Lately I seem to have developed a mild obsession with cleaning and organizing my apartment. It started with vacuuming. When I moved into this apartment last summer, no one had bothered to clean it, so it was covered in the previous resident’s dirt and grime and dust and hair. Frankly, it was disgusting. When I finally got hold of a vacuum, I filled the canister several times with unspeakable grime, and then picked up a habit of getting down on my hands and knees to vacuum, making sure the attachment I held in my hands picked up every little particle. But it wasn’t only vacuuming. I also had to scrub the walls. They were grimy and smoke-stained. After scrubbing them down several times with water, cleaner, baking soda, and vinegar, they weren’t even the same colours I thought they were when I moved in. Eventually, I tackled the bathtub, toilet, sinks, windows, refrigerator, floors, and so on. I’ve probably put in a good sixty hours of work since moving in.
Back in December, the kitchen ceiling started leaking. The hole in the ceiling sealed with mailing tape, I hadn’t noticed ’til I’d already been living here a week. I didn’t think much of it; every apartment has its flaws. It turns out my apartment is poorly insulated, and when the heat reaches the ceiling, it melts the accumulated snow, which then leaks into my home. Yesterday, after standing on a chair and scrubbing my bathroom ceiling, which was remarkably disgusting, my bathroom window started leaking. The sun shone on the icicles, and brown sludge dripped down the window and splattered onto the counter and the floor. Wonderful. I tried the mailing tape trick, but it didn’t work. Then I took a nap. This afternoon, it is still leaking, puddles gathering on the floor and the counter, towels laid over everything.
I’d like to stay here for a long time. I’d like this place to be my home for awhile, and I’d like to do everything I can to make it feel that way. Right now, I dream of having plumbing fixtures that work properly, ceilings and windows that don’t leak, and a little corner in this town that welcomes me in when I arrive tired from derby practice, shivering from a February walk, or catching my breath after a bike ride. I want to paint. I want livingroom walls of the palest lavender, and a bedroom painted light mint. I want tidy shelves and uncluttered closets.
It’s hard to think about making changes in a home that I do not own. Is it worth the effort, the time, the money? What if I paint, and then I leave? Will I paint the next place, or will I simply be shuffling through on my way to another? Does it matter?
In the first apartment I lived in after moving out, we had white walls and grey carpets. They sickened me. The non-colour of carpet became a running joke/ argument between myself and the person I was living with, and it funny for awhile, but then it was just frustrating. We talked about painting, but we never got around to it. Back then, I wanted to paint my livingroom like a forest of fairies, and my bathroom black and red. The closest I got was buying new towels that left my wet body covered in a thin layer of black and red lint that never seemed to go away. I threw them out, and I am happy to use the sage green towels my mom passed onto me, stained with hair dye in various shades of red, purple, pink, blonde, and black.
In my current apartment, I still have carpets in that ugly non-colour of grey/ blue/ I-don’t-even-know-what, but at least the walls are no longer white, at least the place is filled with things that make me feel like me.
I try to cultivate a sense of control here, as well as some kind of positive solitude. But as much as I clean, as much I organize and re-organize, as much as I get rid of things and acquire new things, I still know that this place isn’t mine. It is my landlord’s. For all I know, she doesn’t even think of it as somebody’s home, somebody’s safe haven, but simply a grey house on the other side of town that generates a meager income. And if she so chooses, she could get away with leaving the fixtures in their sorry state, not investing in having the leaks fixed properly; she could raise my rent and drive me right out of here with her disregard. I know that while I struggle to pay for my groceries and keep myself alive, a large chunk of my income is going toward the upkeep of her own home, and the education and well-being of her family. I am not quite throwing my money away; the rent I pay is almost worth it for the space I live in, and I am very lucky indeed to be able to choose to live by myself in a building where I feel relatively safe. It’s just that sometimes it does feel like I’m throwing money away. I know millions of others are struggling with this, too, and rent is not something you can simply wiggle your way out of. But I don’t want it to be like this forever.
I have grown quite fond of visualizing my future home, the perfect home, weighing the pros and cons of various locations, having the perfect balance of escape & wonder & beauty, with practicality & work & the inevitable inconveniences as well. It is a neat little space to dream of, to take care of even the littlest details in my mind as I work in my own ridiculous ways to make that happen. I would like to own my home, to know that I am in total control of the place I live. That dream, that vision, is something to strive toward, a reason to keep on going.
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