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Almost homeless

In the month of May 2013, I found myself without the means to rent an apartment. What followed was a series of lessons on generosity, the power of friendship and minimalism.
The small closet at the apartment that I eventually moved into.

The small closet at the apartment that I eventually moved into. /Whitney Pavlica

My roommate Megan and me at an event.

My roommate Megan and me at an event. /Whitney Pavlica

Last May, I found myself in a position I thought I’d never be in. My lease was about to be up at my then residence and I needed to find a new place, since the owner was putting consideration into selling the house. The plan had been to get an apartment with a friend and all the plans were in order, but at the last moment they backed out. I had believed that the plan would work. As a result, I hadn’t made a back-up plan. I was left alone with a pressing move- out deadline.

I began to look for apartments and rooms to rent. I read a lot of disturbing Craigslist posts and learned that the price of rent for a single apartment ranges from $400 (which is hard to find) an up. Just a room to rent started at $300. Even that price was a source of crippling disappointment. As a college student earning just above minimum wage, I couldn’t see how I’d make ends meet with my weekly paycheck.

I acknowledge the privilege that I do have. I come from a middle-class family that lives around two hours away from Grand Rapids. Moving home was an option, but that also meant quitting my job and returning to a conservative town that I had been so relieved to escape from. I am a fiercely independent person and I was determined to make it through this and continue living in Grand Rapids.

Every day, options about what I could do swirled around in my head at a dizzying speed. I could do couch-surfing rotations with willing friends or spend my days in public places and sleep in my car at night until I found something. I didn’t think to research any resources within Grand Rapids. In my mind, it was all on me—I had to figure it all out for myself.

During the last two weeks I had left at my current living place, I braced myself by packing all of my stuff and storing it at my parents’ house. I kept a few changes of clothes, toiletries, a pillow and a blanket, my laptop and a small box of books to read.

The week before I moved out, I confided to my close friend, Russ, about my situation. He responded with an act of generosity: an offer to stay on his couch for a couple of weeks.

I arrived at Russ’s apartment on a Sunday night—an upper lever two-bedroom house apartment. Russ and his wife, A.J. lived there with a roommate named Megan. Their living room couch became my bedroom.

What started as a tentative arrangement turned into a powerful experience. Russ, A.J., Megan, and I got along and bonded as if we were family. There were nights spent watching movies or playing games and communal dinners. I was never lonely, and I felt like I found a true home.

I still searched for affordable housing, coming up with the same disappointing results. As a form of repayment, I helped around the house. In hindsight, I don’t think I wanted to find somewhere else to live—I had everything I needed at the apartment.

Around late June, my presence at the apartment became permanent when A.J. got a job in her field. The job meant the she and Russ would have to move away from Grand Rapids. They needed someone to take their place on the lease and offered the opportunity to me. I remember feeling so much joy and relief. I didn’t have to move.

Eventually I started contributing to rent and utilities, while Russ and A.J. began to save for moving. In late September, one of the apartment’s closets was converted into a bedroom for me. After having to give up my queen size bed for a couch, sleeping on a twin mattress had a foreign comfort to it. Having a door to close for privacy was also a blessing.

Living with little material possessions was a liberating experience. I didn’t experience the overwhelming feeling of clutter. My mind was clear. I learned that minimalism is a way to see the great things in life that aren’t tangible. I found myself humbled and grateful for everything I had in life, not what I didn’t have. Even now, I hate the feeling of having too many possessions.

Russ and A.J. moved away, but Megan and I still live at the apartment. I have an actual bedroom now and slightly more possessions, but those things are just things. What matters is that I keep close the lessons of friendship and generosity.

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