1. a house, apartment, or other shelter that is the usual residence of a person, family, or household.
2. the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered.
An interesting thing I discovered about myself when I first moved out of my parents house, was that I have an intense desire to customize whatever space I would be calling home. Even when “home” for me was one half of a shoe-box-sized dorm room, I needed to hang pictures up and make that space my own. Blank walls never feel like home to me. As my “home” changed and developed along the years so did my love for decorating my space to fit me. If money were no object I would redecorate my house (aka apartment) with the change of the seasons. Since I have yet to win the lottery, I get my decoration fix by following home design blogs and fantasizing those spaces could be mine. I am excited to have today’s post be written by a blogebrity Holly Becker of decor8, one of my favorite design blogs.
This guest post was written by Holly Becker, a freelance writer and interior design consultant. decor8, Holly’s home on the web, has over 17,000 daily readers!
I’ll never forget the first few months in my apartment. I signed a 12-month lease and was set to move into my first pad at twenty-two years old. A week before I moved in my entire world fell apart. My long-term boyfriend left me, I lost my job, my car died, and I was having family problems. This isn’t just a little story of just how badly a young life can suck, but how fresh paint and a positive perspective can help un-suck all the sucky-suck faster than you can wrap your head around what I’ve just said.
I’ll never forget the night I moved in, scared to death to sleep alone in a strange room. I sat wide-eyed and frightened on my mattress surrounded by boxes and shadows. I felt cold, numb, and very lonely, doubting myself and my abilities to make it work alone. “What the hell was I thinking – moving here alone?”, was a recurring question. I sat there angry, lost in thought, crying then collecting myself, only to cry again. I heard unfamiliar footsteps on the floor above, ambulances outside, car alarms, voices, barking dogs. As I started to fall asleep, a strange sound came from my kitchen. It was a fainter sound of a familiar one I frequently heard growing up with cats. That sounds when your kitty would tip the box of meow mix over so he could use his paw to grab at the pieces trapped inside but not to loud — he didn’t want to disturb the humans because he knew if discovered, we’d place the box back up on the highest shelf possible or worse, inside of a cabinet. This light tapping noise continued coming from my kitchen so I slowly lifted myself off of my bed and crept towards my ugly brown-paneled, peeling-vinyl-floored kitchen and flipped on the switch. AHHHHHHH! millions of cockroaches going through my food and belongings! I ran back to my bed and felt paralyzed in fear. I didn’t know they could be so large. You see, roaches are to me what masked killers are to others – something to fear. I cradled my knees to my chest and eventually fell asleep to the sounds of insect feet scurrying around my kitchen. I was thoroughly grossed out.
Could things get any worse?
For nearly two weeks, I pretty much stayed in my apartment depressed to the core. I cried and slept all day, remaining wide awake at night since I feared the bugs finding their way to my bed and coating me in my sleep like some weird Alfred Hitchcock-ish film. My friends kept calling and knocking on my door but I didn’t answer. I just cried over my ex-boyfriend, lack of employment, the list grew as I isolated myself. Then something in my head snapped. I woke up after two weeks of extreme poor-me syndrome and decided to kick my own self in the butt. I wasn’t about to make the first official month in my new apartment a miserable one. I opened all the shades, played some music, and decided to get a life. I couldn’t just lay there and cry over love lost and bugs found. Sure I lived in a crappy beat-up roach coach, and okay I had no job and no man, but I did have ME and that had to count for something. I also had a few bucks left in my savings account so I did what any sensible depressed girl wanting to make a change would do. I shopped. But not at the mall. I headed to the one store that always made me feel better. The hardware store.
I walked through my unloved apartment and with clipboard in hand, decided on what immediate changes I needed to make in order to sleep there through the night. Deadly spray for killing horrible bugs. Fresh flowers. Something to fill in all the holes in the walls from previous tenant who loved to punch them. I needed primer and paint too. As the list grew, so did my outlook — I felt excited. I started returning phone calls and asked for help. I mean hello world, I finally had my very own place. I had dreamed of being on my own as a little girl, imagining how I’d decorate my apartment when I was a grown up, what color I’d paint the walls and there I was, this was my time, my place. Failure wasn’t an option.
After one week, the bugs hit the road. A few weeks later, all the holes were patched up, the walls were painted, I thorough cleaned the entire apartment, and scrubbed the hardwood floors to a beautiful glow. Within a month, I checked out a stack of DIY books at the local library, couldn’t afford to buy them in those days, and asked friends for their old copies of home magazines. I learned how to fill in the groves of paneling to make them look like drywall (and it worked – the walls went from dark brown wood to pale sage without groves). I also learned how to lay a parquet hardwood floor in the kitchen (the landlord agreed to pay for the wood, not the labor) and I asked a friend to finish the sides since that part required a skilled hand and power tools. My friend happened to be a very cute guy that I had a huge crush on, so spending lots of time with him helped me feel good — I liked the male company. I refinished all the cabinetry from dark brown to fresh white and added new hardware, sewed tab top curtains for the living room, added some wallpaper border to the kitchen (hey it was in the 90’s), and decorated the apartment with hand-me-down furniture from my family and friends and yard sale finds. I purchased most of my mugs and plates from the $1 store.
Within 3 months from the day I moved in, the apartment looked nearly brand new and after an intense job search, I landed an amazing position that launched me into a very successful career in the corporate world that I went on to hold for 9 years. After 9 months of living alone, I realized that I didn’t enjoy living alone so I eventually took on a roommate and we shared a larger 2 bedroom apartment that was in perfect move-in condition. No holes to repair, no roaches to kill.
That is why today, 13 years later, I speak so fondly of decorating and design on my blog, decor8. It’s vital to live in a place that supports your emotional well-being. One that motivates you and keeps you focused on moving forward in life. If I hadn’t renovated my apartment back then, who knows what would have happened to me? I may have become consumed in pain, I could have fallen into a deep period of depression, who knows? And though I made the choice to purchase paint over groceries (I lived on ramen noodle for 3 months), all that renovating, cleaning, and decorating kept my spirits very high. It kept me busy. I had friends over frequently to help me, including the hot guy friend with his power tools. You find what needs to be done, take ownership over how your apartment looks and feels, ask for help, find cute boys to do the hard stuff, don’t diss the dollar store (and curbside finds) and skip a few meals sometimes to buy a can of paint if needed. When you put your all into something, when you sacrifice to have the things you want putting your entire heart (and sometimes your last $20) into fixing up your home – then your confidence starts to soar, you feel empowered, motivated, and that you are just one extremely unstoppable human being. You feel like an adult, and that’s a good feeling. Progress is power. It’s empowering to take control of what you can control and forget the rest. And when it comes to decorating, don’t be afraid, it’s never permanent because as our lives change so do our rooms and often even our style. That’s how you can make a home for yourself when you first embark on your new life as a young twentysomething in your first apartment. Jump right in with your To Do list and start checking off some tasks. Enjoy all the happy moments of planning and choosing decorating details for yourself. Read books, ask for help, get creative. Realize that this is one of the only times in your life when you have 100% control over your decorating style, because as you take on roommates or a life partner, that will change. Take pride in your space, claim it, own it, decorate! You can do it!