As I mentioned last week, friends, I moved into a new apartment recently. Couldn’t say much since I was so busy, but things have calmed down a little and now I’ve gotten a bit of free time. So let me provide you with a handful of insights I’ve managed to glean over the course of my move.
First off, why’d I even bother moving? My university-provided dorm was very cheap; about 4000 bucks, plus a 2400$ meal plan, for 6 months. That comes out to about 1066 dollars a month, even less if you think about the money I save from eating at the cafeterias as opposed to eating out. It was also in a decent location, very close to all the classes I needed to take. So why give all that up?
Well, as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. Now, I have to admit, there were nice things about living at my old dorm–the food was actually really really good in the cafeteria most of the time; while not as wonderful as the fare you’d find at a truly high-class restaurant, it actually came pretty close. The security was also very good. However, there were also several problems I had with that place. The dorms were very dirty; the basement in particular (where I had to go to do my laundry) being filled with silverfish and the occasional cockroach. The rooms themselves were also quite spartan, IMO, and in desperate need of renovation. The building was quite old and there were still dusty fireplaces that couldn’t be used from before they installed internal heating. And while the exterior of the building may have been nice, the interiors–the rooms themselves, where we’d sleep and live–were somewhat dingy and unpleasant. Particularly bad, IMO, was the way trash was dealt with. The building had no trash chutes, just some very large trash cans into which the residents of each floor could place their trash bags. That wouldn’t have been so bad in and of itself, save the staff emptied those trash bins very irregularly, so that trash would marinate outside for days at a time, attracting flies and such, before finally getting removed! Finally, the walls in the dorm I was assigned were fairly thin, and I could hear my suitemate taking shows and stuff in out shared bathroom (and vice versa). Again, none of this was necessarily so terrible (from what a friend of mine has told me, the living conditions in the dorms of several colleges in California are much worse, bearing more similarity to a ravaged warzone in the Congo than anything you’d expect in America), but for someone who places as much emphasis on cleanliness and privacy as I, alternatives seemed more and more necessary. And, fortunately, alternatives were readily available–there were and are a great many nice apartments in this general area not at all far away, so why not choose one?
That’s the first lesson I should have learned upon first arriving at grad school, 4 years ago. At the time, I was absolutely insistent on staying in university housing. Now I realize how foolish I was. While there’s always the risk of bad landlords and such, living in an apartment that’s truly your own can be much preferable to living in a dorm. There’s more privacy, since you don’t have a suitemate in your own apartment, and if you’re careful about reading reviews online and getting information beforehand, you can avoid crazy landlords and terribly maintained buildings. The place I’m in right now is MUUUUUUCH nicer. It’s cleaner, roomier, and generally much more pleasant than…austere, I suppose. Thus, I definitely think it’s worth it to have an open mind and do some research, looking around when moving into a new place. Don’t be too wedded to one solution, like I was obsessed with university-owned housing when I first arrived. Spend a few days in the area and look around for nice places to stay at–you may find something better than the first one you had your eye on. In fact, come to think of it, even this apartment might not necessarily be ideal. My father mentioned that it’s better to buy a condo rather than rent an apartment, because you can sell it for possibly more than you paid if the price goes up. Alas, I’m only staying at university 6 more months before beginning my dissertation journey across America, so there was no point. If I could go back in time, though, I’d definitely tell myself to buy a condo or something so I could sell it off when I left grad school.
With that said, though, there’s also the matter of expense–my new “casbah,” as much as I love it, isn’t as cheap as my old place at the dorms; about 1400 a month. Since my old place also paid for utilities and Internet, the price for both pushes that up to about 1600 a month! Add in the fact that I can no longer eat at the cafeteria and have to get my own groceries, all in all I may be paying more than 2000 a month, which is fairly considerable. In my view, however, it’s worth it. It’s certainly unwise to to spend money on stuff you don’t even need, but if you highly value cleanliness and privacy, as I do, some expenses are worth it. I think the lesson here is that whether spending or saving, you ought to make a considered decision rather than just knee-jerk doing things on impulse. I suppose it’s better to be a compulsive saver than spender; the latter path will lead you to the street, after all. Still, hoarding money irrationally isn’t a good idea either; money is not a good in and of itself and should be used to benefit your life. I make enough from my stipend, combined with my savings, that 2000 bucks a month won’t break my bank at all. If you’ve really got your finances in order, I think spending extra on things that seem like “luxuries” but can really improve your quality of life is worth it. I’m sleeping better and enjoying myself more here than I ever did back in my dorms. Considering the importance a calm mind and good rest have to success in grad school, I’d say even doubling my costs of living would be an investment not at all wasted.
Finally, just a word to the wise: When you’re moving, try not to rely on plastic trash bags! I got a few on my mom’s recommendation, and they broke while I was moving my books, which was really bad 😦 However, my old nylon laundry bag, which has been with me for YEARS, has a few tears but hasn’t broken once, no matter what I put in it! I highly recommend getting a nice nylon or even better, thick burlap bag for moving stuff. They’re more expensive, sure, but you can also reuse them more than trash bags, which makes them cheaper in the long run.
Well, that should do it for this week. Next week I will try to have a writing update for you! 😀