Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Summer of 2004, $0 (my share)
After graduating high school, for reasons I am neither proud nor certain of, I eloped and moved to Florida with an Airman. He moved there before I did, securing an apartment without my input and buying the bare minimum amount of furniture needed. I’m sure at the time he mentioned how much it cost, but I didn’t pay for it, so I never thought about it or remembered. I was too preoccupied dealing with the feeling of doom that instantaneously filled me after getting married so young. I enrolled in school full time and worked 15 hours a week in a sandwich shop to try and give myself purpose.
Our apartment was a boring one-bedroom unit on the third floor of a building that always smelled like weed. If you opened the front door and looked straight ahead, you could see the toilet in the bathroom. That bothered me, but as it turns out, not for very long. We hadn’t lived there a full six months yet when hurricane season began. During one decently sized storm, we evacuated to some crap town in Mississippi, where I sat in awe as the Weather Channel guy reported from the strip mall I worked in. When we returned to Fort Walton Beach, there was a notice on the front door telling us to talk to the apartment manager before going in. Turns out, the entire building had been now condemned. Our neighbors’ roof had partially collapsed in. We had to sign risk waivers before we went back into our apartment. That bothered me, too.
Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Fall of 2004 to spring 2005, $0
It turns out that finding a place to live after a hurricane has damaged a bunch of buildings is difficult. Luckily, the Air Force fast-tracked my husband into base housing, so we moved into a duplex in a little neighborhood filled with other young couples, most of whom seemed to be having kids of their own. The housing allowance my husband had received for living off base went away, but we didn’t have to pay rent anymore and the duplex was nicer than the apartment. It was a two-bedroom, one-bath unit. Here, I burned the first chicken I ever tried to cook on the stovetop. That was a bad moment. There were a lot of those.
That instantaneous feeling of doom I’d felt? Turns out that was my gut. I should have followed it.
East Side, Las Vegas, Nev., 2005-2009, $0
Emotionally devastated and physically bruised, I filed for divorce and ran with my tail between my legs back home. I moved in with my parents and decided I was only going to make smart choices from now on. Plus, I hadn’t really figured out how to be a grown-up yet anyway. So, I got a full-time day job working for a hotel reservation company and went to community college classes at night. Eventually, I traded the full-time job for two part-time jobs in the field I wanted to get into and transferred to the public university to get a bachelor’s. The entire time, I fought the urge to move out on my own. Instead, I used the money I earned to cover what my scholarships didn’t. (Having a string of boyfriends who either lived on their own or with parents who didn’t mind guests helped.)
Five years after I graduated high school, I graduated college overworked but debt-free.
Green Valley, Henderson, Nev., 2009-2010, $300 (my share)
My transition to the grown-up world of renting was gentle. After graduation, the company I’d interned at hired me, and I rented a bedroom in a suburban house with two of my coworkers. The owner of the house gave us a discount for paying cash and in person. Sometimes, she wouldn’t do a pick-up for a few months and there’d be envelopes full of $20s tucked away in the storage room. I bought a cheap platform bed but invested in sheets with a decent thread count. My bedroom was small but full of natural light. I never put curtains up.
My roommates and I joked that we lived in the company sorority house because we all worked together. Our fellow co-workers came over a lot. At first it was awesome and I felt like the weirdo loner who’d accidentally been initiated into the cool kid club. Eventually, though, it got weird coming home from work and seeing my boss sitting on my couch. I felt suffocated and anxious a lot. It was like home had become just another place where I had to pretend to be more interesting, smarter and better groomed than I really am.
After I moved out, at least three other people from that company rotated through the house. Three years later, I heard the owner had evicted everyone so her daughter could move back into the home. Though I’d learned that I shouldn’t live with coworkers, the news still made me a little sad.
St. Rose Parkway, Henderson, Nev., 2010-2011, $375 (my share)
I moved into a gorgeous new apartment complex with a dude I went to college with and his new live-in boyfriend. The complex had a pool I went to once and a gym I glanced at only during the tour, though I always told myself I’d start going next week. Our apartment was a two-bedroom with a loft, which I promptly turned into my “April-cave.” I bought a television and a tiny couch shaped like a coffin. I adopted an affenpinscher-pug named Zap. He and I spent the entire summer binge-watching television shows on Netflix. It was glorious, even though he could never stay awake for a full episode of Arrested Development.
Central Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nev., 2011, $575
When things got dramatic and shitty with the couple I lived with, I decided that I didn’t want to live with anyone besides Zap. My older sister, who works in real estate, assured me I could find a decent place to live alone even on my miniscule journalist salary. She found me a quiet condo complex tucked away between the airport and the university. It was filled mostly with old people who’d lived there since the complex was built in the early ’80s. One was a crabby lady who passive aggressively taped the HOA rules to my front door. There was also one tatted-up buff white dude who would always call Zap “puppers.” My immediate neighbor had the bad habit of parking in my assigned parking spot, which was really annoying, but I was happy because all the annoyances ended once I made it through my door.
The apartment itself was a two-bedroom, two-bath unit with a huge living room and a tiny kitchen you could completely shut off with doors. That closet kitchen was the strangest thing. The oven was ancient and barely worked, but I rarely cooked and all of the space in the other parts of the apartment made up for it. I became a regular at Pier 1 and Home Goods. I decorated without asking other people’s opinions. I walked around naked because I’d heard that’s what you’re supposed to do when you live alone, but it felt too strange to do regularly.
Things got serious with my boyfriend, and when the lease on his apartment ended, he moved in. I Instagram-ed a photo of our clothes hanging next to each other in the closet.
The next month, he was laid off.
Old Louisville, Louisville, Ky., 2011-Present, $900
My boyfriend received an amazing job offer in Louisville, Kentucky. Contrary to everything you might assume about a millennial with a journalism degree, I found a new job quickly as well. We packed up the apartment we’d just rearranged, loaded it on a moving truck, and drove across the country.
Obsessive Craigslist stalking helped me find a condo for rent in a fourplex located in a historical district that contains the largest grouping of Victorian homes in the country. The owner had previously lived in the condo, which meant it had been well maintained. With three bedrooms and one-and-a-half baths, it’s more space than we need, but it’s well within our budget. Plus, my boyfriend grew up in California, so he thinks it’s the cheapest apartment in the universe.
I can’t stream House Hunters at my desk, so I still cruise Craigslist for a better apartment. Realistically, I don’t think I’m moving for a while, and not just because moving a couch up through houses built in the 1890s is a challenge. The way I see it, I finally learned to make a good decision. Time to stick with it.