Why I'll always regret not making my apartment into a home

Sep 16, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Image: Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images

I spent a lot of time in apartments, fantasizing about the day that I could finally afford a home of my own. In all of that time, I never even tried to put down roots in those places, and I'll always regret it. Don't make the same mistake I did.

In high school, when most of my peers were dreaming of moving into exciting little flats in big cities, I had... other ambitions. Having spent all of my formative years going from city to city and living in efficiency apartments, studio walk-ups and rented du-, tri- and quadplexes, I was excited to move to some bland suburb somewhere and put some money down on a house. On some roots.

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Turning those exciting ambitions into a reality took some real doing, and a lot of moving in and out of teeny-tiny spaces with my little family. Each new move bought us a little more square footage, but every single time we did it, I put the firm kibosh on painting walls, hanging pictures, stringing up curtains or buying real furniture. My justification would be that we wouldn't be there for long, so why bother? So we floated. It never felt permanent, but that was the point, wasn't it? There was time for permanence later. Can you see where this is going?

Yeah, it was a really dumb idea. Don't do what I did. If you are living in an apartment, even if you know you won't be there for long, make that place as homey as possible. Here's why.

1. Now that I'm in a house, I have no idea what I'm doing

The other day, a cable guy was in my home, fixing up the ridiculously slow cable, when he asked if I was settling in OK. It struck me then that he thought we'd just moved in. We've been here over a year, it just looks like we're squatting because I still haven't purchased furniture, painted the walls or hung a picture. To my credit, I do have a wall clock hanging on a nail that the previous owners pounded into the wall. I don't really know how to lay out furniture or decorate. The furthest I've gotten is a few paint swatches taped to a couple of walls.

2. I could use a backdrop for some of these memories I've got

My daughter was 2 when we first moved to Texas. Now she's 8. That's a lot of space and a lot of firsts in between. A lot of really great memories. The problem is that I have trouble remembering when and where things happened. Did my daughter celebrate her third birthday in the apartment on the second story one bedroom with the beige walls and cracked countertops south of the city? Or was it the second story one bedroom apartment with beige walls and cracked countertops two miles north of that? It may sound dumb, but I wish I could remember exactly. Treating my apartment like a home instead of a hotel room would have been a good start.

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3. Living in a house ain't all that

I'm very grateful for what I have. I feel satisfied to have accomplished my goal. But it's not like some great magic happened when I turned the key in the lock just because I was paying a mortgage instead of rent. It's a place to live. One with a kitchen and a few bathrooms and a spot for us all to sleep. That old cliché about a home being wherever your heart is? It's completely true. Those places weren't less of a home just because I didn't own them. I wish I had known that then.

4. I'm probably going to have to move again, eventually

This house isn't our first, but it will likely be our last. The nature of the industry my husband works in means we could have to move again in a year. Or two. Or five. If we do, we won't be buying another home. The realization that comes with #3 means letting go of the idea that owning a home is the ultimate goal, or even any more permanent than apartment living.

5. It's not like money falls out of a ceiling just because you own it

Every time my husband wanted to save for a new couch or get a bucket of paint I reminded him that one day, we would buy a house. If we had the money to do that, I reasoned, we would have more than enough to purchase whatever we needed. In a twist that should come as a surprise to no one, that's the opposite of true. We have less disposable income now, not that we ever had a whole lot of that to begin with. This is why we own one dog-haired covered couch and a scarred college dorm-style dining table, and that's not going to change anytime soon.

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6. You're not a grownup until you've acquired some window treatments

Ipso facto, I am not a grownup. Every time I go to get some blinds or curtains or whatever, I'm paralyzed by my own ineptitude at curtain picking-outedness. See #1.

If I could go back and do it again, I wouldn't be so single-minded about what I thought a "home" should look like. I've grown up a lot since that first Texas apartment, curtain ownership notwithstanding. If I get the chance to do it again, I'll make sure I don't have any regrets.