Apartment Life

It’s been a little more than a month since I’ve moved into my very first apartment, and I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve learned so far.

1) The neighbors will disturb you. The disturbances come in many varieties – there’s always something new and unexpected to shake up your day. Whether it’s a shouting match on your first night, a prolonged reunion between lovers, a group of bros tossing a football around outside, or the neighbors moving out noisily, you will not have quiet all the time. Now that you’re out of the dorms, you can’t even ask an RA to tell them to shush. Your best bet for a quiet living space is to adhere to the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. Don’t vacuum at 7 a.m. Don’t play loud music or video games. Just be a good person and do your best not to cause problems for other people. That way, if you ever do have a problem, you’ll at least have a good relationship with your neighbors and can (hopefully) work something out.

2) If the neighbors don’t disturb you, your roommates will. They might passive-aggressively wash dishes during your movie, they might come home at 10:30 and begin cooking dinner, they might leave hair in the shower drains, and their laptop and schoolbooks on your already too-small kitchen table. They might do all of these things in a span of twelve hours. The truth is, you’re going to get annoyed with them more than you did in the dorms because there are more worries than the are in the dorms. You now have an entire apartment that needs to be dusted, swept, mopped, scrubbed, and sanitized to be even close to fit for human habitation. You’re going to have to work out a system for chores – whether that means everyone pitches in, or if it means the least-busy person does all the housework. Something’s got to give. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it works for everyone involved.

3) The neighbors and your roommates might unknowingly band together and disturb you on the same day. This one gets its own point because it’s extra bad. As if being bothered by one group of people you can’t avoid isn’t enough. It’s further exacerbated because you can’t go to that quiet study room down the hall – there isn’t one. You have to learn to deal with your environment somehow – put in headphones, buy a sound machine, shut the door, avoid the problem until you’re ready to deal with it. Whatever it takes to make you comfortable and keep you sane.

4) Being on your own means seeking things out – your mailbox, the laundry room, the pools, the trash facilities, the internet company, the post office, the leasing office, maintenance, etc. Your internet doesn’t work? Call Spartan Net. You have ants in the kitchen? Call maintenance. Your bathroom is gross? Get to Meijer and buy some Scrubbing Bubbles, because, honey, nobody else is going to clean it for you. You’ve probably heard the song by Paramore that goes, “Ain’t it fun, living in the real world? Ain’t it fun, being on your own? Don’t go crying to your momma, ’cause you’re on your own in the real world…” It’s a cold, hard, truth: you don’t get to cry to anyone anymore. But you can be your own solution. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, take a minute to look at how awesome things actually are. You have the freedom to pursue your dreams. You can make your own decisions. You have the ability to completely transform a humdrum college apartment into a space that’s really your own, into a space that feels like you. Attack those problems with the same confidence you had when you decided to hang that One Direction poster by your bedside. It’s yours – your room, your apartment, your life – so own it.

5) Having a car is both a blessing and a curse. Being able to scoot off to the grocery store or the mall at any hour of the day you please is great. And parking your car twenty feet from the doorstep of your building is even better. What sucks is driving into campus. Especially when they’re doing roadwork and you have to sit through four cycles of the stoplight to turn the corner. Keep your head up though. Because you’re so far from campus, rent is cheap. The gas that it takes to drive in to campus doesn’t nearly add up to what you’d spend if you’d live closer. Just budget a little extra time into your schedule – yes, even if it means getting up ten minutes earlier – and you can make it work. Besides, part of being an adult is getting up on time.  You might as well start training yourself now, when the consequences of being late to class are minimal, rather than wait till you have an actual boss at an actual job.

6) I’m going to eat a bit of my own previously shared “wisdom” here. Remember how I told you it might not be the best idea to room with friends? That still holds true, but it also depends on the person. I currently have two roommates: one’s a best friend and the other was an acquaintance before we moved in. Right now, things are going strong with my bestie, but they can also get a little rocky with the acquaintance. So, I’m going to amend my previous statement to this: use your judgment. It can be amazing to room with friends. It can also be a nightmare. Things can be just as great/horrible if you barely know the person or if you’ve known them forever. The truth is, there’s just no way of knowing for sure. If you think there’s even the slightest chance your personalities will clash, don’t do it. Or if you do (because such things are sometimes unavoidable), be prepared for the good as well as the bad. It won’t be easy 100% of the time no matter what you do, but you owe it to yourself to minimize potential problems before you let them upset your entire week, semester, or even year – however long you need to coexist with that person.

7) Having a kitchen is both a blessing and a curse. Just like travel, you need to budget time in your schedule to eat. Whether that means packing a lunch, coming home to eat, or eating out – your budget will likely decide which of these options you’ll do for you.  You can’t just run up to the cafeteria and grab a slice of pizza on your way to class. You’ve got to think about your meals. Watch yourself. Don’t just eat cereal and microwave mac n’ cheese for two weeks straight. It can be so easy to fall into that pre-made trap. But it will catch up to you soon enough. Not necessarily in terms of weight gain, but certainly in terms of energy levels. You have to put a decent amount of healthy food into your system just to function. Personally, I get sick if I don’t eat enough protein in a day. It’s up to me to give my body what it needs to keep working. (Side note: my favorite meme is currently a picture of a man saying, “Salad? That’s what my food eats!”) That being said, look out for your roommates as well. Because it’s a decent, human thing to do. Everyone handles stress differently, and that can appear in many different forms. You don’t have to cook for them all the time or nag them to eat their Brussels sprouts, but a casual, “Hey, when was the last time you ate/showered/slept?” can really go a long way. Now, they might take it the wrong way or look at you like you’re insane, but honestly, that’s what you’re hoping for. Forgetting (or purposely neglecting) to eat/bathe/sleep is, sadly, not as uncommon as you think in college. Stress does crazy things to people. Be aware and look out for the people you love.

8) Have fun. Enjoy yourself. Like I said before, it’s your space. While it might be unwise to run completely wild, take advantage of the kind of freedom you’ve never had before. Stay up past 10 on a school night. Sleep in till 7. Do what makes you happy – as long as it doesn’t interfere with your actual purpose in college, which is, you know, to learn things. Good luck.

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Adulthood?

Technically, under the law, I am a full-fledged adult. I can drive, I can buy a lottery ticket, I can smoke cigarettes, I can vote. (And, for those of you who are wondering, in reality I’ve only ever done one of those things – three guesses which.)

Despite what the law says, I am far from being independent. In no way am I able to take care of myself. Sure, I can cook edible food and (usually) get dressed without assistance, but as far as the finance side of growing up goes, I have the independence of a six year old. (Coincidentally, my weekly paycheck may be about as big as a six year old’s allowance, but I’m not complaining – every little bit helps.)

Really though, I think my biggest problem with this whole idea of adulthood is the concept of money. I abide by the law, I don’t need someone looking over my shoulder in order to get work done, and I can make basic decisions on my own. I don’t have everything figured out to a T, but I think I’m learning quickly enough. Money, however, is a whole different story.

No, I’m not one of those typical college kids without self-control who doesn’t know when to stop spending. Really, I’m not a poor money-manager – aside from school related expenses, like books and tuition and the occasional snack foods, I rarely buy anything at all, and when I do, it’s on sale. But here’s what gets me: I don’t even buy those things myself. Those little things, those little, insignificant things that nobody thinks twice about buying because they’re a necessity – toothpaste, shampoo, laundry detergent – those are the things that really get me. Frequently, I still have to ask my parents for money to buy that box of pop tarts so I don’t have to skip eating entirely on those days when I don’t have a spare minute for lunch in between classes. I still have to ask my parents for money to give to the friends who give me the occasional ride home on the weekends. And two or three times a year, I’m at my absolute lowest when I meekly pass that tuition bill across the table to my parents. Every time, every single time, I want to snatch it back and say, “I’ve got this,” but the phrase always gets stuck in my throat when I think about what would actually happen to my dreams, to my future, if I did.

In one of my classes, we read a New York Times article entitled “What is it about the 20-something?” by Robin Henig. The article focuses on the concept of “emerging adulthood” which is pretty much this awkward in-between stage of life between the ages of 18 and 24 or so where young people end up caught in this weird area of being treated like an adult but not really being able to act like one. Basically, we’re too old to be coddled but not necessarily able to manage be turned loose completely. For myriad reasons, the finances aren’t there or the maturity levels aren’t there or the stars just aren’t lining up correctly, and all the not-quite-adults get confused about what they really are.

Which is where I think I’m at now. I was sitting at my desk this morning, frustrated and trying to balance my checkbook – a job I absolutely hate. I was so angry as I flipped through the pages of the register trying to decipher my pathetic handwriting, thinking, “Will I ever be able to do this on my own? Just once, can I please do this without my mom’s help?”

Don’t get me wrong. I love knowing that my mother is there to help me with my problems, checkbook related or no, but I couldn’t help feeling defeated by this silly little book. I can ask for help, but I don’t want to. I think it’s this whole, “are you really an adult?” complex thing.

Yes, yes, yes I know that everybody needs help every now and again and that it’s a learning process and blah, blah, blah. Great. Thanks. I still don’t like to ask.

I know that my parents are happy to help. They want me to get an education, they want me to have food in my cupboards, heck, they even want me to have a balanced checkbook. I know that they’re able to help, too. And they know I can’t really stop asking them for help. But I also know it won’t stop bothering me because no matter how I look at it, $20,000 a year for schooling is a whole lot of money.

Now, to make things worse, my parents are talking about buying me a car. For some (possibly idiotic) reason that probably had something to do with this whole, “I want to be an adult,” thing,  I decided I wanted to live off campus next year – far enough off campus that walking to class is not an option. When it comes down to it, getting a car is practically unavoidable. (Sure, I could take the bus, but my time is worth something, too. If I have to sit on the bus for an hour to get to and from school when I could be working or studying, that is an hour ill-spent.  Even if I did decide to take the bus in and around East Lansing, I would still be next to stranded whenever I want or need to come home. I could rely on friends with cars to haul me back and forth, but that’s already proven problematic. I could take the train, but the nearest train station is an hour away from my house.) Anyway, at this point, a car, impractical as it may be, is my only plausible option.

Imagine that: a teenager who doesn’t want a brand new (used) car. Take a look folks, that’s an anomaly you probably won’t see twice. Two years ago, if you would have asked me if I wanted a new car, I would have said yes just like any other kid. Heck, I did.

But here’s why: to try to keep things fair, my family’s got a system. At certain milestones, you’re allowed do the things your older sisters got to do when they were that age. No wearing makeup or going to dances until you’re in tenth grade. You can have a cell phone when you start driving. Your curfew is whenever you get home, but you darn well better be on time for chores the next morning. You can get a car when you graduate if you cover at least a third of the cost.

Throughout high school, I had saved up enough money that I was willing and able to chip in my share to buy a car. I received a paycheck for the work I did on the farm, and did some babysitting on the side. It wasn’t a ton, but it was enough.

Then, my family sat me down to look at the logic behind it and I reluctantly agreed it just didn’t make sense. (I was living on campus, my car would have been parked at least a twenty minute walk away from my dorm, and I didn’t have a job or any other need to commute anywhere other than home, and that I could manage with friends.) And I pouted, mostly because I didn’t think it was fair that my older sister got a car when she graduated from high school, but I soon got over it.

In fact, I got over it so much that now, when I hear my parents talk about getting me a car, I feel instantaneously ill. I don’t want a car. A car is expensive and, as my daddy told me, a poor investment: the longer you own it, the less it’s worth. Also, I hate driving. Really, I would much rather ride. I don’t like dealing with traffic congestion and people who pass on the right and one-way streets. Most importantly, I just can’t cover my share of the cost anymore, certainly not after two and a half years of college. To be blunt, I’m pretty much flat broke, and to ask for a car, on top of tuition, on top of books, on top of snack foods and gas money, seems to be way too much, to be totally and entirely stepping over the line. But there’s nothing I can do about it. (Heck, at this point, there’s no way around it: my parents have made it perfectly clear that I’m getting a car at some point, and that it might as well be now. Touché, Mom and Dad. My childish attempt to be an independent adult has backfired… Who could’ve seen that one coming?)

All of this came to me as I sat there at my desk miserably attempting to balance my mess of a checkbook. Honestly, I really began to wonder if I will ever reach the point where I consider myself to be a competent adult, when I will have enough money (and I said enough money, not a lot of money) to take care of my own bills, to buy my own snack foods and gasoline, and, most importantly to properly return the favor to my parents.

*Please note that despite the somewhat bitter and confused tone of this post, I’m fine, I promise. Thanks for your concern, though 🙂