Here are some ways I’ve discovered to thrive in small spaces with a romantic partner.
At the sight of my new sofa, a friend exclaimed, “You paid what?!” The answer? $400. The couch’s original worth? Nearly $3000.
I fell in love with it from its photos, and even though this same friend described me as having a “bad past with comfortable couches” I owned a dog now, and saw some future in lounging around on this living room sleeper.
Since I moved back home to LA, I’ve faced a real conundrum: one of the main reasons I moved was because I wanted to be able to afford my own place (in New York I always had roommates, and usually many, and usually in very close quarters, and I didn’t, as I know you’ve all experienced, love them all). I longed for enough space, and perhaps too much space. With too much space you can plant a garden, you can build a breakfast nook, and hell, you might even purchase a treadmill.
The trouble, though, with moving your whole life across the country, back to the city you grew up in, and coming from New York where you made it a point to streamline your possessions as much as possible in case, god forbid, you had to move again — and even worse, it would happen in winter — is that I owned virtually no furniture, and what little I had I did not want to pay to move 3,000 miles.
Starting over in LA has been an experience akin to starting over as an adult: I had turned 18 once, and 21 once, and each time I had learned a little more about what one needs to make a house a home, but having spent my entire adult life on the east coast, hopping from mostly furnished apartment to mostly furnished apartment, I didn’t know the extent until now.
The first real shocker came when I learned that many Los Angeles apartments do not come with refrigerators, and some don’t even come with ovens or stovetops. If you move to Los Angeles, you will find empty, horrifying, gaping holes where these appliances should be, and I made the mistake of not learning until the end of the lease signing that no, the landlord would not assist with our search for an oven or a fridge, and definitely not the installation.
The silver lining: I had my dream of renting a house. It had a backyard, for my dog, and it had a front yard, where theoretically I could plant the avocado tree I had dreamed of owning since I first took a bite of an avocado, its rich green fruit sweet and fatty on my tongue.
As I had done so often in the past, I took to Craigslist, stubbornly in search of a refrigerator deal. Our initial efforts came up short. Lots of dead ends: fake listings, or old fridges with no guarantee of function. One listing did eventually catch my eye, because it claimed a 90-day guarantee, and the seller claimed that he cleaned each individual fridge himself, so my fear of salmonella-riddled rotting chicken surviving in the crisper faded.
I texted him late one night: 10pm. Way past any fridge seller’s bedtime, and not expecting a rapid response. He texted back, saying he would sell me the fridge that evening. This was creepy sign number one: why would anyone buy a fridge at 11pm, let alone deliver one?
But the deal was too good to resist— marked a full $100 less than any of the other fridges I saw advertised — so I had to try. I asked if he could come to our new house the next evening, and offered a wide window of 6-8pm. The fridge man agreed.
Hours flew by, and after many harried texts, he texted back several photos of a completely different fridge, set off by a background scene of what seemed to be the woods — there are no woods in Van Nuys, where he claimed he was located — and I suddenly felt like this fridge man was the fridge killer.
My boyfriend and I called off the sale that evening, but after two days of sleeping on it and hours of more searching, we tried him again. We knew in our hearts not to, but we felt full of some kind of new hope in a new place that was old to me but, still, somehow new again. It felt akin to opening up a book you haven’t read since you were young and naive, and wanting to be annoyed by the flatness of it, as you once were, but this time less bogged down by teenage malaise to hate without reason. (Yes, friends, I am referring to Middlemarch.)
The second time around waiting for the fridge man conjured up images of horror films and Los Angeles murder mysteries. Not only did we get the same creepy texts from him, this time with an entirely different fridge, but he wrote: “I am not watching your fridge.” The text could have been interpreted easily as a bad English translation of good intentions, but when he called to say the hold up was that he was cleaning the appliance and replacing its handles, I started to believe he had killed its original owner, stolen the ice box, and was planning to rip us off and murder us, too.
We were in a new house in a neighborhood I didn’t know well, and we didn’t have internet, which upped the anxiety. Adding to the vision of the Hillside Strangler floating around my head was the terrifying fact that a man had been parked outside our house, sitting in his car, for nearly an hour. When we finally decided to leave, my boyfriend had me leave our car lights on for a full minute, possibly suggesting we might not be going far, or that we were not leaving at all.
I wondered if my hunt for a good deal, the hunt that occupied the breaks between writing, that filled the procrastination void, had gone too far. It was the search that made me want to revive the old, to re-frame a dusty portrait of Los Angeles, give its faded corners some sheen.
It didn’t help at all that during the car ride to get some tacos — after hours of waiting for a fridge, we were starving — my boyfriend pointed out that Ted Bundy would lure victims by asking them to help him move furniture into a van. The thing about Los Angeles that has been hard adjusting to, coming from New York, are the quiet streets, the lack of pedestrian traffic, the forceful way your thoughts are with you because, on the many sidewalk-less streets, there is hardly another sound.
We ended up buying a fridge from a local mom-and-pop shop in South Gate, an appliance store that had been there for several decades. What’s interesting is that amid all the madness, the simplest offer was the easiest. I paid them exactly what they wanted. In my past purchases, I wanted to perform alchemy to all of the old goods, make them new again, as I was making a new life in a city that was once old and is new again to me. When it came to a fridge, though, it was important for me to accept that as long as it makes ice cubes and keeps my yogurt cold, I’m good to go.
All that said, I’m still holding out for a gilded, showstopper mid-century kitchen set. If you know of any, you know where to find me. I promise to make a fair bid.