Ode to My First Grown-Up Home


For my entire college career (and then some), the longest I stayed in one place was 12 months. The timeline was roughly:

September 2004 – June 2005: Cal Poly’s dorms (Yosemite Tower 10!)

June 2005 – June 2006: Two-bedroom apartment off campus

June 2006 – August 2006: Back with my parents

August 2006 – May 2007: An adorable little room in a kollegium in Copenhagen

May 2007 – September 2007: Back with my parents again

September 2007 – June 2008: House off campus (I loved this place. It was originally a little two-bedroom cottage, and at some point a master suite that almost doubled the square footage was added on to the back. Both my roommates graduated in 2008, so my plan was to move from one of the small front bedrooms to the master and find two new roommates. Alas, the owner sold/may have nearly foreclosed on the place and the new owners wanted to move in right away, so we were essentially evicted.)

June 2008 – June 2009: Another house off campus (There was drama with this one. One of my roommates, who also just happened to be the owner’s son, had severe OCD, did a lot of recreational drugs, and really needed to be in a more controlled environment. Also we got in a fight once because I asked him nicely to please not leave his giant bong in the kitchen sink for days at a time while he was “cleaning” it. He eventually moved out, and a couple months later, the owner decided to sell, and the next door neighbor bought the place and he turned out to be a jerk who wanted to get at least six people in there—instead of four—and jack up our rent.)

June 2009 – June 2010: Yet another house off campus (More drama, but not as bad. Mainly stemming from the fact that we took turns, each week, cleaning the kitchen, and one roommate thought that had to be a full-day activity and I saw no need to clean the fridge coils every single week.) (Also, I was never informed of this, but eventually I figured out that I wasn’t allowed to have a single personal item in the living room.)

June 2010 – May 2011: Moved back with my parents once again, for what was supposed to be only three months but turned into almost a year while I figured out my employment-while-moving-to-San-Diego situation.

All this to say that by the time I moved down here, I was more than ready to find a place where I could see myself staying for several years. And, after living with all sorts of roommates, I wanted a place that was mine. (Of course, I moved down here because of my then-boyfriend-now-husband, so most nights we at least had dinner together at either his place or mine.)

I remember looking at an apartment in a professionally-managed community. It was already on the high end of my price range, and on the tour, the leasing agent kept pointing out all planned and in-progress “community upgrades” they were doing, and all I heard was we’re gonna increase your rate in six months!

I looked at another one that was nice and pretty cheap, and the owner/landlord seemed like he’d be easy to work with, but it was small. Another one that I really liked—it had a built-in bookshelf in the living room—but after touring, the landlord stopped returning my emails.

Then, I was doing something for work that required me to be up in Vista, and I stopped in a Starbucks to check email and pulled up Craigslist.

“One Bedroom Apartment for Rent”

Ground floor. Nice patio. Really nice kitchen. Affordable. Close to work.

I emailed the owner and set up a meeting for the next day. She told me they got my email maybe 20 minutes after posting the listing.

I won’t say that angels sung or a heavenly light was shining from above when I walked in, but compared to everything else I’d seen—I couldn’t sign the lease fast enough. The master bedroom was huge, it had a ton of closet and storage space, even a dual vanity (which seemed excessive at the time; now, Husband and I are already planning to add a second sink to the bathroom in our new place).

The patio was basically a concrete slab and dirt; the owner said the previous tenant had a puppy, so they never bothered trying to landscape it or anything. I mentioned my grandfather was a retired landscape architect and maybe he’d help me put some plants in or something.

The walls were this ugly yellowish-beige that made it seem dark, especially in the afternoon when there was no more natural light, but I figured I could live with it, or approach the owners about painting later.

I rented a Penske truck, and flew back to the Bay Area. My dad helped me load it up with all my crap and we drove down together.

Two days later, I walked down the street to a coffee shop with Wi-Fi so I could schedule an appointment to get internet and cable set up. On the way back, I stopped in a yoga studio and signed up for their introductory two-week package.

My commute was under 15 minutes and didn’t require getting on a freeway.

I found the closest grocery store. I joined a running group that hosted runs all over the city every day of the week. I found my “regular” running routes around the neighborhood (I now have two 3-milers, two 4-miles, a 5-miler, a 6-miler, and two 10-milers). 

I had the same basic platform bed I’d had in college. It took me a full month to buy a couch (and I really only did it then because my brother and some friends were coming down for a weekend and basically all I had in the living room was this giant old TV I’d somehow inherited at Cal Poly—I think it came from my husband’s fraternity—some bean bag chairs, a desk I’d had since high school, and a high top table and coffee table that had been my aunt’s and my grandpa was desperate to get them out of his garage).

I bought a little bistro table for the patio. I took pictures and measurements and sent them to my grandpa, who sketched out a beautiful plan to landscape it.

We finally completed that plan a full eight months after I’d moved in.

I asked my brother if he could make me a set of custom bookshelves. He did—eventually (he finished the first one in April 2014 and the second one last September).

Husband proposed in April 2012. We decided he’d officially move in after his lease was up in July. He brought over his flat screen and I gave the giant old TV to my brother.

That June, I casually suggested we check out a street fair in South Park. I didn’t mention I wanted to go mainly because I saw that a dog rescue organization would have a booth there. I subtly dragged him over to the temporary enclosures they’d set up. Onyx was hiding all by herself under a chair.

We called the owners that day and asked if they required an additional deposit or anything for pets.

She moved in a couple weeks later and slowly made herself at home.

We painted over the awful yellow-beige. Now the walls are an off-white cream, with a soft reddish hue in the kitchen.

At first, we crated Onyx when we weren’t home and at night. Because I worked so close, I came home most days at lunch to let her out. In October, we came home one night and her crate was opened and I freaked out. She had forced her way out of the crate and was just chilling next to the couch. We stopped crating her at night and within a month, abandoned it entirely.

Once Husband moved in, the place started to feel a lot smaller. We made multiple trips to IKEA, buying dressers, bookshelves, baskets.

Honestly, if he hadn’t moved in, I might still have cardboard boxes of stuff I’d only partially unpacked in the bedroom.

We registered for wedding gifts. We gave away the dining sets I’d gotten with my mom at Target sophomore year.

We had a storage unit for awhile. Then, focused on saving for a wedding/honeymoon/house, we ditched it, decluttered somewhat, had a garage sale at a friend’s house.

We planted tomatoes on our patio. We waited patiently for our lime tree to start bearing fruit.

I got laid off. I found another job. I bought a new desk. I don’t remember what we did with the old one (sold it on Craigslist or gave it away, I guess).

The place kept feeling smaller. We met with a broker and real estate agent to get pre-qualified and figure out what our home-buying budget might be.

Every day, I hated my job more and more. Husband finally convinced me to quit and give freelancing a try. I fell in love with working from home immediately. Onyx eagerly accepted her role as my office manager.

We rearranged the living room to give me a more defined “office space.” Our landlords installed a new dishwasher, and then replaced that one after the third or fourth service appointment.

I bemoaned the lack of natural light in the apartment, especially in the winter. Husband had trouble sleeping in the summer because we don’t have air conditioning.

We danced in the kitchen while making dinner and chased Onyx from the bedroom, through the living room, to the patio, and back when she had too much energy at 10:00 at night.

Husband started a new job that’s much closer, ending his soul-sucking commute to and from North County. He finally, finally took his last exam and became a licensed architect.

I discovered that sometimes, when you’re on a ground floor of a three-story building that’s at least forty years old, gross stuff sometimes shows up in your bathroom sinks and you need to call a plumber who spends upwards of three hours cleaning gunk out of out the main pipes.

Our neighbor got roped into joining the HOA board and Husband, who’s well-versed in various building codes, became his “secret weapon” during debates about whether or not people on the second or third floors could install hardwood flooring (answer: yes, if they also use an appropriate-rated sound-dampening floor pad or something something multifamily building codes something something).

If I was still single, I’d probably be happy in this place for years and years. (I’m sure I’d eventually buy my own furniture. Probably.) With another person, with plans to start a family, it’s just not feasible. Over the past few months, as we house-hunted, looking at places farther and farther from our current neighborhood (which is seriously one of the best San Diego can offer), I tried to stay focused on what we’d gain by moving and not think too much about actually leaving this place. It’s not perfect—it gets hot AF in the summer and there’s not enough natural light and we can’t get a cross-breeze and there are some unbelievably loud and inconsiderate neighbors and parking is a nightmare—but oh man, this place has been home.

Tonight is our last night here. Boxes are already stacked in our new place and tomorrow, my parents are flying in and we’re picking up a U-Haul and we’re moving everything else. I’m picking every decent-sized lime off our tree and taking them with me. Sunday we’ll probably do a final clean and I’ll turn the keys over on Monday.

I’m so excited to settle in to our new place. I’m excited to explore the trails and running routes in that new neighborhood, to meet new neighbors, to find new hangouts. I’ll still be visiting this neighborhood a lot—work assignments will bring me back, and my yoga studio is still here.

But I’ll still cry a little when I walk out of the building, keyless, on Monday.