I'm 31 and I have a husband, a baby, and a dog. And I live a rental apartment — well, a San Francisco "flat" if you want to pretend it's fancy. If you had asked 16-year-old Maggie where she would be living at this phase of her life, her adolescent visions of future grandeur would assuredly place her in something more closely resembling a shiny new mansion than the first floor of a quirky, pink, turn-of-the-century multi-family home.
But then again, teenage Maggie never thought she would have relocated from the East Coast to pricey San Francisco — and during a time when it is the most record-shatteringly expensive place in the country to live. She also didn't count on one of the most devastating recessions hitting right as she graduated university, nor that high-paying careers are a long road full of hard work. No, she thought life streamed by in a clear upward trajectory toward adulthood. And with becoming an adult came the desire (and down payment) for a two-car garage and picket fence. Adults — and certainly parents — did not rent apartments; they owned houses with green lawns.
It never occurred to her that adulthood doesn't switch on like a light bulb in a newly deeded home; that, now a parent in my 30s, I would still be waiting to feel like an adult; that making the bed would still be a chore and yard work unappealing, but that turning my apartment into a beautiful home would become a source of pride regardless of how ephemeral my tenancy or imperfect the space. She was blissfully unaware of how rent control or its golden handcuff make it financially foolish to move, even long after a living space has been outgrown.
So here's me, possibly adult Maggie. The Renter. Every enthusiastic, if short-lived, spurt of Zillow house-hunting ends in the realisation that I don't want to go anywhere else. That while I may not have an acre to call my own, I do have a beautiful — and beautifully flawed — rental home that provides warmth and shelter for my family.
It may not have a contemporary open floor plan, but its abundant walls are rimmed with classic Victorian moulding. The kitchen is so outdated it's in style again, and there are built-in china cabinets complete with antique leaded glass doors in the bedroom — because it's supposed to be a dining room. And I would choose to rest my bones on these scratched, original hardwood floors any day.
Thirty-one-year-old Maggie loves the character that I can only find in my erratically maintained rental, the added creative challenge of decorating a nursery in a way that won't cost me my security deposit (picture of finished project below), and the piped-in noise from the city streets right below my window. And I also love the freedom I have to relaunch my Zillow search at any time and uproot, because I may be in my 30s, but that doesn't mean I want to settle down. My living situation is more complicated and nuanced than my teenage self ever imagined. And, as a result, it's also much richer. For that, I'll happily write my landlord a check each month.