Ever since I moved out to university aged 18 I have lived in rented accommodation. In six years I have lived in five properties, and four of these have been apartments near the big city of Manchester.
There are loads of benefits to living in an apartment; it’s usually more convenient location-wise, you’re not tied down and your landlord/letting agent is responsible if something goes pear-shaped.
But noisy neighbours? Mislaid post? All your friends getting mortgages and paying half the price? These are the things we don’t appreciate. Problems with your living space can often seem impossible to fix, especially if you’re renting, because your home is a physical space that isn’t your own and there’s not really much you can do apart from move. Right?
I’ve written a list of my biggest bug-bears when it comes to renting in the city centre and how I get around them so that I can express myself and live a comfortable and happy existence.
No Outdoor Space
For many of us without a garden or balcony it can feel like we are trapped in a cage with no easy access to the outside world.
This is numero uno for me because plants are my world. The idea of not having my newly sprouted chives brightening up my life is too much to bear. But you don’t need a garden or even a balcony to grow your stuff. In fact, if you live in England like me your plants will probably survive better indoors than out ;). Utilise windowsills, coffee tables and bookshelves to add greenness and a little bit more oxygen in your space. I recently read a fantastic blog post about growing a mango and at the end she gives a link to a beautiful video of a woman who’s house is full of plants – and she loves it. You don’t need outdoor space if you’ve got the passion.
This is hard. Imagine it’s a beautiful day outside and you’re desperate to go out and enjoy it. If you don’t have an oudoor area it can feel like it’s impossible – going to a café will cost money, you don’t want to get out of your PJs and you’re tired. Ok, now this is going to sound really obvious but open the windows. Do it. The air coming in will make you feel fresher and less trapped, it’ll wake you up and you’ll feel fab. I used to sit inside gazing at the blue sky outside and moan about how unfair it was that I couldn’t experience it. But now I feel like I do, just a little bit, by opening the windows and letting the air rush past my plants and into my apartment. And if you still want to get outside…
Hard to come by in my neck of the woods, so when it is here it’s even more of an event to be celebrated. We like nothing more than to sit in a pub garden and soak in the rays, but you usually have to buy a drink to do that (always). So being the cheapskates-thinly-disguised-as-thrifty that we are (joking), about six months ago we scoured around for a local park. We were so surprised to find that there were about a million beautiful green spaces within walking distance from us and we’d had absolutely no idea. We now have our favourites and when beautiful summer weather calls we grab a towel and go lounge on the grass. In winter we fill a flask with hot coffee and sit on a bench, soaking in the beauty of the frosty trees. It’s like our own huge garden, we just have to walk a little to get there – which is lovely too! Find your area on Google Maps and zoom out. Any green expanse you don’t recognise nearby, go and take a little trip there and check it out. You might find your new favourite spot.
It’s common to get chesty when the air doesn’t move properly around enclosed spaces.
I would quite honestly call my battle with laundry the longest fight of my life. I have tried everything. New detergents and fabric softeners, hanging it differently, quicker cycles, longer cycles, bigger maidens, radiators, the lot. In the end I’ve just wasted a lot of money and my apartment is damp, my clothes still take a week to dry and they still smell mouldy when they’re done. We have a tumble dry setting on our washing machine but a) so environmentally unfriendly, b) so expensive and c) so doesn’t even bloody work. I have researched this topic constantly and have found two solutions to this issue. The first is to open the windows. This is obvious and doesn’t help a jot when it’s February and freezing. The second, more viable option is a dehumidifier. We spent £30 on a really low-voltage one from Amazon and it’s slightly reduced our drying time/mould stink. However, you can buy better brands at a (variably) higher price and these apparently work wonders (thank you MumsNet).
Poor ventilation = stagnant air = moisture, mould and bacteria hanging out in your chest cavity. There are a few things you can do if you don’t have a ventilation system (we do, but it doesn’t work. Thanks a bunch, landlord). Firstly, keep all the surrounding doors open when you’re drying clothes, or open the bathroom window and close the bathroom door after showering or taking a bath. For those of us without bathroom windows (ME, obviously), keep the bathroom door closed and then go in and mop up once the condensation has settled. Get a fan and turn it on periodically to move the air about. This can actually move hot air from the ceiling and heat your home more, too – fans aren’t just for cooling down, who knew?! Thirdly, as much as it pains us all to do it, open your windows a few times every day, even in the winter. Make sure you’re heating is off first, though.
Although our mouldy-clothes-smell is so repulsive that I’d love for my clothes to smell like fried onions, it still isn’t the scent of the season. Keep all the doors in your apartment open when you cook (except the front door, that would be weird) and try and open a window when you can. Keeping all internal doors open will help the smell to diffuse around the space without concentrating all in one area. Also keep your wardrobe doors closed and try not to have anything hanging out to dry when you cook. This is, practically, far easier said than done, but keeping exposed materials away as much as possible will make a difference. There’s also air fresheners, candles and Febreeze (who do a delicious pine edition especially for those winter months).
Space and the constrictions of renting
When we tell people we rent an apartment in the city, this is what they imagine. The reality is a 40msq one-bed with very little space and breathing room.
If you want location and half-decent living conditions, the cost of your rent isn’t really something you can change. What you can change, however, are the extra costs that come alongside it. For example, if your outgoings are about £700 a month just to live and only £400 of that is rent, there’s definitely something you can do. Consider how often you’re using the heating, invest in blankets, do speedy washes in the washing machine and don’t leave things on standby. Take faster, cooler showers and less baths, and run a bowl of water to do your washing up instead of keeping the tap on constant. Check regularly to see if there’s a cheaper internet provider out there. Consider not renewing your TV license if all you do is watch Netflix. You can save a good hunk of money each month, and all of it can go towards getting a deposit down on a house that will finally, one day, be yours.
At first, this was one of the most frustrating things for me. What if I want that wall to be purple? What if I want to re-tile that skanky bathroom or throw out the hideous sofas that came with the place and get some new ones? Well, the truth is I can’t. But you might be able to. It’s always worth asking your landlord how much you can get away with changing, there’s always a chance they might be open to a bit of redecorating. You can also hang photos as long as you refill and paint over the holes before you leave (still wise to check first) or alternatively buy some sticky strips to hang photos up without any lasting damage. There are also a million things you can do which are totally legal, like deconstructing existing furniture and storing it away so you can replace it with your own (rebuild it before you move out!) and getting creative with plant pots and other home accessories that you’ll take with you when you leave. Create photo boards and be clever with lighting and candles to create a home that’s so ambient you’ll almost feel like it’s yours.
Obviously nothing beats having your own home, but the reality is that it just isn’t practical for a lot of us for many reasons. Living in the city centre has so many wonderful perks that the price of existing in the middle of it sometimes makes it all worth it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve what we’ve got. Gotta make lemonade, as the saying goes.
Is there anything you find particularly annoying about living in a small apartment? What do you do to tackle it? Let me know in the comments!