The Rules of Apartment Living


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single (or married) twenty-something in possession of a small income, must be in want of an apartment.

Practically all of my friends and coworkers live in apartments – or if they don’t , they want one, are looking for one, or just moved out of one for another one with cheaper rent or a better laundry situation (in-unit laundry is very important to my girlfriends).

The other night, I picked up my coworker Eliza at her apartment on our way to the Twins game, and we started talking about the absurdities of apartment living. I wanted to know, do you like your apartment? What is it like?

Eliza likes her building. The rent is decent. People are polite, except for the person who habitually steals her parking spot. I asked her, do you know your neighbors?

She told me, not really. It’s quiet, and when Eliza sits on her balcony on sunny days, nobody else is out there.

In Alex’s and my apartment, people keep to themselves. They do their laundry, swim in the pool, park in the weedy parking lot. We live in a culturally diverse neighborhood in an average apartment surrounded by strangers.

This, to me, is fascinating.

What to make of living in these microcosms of life, made up of strangers, called apartments?

A Philosophy of Apartment Living

photo 3Real-world apartment living means you live your life surrounded by strangers. Strangers creak above you. Strangers laugh at 1 am outside your window. A stranger takes your dry laundry out of the dryer and leaves it on top of the dryer (*insert indignant scowl*). My husband and I do not plan to inhabit an apartment forever. But for now, this is home.

Like snoozing before sleep, waxing crescents, and the exposition of a theme in a symphony, apartment living with strangers is a step in a series of chronological events. Apartment living may be temporary, but you must pass through it.

I want a sturdy philosophy of living with strangers. What follows is a rough draft. I’m still thinking it through.

The 4 Rules of Apartment Living (According to Brooke)

1. You can’t see in your neighbors’ windows – and you’ll just have to be okay with that.

Houses are full of stories, but houses do not speak. What reveals stories? The contents of your neighbor’s garage, of course. Their landscaping; their decor. But in an apartment building, of course, you lack all these wonderful personal signs that can tell you volumes about your neighbors.

And so if you’re hopelessly inquisitive about your neighbors, like me, all you’ve got for snooping are windows.

Unfortunately, apartment windows are typically high up, and for some reason, I’ve noticed the first floor ones tend to be more closely attended than home windows. This makes spying on your neighbors terribly hard, unless you like to treat your brick apartment building like a climbing wall because you’re curious about the people who live on the third floor and the stained glass thingy that’s hanging in their window. In that case, go for it!

Learn about your neighbors by the sounds and smells coming from their windows… crying baby, Mexican food, laughter. Use that to piece together a story of their lives, as a starting point.

2. Your neighbors won’t make it easy for you to talk to them. When you get opportunities, snatch them. 

A guy moved in across the hall from us, and I’ve talked to him exactly twice. Once was the day he moved in. I welcomed him to the building, and I just so happened to be baking four dozen chocolate chip cookies to take to a graduation party and had a thought, I should be neighborly and take him cookies.

And then I freaked out and thought to myself, it’s not 1950 and people don’t just show up on your doormat with cookies anymore. I mean, there’s too many factors involved. What if your new neighbors are gluten-free, dairy-free, organic, and your cookies are like a sin and a disgrace to them. Or what if it’s super awkward and you don’t hit it off, and every time you see them afterwards it’s like, Oh shoot, I don’t remember his name, did my cookies make him sick? Avoid awkward eye contact. 

Now I try to say hi when I see neighbor leaving for work, but he usually ignores me. Maybe he knows I thought twice about bringing him cookies, and he’s offended.

There’s a family next door with a baby, and in seven months living here, I’ve only seen them once. It was too fast to make conversation… they were charging towards the door with baby in arms.

There’s a guy who sits on the front stoop with a shower cap on, smoking, every morning. I have no idea what to make of this. He is in his own world.

Takeaway: Conversation doesn’t make itself. If you want to know your neighbors, you’ll have to hunt them down, put on a shower cap… or take them cookies. This might make them angry. Who knows? It may be a risk you have to take.

3. Honor the complainers. 

The only neighbor I know by name is Jim.

Jim visited us a few weeks after we’d moved in to tell us he heard “loud explosions” coming from our apartment, and “banging.” What were we doing up here? (Moving in. Watching TV. Committing atrocious crimes right above your head!). He had to let us know he worked night shifts and needed us to keep it down during the day, when he slept. He wasn’t mad; he was just doing his due diligence to let us know his needs. We told him we’d try to keep it down.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough, because a few months later we got a note Hello residents in 203, asking us to keep the volume down, and to call him if we had any questions, thank you very much, Jim. Too embarrassed to knock on his door, I wrote him a note back asking for a second chance.

Jim was very polite. We think he’s still down there. And if I see him again, I’m glad we left on pleasant terms.

4. You have your trash in common.

Whatever differences you have with your neighbors, eventually, you will all have to make your way to the dumpster to pitch your paper towels, pizza boxes and last night’s congealed dinner that you couldn’t put down the disposal because you don’t have one.

Our dumpster is buzzing with flies. Every time I lift the lid, I nearly want to die. Gross stuff lives in the dumpster. The garbage man comes early early early in the morning, lifts that dumpster, and with a resounding crash all our garbage is carried off. It’s a strangely comforting thought, to think we bring all our separate garbage bags and in the end, it all gets carried away together.

If you get annoyed with your neighbors, just remember: they’ve got garbage too.

In the end, that’s what will carry us through this season. If you can remember that the strangers you live with are people, too – well, that’ll do a world of good.


3 thoughts on “The Rules of Apartment Living

  1. Brooke, no matter what the topic is – you always entertain and fascinate me. I read your posts with absorption and delight. You pull out good meanings from the simple facts of life. THANK YOU. keep it up!

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