By 10th grade, I knew exactly what I wanted my grown-up life to look like. I had always loved reading magazines, but movies like The Devil Wears Prada, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, and 13 Going On 30 showed me that working at a magazine could be a career—and a glamorous one at that. I fell asleep in my quiet suburban room wishing there was street noise blaring outside my window. I looked forward to the day where I could sip on Cosmopolitans with my friends—never mind that I had no idea what they tasted like. I wanted it all so badly.
In my 20s, my life really did feel like living in one of those movies I loved. I lived in small apartments in Manhattan with too many roommates. I worked at the magazines I used to sneak-read in high school, and worked my way up from an assistant to a senior writer. I did everything I set out to do.
Here’s the thing: High school me never visualized what my life would look like past age 29. So as 30 turned into 31 and 31 turned into 32, I realized that this decade of my life was starting to look like an extension of my 20s. That didn’t feel quite as right anymore. But when I tried to picture what I actually did want for myself…nothing clearly came to mind.
Feeling “stuck,” I decided the solution was to move somewhere new. Despite living in the most exciting city in the world, my days had become routine and nothing surprised me anymore. I decided to move closer to family, in Raleigh, NC. Maybe being more active in my nephews’ lives would give my own life more meaning. I also didn’t know anyone in the city except my family, so it had a “fresh start” feel. Still, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to New York City completely, so I vowed to split my time between both cities, coming back to New York every two months for a full week each time.
For the first year I lived in Raleigh, I stuck to the plan. As soon as I came back from one trip, I was on Airbnb the very next day, booking my next one. I spent weeks planning who I would see, where I would eat, and what I would do with my time there. And I planned other trips, too. To Los Angeles for a hybrid work trip-vacation. To Paris to visit my best friend. I started to think that this would be what my 30s could look like. Then the pandemic hit, and like most of the rest of the world, I wasn’t going anywhere.
I’d never pictured myself living in a house before; I always thought it would just be an apartment. But as I slowed my walk to look up at these big, beautiful homes, I started to think about what living there could be like.
Even though I’d been living in Raleigh for over a year, the pandemic was truly the first time I was really all there. There were no more trips to plan. It was just me and my cat, alone in an apartment I never really took the time to finish setting up. In New York, having a half set-up apartment with sweaters in the oven was a flex. But as I started to spend literally all my time in my apartment (literally, all of it), I started to relish being at home and spent my free time finding ways to make it truly feel like my own.
The first quarantine purchase I made was a new desk and chair. For over a year, I’d been working from home on the couch, but how I wanted a nice place to work that didn’t require self-massaging my neck every night. I spent hours on Pinterest creating “home office” boards. Instead of getting an Ikea desk, I splurged for what I really wanted from West Elm.
Setting up my new work area filled me with such joy that I looked forward to walking over to my desk and flipping open my laptop every morning. I started to find smaller (read: less expensive) ways to make over other parts of my apartment. I bought candles that made it smell good and put potted plants on my little balcony. I found that I didn’t miss traveling at all. I loved spending my weeknights and weekends reading or watching Netflix, with my cat curled up in my lap.
I also started investing more in my new friendships, even if it was just virtually. Before, when my life was split between two cities, it was hard to make plans with my new friends, but now, I had nothing but time for our Zoom book club dates and virtual happy hours. As it started to feel safer to meet outside, we started meeting for yoga in the park on Tuesday nights and tennis lessons every Sunday afternoon. I liked the structure of having these activities to look forward to.
Being “stuck” at home for the majority of 2020 forced me to stop living half a life in two cities and truly start building a new future in one.
Since I could no longer to go to the gym, I started to take long walks around the city I was still getting to know. Raleigh is dotted with neighborhoods with old historic homes that all have big wrap-around porches. I’d never pictured myself living in a house before; I always thought it would just be an apartment. But as I slowed my walk to look up at these big, beautiful homes, I started to think about what living there could be like. I could sit on the porch with my mom and sister drinking our lattes while my nephews ran around the backyard. My cat could sleep in the sun underneath that big bay window. Is that a little garden in the backyard? I could do that.
After one of these walks, I came home and did some quick searches on Zillow and Realtor. I opened another tab and Googled things like “how much money do you need to buy a house” and “steps to buying a house.” The more research I did, the more I could see myself in one of these old, historic houses. Sure, not a big one. But a little one with still enough room to have my friends and family over? Absolutely.
The idea of living in a house started to fill me with so much excitement that I started to make steps toward making it a reality. I created a new savings account called New House Fund, because I heard naming your savings account the very thing you’re saving for makes you want to feed it more. I started to put the money I wasn’t spending traveling to and from New York into it. And I added smaller amounts, too, weighing the cost versus saving for a house. If I resisted the urge to order takeout, I added the $20 I would have spent to my New House Fund. When I didn’t click “add to cart” on an Anthroplogie dress, another $120 went to my savings.
I’m turning 34 this month. If life looked like it did a year ago, I don’t think this would be a birthday I would be excited about. I’d be squarely in my mid-30s without even knowing what I wanted this whole decade to look like. But spending this much time in quarantine has forced me to think more about the meaning of home, and what it looks like for the rest of my 30s, and even beyond that. I’ve learned that, actually, I don’t want to travel as much. I like having my family a car ride away instead of a plane flight away. Being “stuck” at home for the majority of 2020 forced me to stop living half a life in two cities and truly start building a new future in one.
If in a few years from now I’m setting up my pandemic-purchased West Elm writing desk and chair in an old (but new to me) house, I’ll know the seed for that dream was planted during this pandemic. For the first time, I’m excited about the rest of my 30s…and then rest of my life. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.
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