(Image: Marisa Vitale on apartmenttherapy.com)
I like my apartment. It was one of those suspicious-looking listings, the one that sounds perfect and ticks all boxes and is just the right price(?) but has an old, grainy picture of the building(!) and no picture of the unit(!!!). I am the person who trusts nothing, analyses everything and attacks the fine print, and yet, when circumstances pushed me to secure it sight unseen days before my move, I put down a deposit on the red flag of red flags.
Walking in was a relief. It was real, and as my google maps stalking had confirmed, it really was walking distance from my office and so perfectly central it still makes me squeal for joy sometimes. Sure, it was old with an awkward layout and in less than flattering shape — there had to be a downside — but the agent was apologetic and helpful and happily took the 2-week long list of repairs he’d encouraged me to make. That agent stopped being helpful the second he left and those repairs took the landlady 6 months and a couple of threats to complete before I gave up on the last few items, but here I am. I won, right?
That list of repairs was probably where it started. I had a place all to myself for the first time ever and a steady flow of modest furnishing cash from a new job. Between that excitement and my daily visits to ApartmentTherapy.com, I found myself regularly staying up late with measuring tape and a hand-drawn floor plan, making a new list to pair with the one I kept for basic furniture and decor: Improvements. Among other things, I thought I’d stain the floor tile grey, replace some light fixtures, and paint the interior doors in a dark, flattering accent of charcoal.
Let’s pause here for a knowing laugh, echoed by tenants & landlords everywhere.
In the past few weeks, I have once again become obsessed with improvement. Some of it is practical, like the TEFL qualification I’m finally working on. Some of it is well-intentioned overkill: Please refer to the 3 short courses waiting in the wings, the countless webinars I’m almost falling asleep in, and the money, business and coding books I still think I can finish this month. Other aspects, however, are impractical, like researching how much it would cost to install a temporary renter’s cork floor. The answer is a lot. It is so very much.
On lockdown’s ‘good’ days, a very loosely defined term, I have a surplus of energy. I struggle to channel this into productivity, specifically the potentially profitable kind. Channelling it into plans to ‘improve things,’ however, is much easier. I can’t control much right now, what with a life-changing global event going on, but I can still control the spreadsheet, mood board and Homestyler model I once started at 2 am to render said improvements. I’m not sure why this is where I’ve fixated, but whenever I find myself back here, trawling the Builder’s Warehouse website like a treasure map, I know I’m grasping.
There is a future version of me that this is all very practical for. Right now she’s picking out a butcher’s block for her kitchen while waiting on the investment dividends that will fund her dream renovation. I am not her. I am pretending to be her, because playing house and calling it planning is what my scattered brain needs to call progress right now. The pattern may be exacerbated by lockdown, but I know that this is something I do all the time, whenever the reality in front of me seems bleak or uninviting, a goal ahead of me feels too far away, the moves I should be making bare their scary risks, or stubborn circumstances won’t bend to my will.
Currently, I am staring at one of my clinical-looking curtain rods and wishing I could buy a slim pelmet, paint it that charcoal accent shade and snap it on there today. I might do it if Builder’s can ship. I am also writing this, remembering that when I’m not researching cork floors, I’m blessed and grateful and content. I am willing myself to choose stillness so my scattered brain can rest and focus, and to mute the sense of dissatisfaction I’ve accidentally created. With less to fix and improve and perfect, my mind is slowing to a reasonable pace for the first time in days. I am separating the real from the imagined, the urgent from the far, far off, the useful from the harmful and the harmlessly fun, and treating them all accordingly.
If you need to, you can too.