Broke Decorating

Two months ago, I moved into an apartment in Los Angeles. It’s a unit in a compound of tiny bungalows built by Paramount Studios in the 1920s to house visiting actors.

The outside walls are painted blue.  There is a courtyard full of trees and bougainvillea and grass. I have a view of the Hollywood sign. I have an outdoor patio. I have neighbors who say hello.

What I do not have is furniture. I moved to Los Angeles with a bicycle, a blender, and a suitcase full of clothes. I had a separate bag for my “activities:” books, yoga props, teas, and facial cleansers.

People kept asking me, “Oh, you’re moving into a new place? Do you have a lot of stuff?”

I was unclear what they meant.

“I have clothes,” I said hopefully.

“Oh,” they replied. “That’s…good.”

I moved into the little bungalow and realized that I did, in fact, need more than clothes. There was nowhere to sleep, nowhere to put my folded pants. There was no hall closet. There was no place to store my blender.

And I was earning $250 a week selling Kombucha.

After two months of ingenuity, I am proud to offer you some advice for what to do then next time you find yourself in an empty room in a crumbling apartment with almost no income.

First, work with what you’ve got. The former tenant sold me her bed for almost nothing. The box spring is dotted with cigarette burns and the mattress is crunchy. But it’s a mattress!

Second, remove the dark brown streaks from the walls without asking what they are. Scrub the old, dried food off the floor. Sweep up the dead bugs, kill the live spiders. Don’t recoil when you realize the live spiders have made a nest by the heater. Just spray it with Windex and hope for the best.

Don’t gag when you clean the bathroom. Gagging gets you nowhere. Ask a friend to pick you up a bundle of sage the next time she goes to the farmer’s market and then burn it in every room of the house.

It’ll be hot; if you don’t have a fan you’ll start to feel weak. Just shower in cold water until the feeling subsides. There are no limits on showers.

Third, beg. My boyfriend lent me sheets; my mother sent me towels. My dad let me take the fan from his office. I am still accepting donations.

Fourth, celebrate that your roommate already owns a couch, a coffee table, and cooking supplies. This has saved you lots of time and $$, and no amount of gratitude is too small.

Fifth, get a job that supplies you with a large lunchbox for transporting probiotic beverages to and from “potential accounts.” Use the lunchbox (in rotation) as a nightstand, a chair, a cup holder, and a place to store receipts.

Side note: the yoga props make great seats too.

Six, save the IKEA run for things no one is going to give you. For example, a duvet cover, a laundry hamper, and your very own grown-up set of plastic measuring spoons.

Seven, find furniture on the street. You are in a city and there is a preponderance of discarded furniture on the sidewalk. For example, last week I found an enormous white-framed mirror propped up outside my building.  I’ve leaned the mirror up against the wall on the floor of my room and it looks really cool. Like I am trying to be sparse. Like this was a choice.

Eight, skip the dresser. Store your clothes in a TV stand.

Nine, if your friends send you postcards, tack them to the wall. Walk around the neighborhood and steal plants and put those on the wall too.

Ten, instead of shelling out $$$ for furniture, stock up on wine. Wine is your new best decorating tool. Have a lot of it on hand because when people come over they will be way more into that than into your lack of area rugs.

Eleven, you don’t own chairs so get used to sitting on the floor. It’s cool tho, this is supposed to be healthy for your spine. If you can’t get past feeling weird about it, just tell yourself you’re being bohemian. And open more wine. And rejoice, because this place is yours and you live here and that is a bigger relief than you could have imagined. What else could you really need?

Besides groceries, obvi.


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