the three Rs of environmentalism, but what I’m saying is: cut down. Every book you know you’ll never read again is another half-pound you’ll have to box up, carry down the stairs, carry up the stairs and unpack. Reduce as much as you can. Moving is a great time to clean out your closet, bookshelf, cabinets, etc. The less stuff you have to haul around, the better, so think hard about if you ever really gonna use that antique cassette tape holder in the new place after it sat in your closet for the past year. Recycle what you can, take the rest to Goodwill.
4) Follow your gut.
If I could tell myself one thing and make myself BELIEVE it, I’d scream into my past-Kati ears “follow your instincts.” If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Don’t quiet your inner voice—it’s a lot smarter than you give it credit for.
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