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Monday, May 24, 2010

The ups and downs of finding your first apartment - Is that curry I smell?

Our first home. That is something I never thought I would say. In the midst of packing our memories and belongings into cardboard boxes in anticipation of our move on Friday, my mind wanders to the days of my many changes of postal codes, addresses and phone numbers.

I used to be a maid at Holiday Inn. I would look out the windows towards the highway and see everyone zipping by, going somewhere, and I used to think to myself, I have to get out of here. There is more to life than the small city of Stoney Creek, in this stifling hotel, with no air conditioning, cleaning the local exotic dancers' dirty bathtubs.

I knew that I wanted to move to Toronto and at that age, a roommate was inevitable. I've had many but it was my own first place that was truly special. I'm reflecting on how far I've come but also happy for a couple of friends who are setting out on the journey of finding themselves. That journey starts with living alone. You never really know how you are to live with until you live with yourself. Sometimes I liked coming home to myself and other times not so much.

The first step in this self-discovery process is actually looking for an apartment. In a huge metropolis such as Toronto, this can be a daunting process. First, you have to know the areas to search in, and likewise the areas to run away from. Fast.

I'll never forget my roommates and I looking in Rexdale for a 4 bedroom apartment. We became instantly alarmed at the graffiti soaked walls and empty hubcaps resting on neighbourhood lawns. Over time, and through hard lessons I learned what areas I felt a sense of belonging in.

From a house in Etobicoke with drug dealers who lived below us, to a tiny apartment on a narrow-laned alley way on St. Clair (Italian District) during the 2002 World Cup (featuring Italy...I don't think I slept for a month straight as there were hundreds of people below my bedroom window chanting and screaming every night!) to my 2 week stint in Woodbridge, where my basement flooded with human waste and my insurance wouldn't cover it, to a unit in Markham that burned my nostrils from the curry smells above, to an apartment on Avenue Rd with an always drunk boyfriend who trashed the place with his friends, I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to find a decent apartment, and be alone.

I searched the internet, newspapers and neighbourhoods and stumbled upon everything from a creep who wanted to share space in his 15,000 square foot mansion (my wing would be 5000 square feet but we would share accommodations..but WOW was this place beautiful) to shoe boxes advertised as "spacious" and wouldn't even be considered spacious by my cat. Regardless of my skepticism of the exterior of a rental unit, I tried hard not to judge a book by it's cover and kept hope alive that I would find a gem.

I called a woman who had advertised an apartment that sounded delightful, and she chuckled and said that it had only been posted in the last five minutes. I came to look at it and on the mature tree-lined streets of Yonge and Lawrence, I found my first place. It had everything I needed. A walkout to a little porch and garden, brand new appliances and carpet, a walk in closet, shared laundry, parking and utilities included for $750 a month. In that neighbourhood, that is unheard of and someone must have been looking out for me that day I signed my very own lease in my very own name. Curry free.

The advice I give to my friends who are setting out on their first journey of self-discovery is that even looking for your own place is part of the evolutionary process. You go through the ups and downs of falling in love with something, but not being able to afford it. You find something that is affordable but in the wrong neighbourhood or in someone's basement. If you're really lucky, you'll find a middle ground.

With the right positive mind frame and a coat of paint to make the place your own, the first night's sleep in your new place is something I will never forget. I felt proud, accomplished, strong and that I could do anything. And for those of you reading this who know exactly where I am coming from, you should know that having your very own first apartment all by yourself, is the first step in changing your life forever.

My husband and I are embarking on a special time in our lives. After being wed and now purchasing our first home, we are excited to move from our rental years into home ownership. But I would have never, ever appreciated the end result if I hadn't literally gone from flooding, to fires and finally curry to get here.

Best of luck my friends on your new journey.



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