No one should buy furniture in their twenties.
No one should buy furniture in their twenties. I mean it. Craigslist doesn’t count. Garage sales don’t either. Hand-me-downs from your parents or grandparents are totally acceptable, too. Anything you can get for free or extremely cheap. I’d say $50 an item. MAX. Even then, that’s probably too much. The most I’ve ever paid is thirty.
Naturally you can’t be too picky. Your living room is going to look… how can I put this nicely? Quirky. So what if the previous owner’s cat scratched all the fabric off the left leg of the couch leaving its wooden frame exposed and pointy. You’ve just found the perfect place to display the handwoven blanket you picked up in the Northern Philippines. You wouldn’t have cool things like that if you spent all your money on useless totems of adulthood. Who cares if the paneling’s peeling off the back of the TV stand you found on the side of the road. Rip that shit off! And if the nails are falling out of your gently used coffee table? Pound those suckers back in! Any old rock should do; obviously you don’t own real tools.
By twenty-five I’d lived the adage change is the only constant profoundly enough it could have been tattooed on my arm. I was about to move into my fifth place in nineteen months and I was desperate to sit still, maybe even nest. My bigger-than-a-box possessions were understandably limited at this point, so it was up to my new roommate to bring all the tables and chairs and couches we’d need to furnish our garden level two-bedroom suite. All I had to do was fill the space with my positive energy.
But the day we were supposed to move in together, she showed up empty-handed. My friends were hanging out in the living room, sitting on boxes, eating their moving day bribery pizza when she arrived. She said hi and that she’d bring her things over in a couple days. Then she disappeared back out the door. Odd, but whatever. Later that night she called and explained what she didn’t want to say in front of my friends: she was expecting aka pregnant aka moving in with her boyfriend.
She paid her half of the rent, but I was SOL for furnishings (and, also, lonely). Besides a mattress box set and semi-broken chest of drawers, I owned a papasan chair, an office chair, a desk, and 1.5 bookshelves (half the shelves sacrificed themselves to the moving day gods en route). I put the mattress, desk, chair, and chest of drawers in my room. Then it was just me, the one point five bookshelves, and my papasan in the cold, tiled, sloping living room. Did I not mention that? One corner of the living room was half a foot lower than the rest. Like, straight up sinkhole business.
You see, when I viewed the place, it had been filled with the previous tenants’ furniture. Now, with only the papasan occupying the space, the slope could be seen in its full, slope-y glory. If I put my office chair on the high side of the room, it would roll easily and with increasing speed towards the sinkhole, bashing into the wall on impact. And, just below the crash zone, in the lowest, farthest corner of the room, was an actual hole in the wall. A hole whence the spiders came.
I’d be sitting innocently in my papasan reading responses to the roommate-wanted Craigslist ad when, out of nowhere, thick, black golfball-sized spiders would emerge slowly and then shoot towards me, their eight legs toppling over each other, participating in some sort of wall-to-wall, hole-to-papasan sprint, seeing who could make it across the fastest without getting smushed. (They never got smushed. I was too busy shrieking to kill anything.)
I was alone in that apartment for a month… until Michelle moved in. Michelle was a friend of a friend and, as she was moving from a different city, did not get a chance to view the place and its sparsely furnished insides before arriving that rainy spring evening. Michelle had short dark hair and a mildly emo disposition. She lasted ten days. So, again, I was alone. Rent paid, but alone. Michelle claimed she’d found something closer to work. We both knew she was lying. I blame it on the spiders. But maybe it was the cold. You see, for the first two months I slept in pyjamas, socks, knock-off Uggs, a housecoat, and a hat. The upstairs neighbours controlled the heat and it wasn’t until the following fall that I worked up the courage to ask them to turn it up. While Michelle wasn’t into the whole frosty, spider-infested thing I had going on at the time, at least our mutual friend felt guilty about her bailing on me, paying penance by leaving a large yellow footstool at my doorstep. Now I had something to place beside the papasan. And I could entertain guests! Well, guest.
At the end of that month something new moved in. A love seat! Also, a human person; let’s call her Jan. (This isn’t some “name changed to protect the innocent/guilty kind of thing.” I just honestly can’t remember her name.) Jan was a sex educator from New Zealand. The love seat was a green plaid from North Vancouver. Jan planned to stay for awhile. The love seat took some planning to get. I’d finally caved and posted on Facebook: Good home seeks free couch. An old co-worker bit. The love seat would be mine for free.99 if I could just come and pick it up. I bribed a cousin with a six-pack and we chose a day. We slipped into the ex-co-worker’s unlocked basement, removed the small couch d’amour, heaved it into his parents’ minivan, and drove it to its new home.
I was relieved to have Jan move in. (Despite the fact that she furnished only her own room.) Alas, the love seat ended up lasting 34 times longer than her. Jan’s visa ran out. Apparently it couldn’t be renewed like she’d promised. Whatever, Jan. So one month after moving in, she hopped on a plane back to New Zealand. It was then that I began to wonder if maybe I was the problem.
But, no. It had to be the lack of furniture.
I knew I needed to fluff up the living room if I wanted a solid roommate, but I had, well, no dinero. I tacked up some prayer flags and taped a few pictures to the wall (Klimt print, postcard of prayer flags). A friend, recently broken up with his girlfriend and moving out of their apartment, offered me his coffee table. Now I had something to place in front of lil’ plaid for feet resting or beverage holding. I paired them with a $10 garage sale TV, sticking the trio in the middle of the living room, a galaxy of companionship and entertainment caught in the orbit of four, low ceiling-ed walls. In the corner, on the floor, I placed my three foot tall, wrapped in twinkly lights, statue of the Eiffel Tower. It was sparse, but it was an improvement, and hopefully enough to hook someone less temporary.
Wary of second-degree friends after Michelle, but disheartened by Craigslist Jan’s abandonment, I decided Facebook was the lesser of two evils. Enter: Alyssa, mutual friend numero dos. She was traveling around Europe at the time so I Skyped her in and we walked through the house, feed breaking in and out, until she agreed to move in. Alyssa worked at Starbucks and studied at UBC. We listened to the same music and read some of the same books. She helped me shop for groceries when I broke my ankle. But she was busy with school and work and the only time we ever really hung out was on Tuesday nights, crammed onto lil’ plaid to watch New Girl. It was lovely but it wasn’t exactly the sitcom situation I’d been dreaming of.
A tattered new friend arrived a few months after Alyssa moved in. Our upstairs neighbour had met a boy, fallen in love, and was moving out and in with him. Coming with her was her dining room table. To make space, this meant her boyfriend’s bulky, faded, tattered green couch had to go. She broke the news with a smile, You can have it delivered to your door for thirty bucks.
Deal, I replied.
The living room had really come together: the tattered green couch, plaid love seat, yellow footstool, and coffee table all accompanied my faithful papasan and bookshelves, forging a cozy, welcoming space. So it came as a shock when Alyssa gave her notice. Had she not considered tattered green?! We’d each have our own couch for New Girl nights! But, no. She wanted to live alone, in a different part of town, and I found myself with six weeks to replace her.
I figured I’d try Facebook again, at least giving it a shot before dancing el tango de Craigslist. I typed out a plea, hit post and held my breath. And then, almost immediately, I got a notification. Could fate finally be on my side? I clicked the glowing red one and oh. my. god. A real life, first-degree friend had commented: she’d just had the same conversation with her roommate and was in need of a place to live!
Nisha, a Saskatoonian with whom I was currently attending screenwriting school, arrived seven weeks later with a wobbly coffee table, a flatscreen TV, and armfuls of scarves, fabric, paintings, and incense. I knew the search had finally ended as I watched her unpack. You have coconut oil from Pirate Joe’s? I have coconut oil from Pirate Joe’s. You use lavender dish soap? I use lavender dish soap! Bengal Spice Tea??? Bengal Spice Tea!!! With her also came a dozen duffel bags, half of them full of marked-down DVDs, leftover from her days working at Blockbuster. It was a match made in film school heaven.
With Nisha’s new goods and our two couches, the house was so furnished and full, no one could understood my need for more. When the opportunity for a third couch presented itself Nisha laughed at me. My upstairs neighbours shook their heads. My parents politely told me I was deluded and if I wanted the buttery beige, gorgeous leather spoil of their divorce I’d have to give up one of my other couches.
No, I said. Nuh uh.
They arrived early one morning with big beige and a few bonus items: a side table, shelves, a lamp. We parked the furnishings outside and surveyed the living room. It appeared more or less full, but I knew, deep down, in my heart of hearts, that I would cram in every last piece made available to me. And so it began, an entire day moving, reorganizing, erecting a shelf system for Nisha’s flatscreen, playing Tetris with big beige and the greens, ditching bookshelves and lining the ledges with novels instead. I could feel them exchanging looks behind my back, doubting the living room’s capacity to hold it all, but I never stopped believing. We jigsawed for hours until, suddenly, it all fit. We’d made it work. The living room was finished. Two couches, a love seat, the papasan, DVDs and books, a coffee table, side table, lamps, fabric on the walls, prayer flags draped everywhere. Full. Comfortable. Home.
We’d smoke until there were clouds of marijuana, Nish and I, in our little hippie enclave, plumes traveling past my glittering Eiffel Tower, over her green fabric Buddha. The windows were rolling paper thin; that and the incense we lit never gave our habits away. Or maybe the upstairs neighbours noticed and didn’t care; we never asked. We had friends over for wine and bitching and tarot cards, always enough sitting space for everyone. Once a month I’d host book club and serve homemade hummus and pita chips. In September we read Your Voice in My Head and watched Colin Farrell’s sex tape.
In the summer we threw backyard parties. I’d finally learned how to light the BBQ my cousin inherited from her parents but gave to me because she lived in a tiny bachelor suite with no patio. Lighting it on my own made me feel like a real adult. Until I realized I was cooking hotdogs for breakfast. Nisha would paint — psychedelic portraits of Jesus or Ganesh — while we watched movie after TV show after mini-series. We’d blast music as we cleaned: Vance Joy, Lauren Hill, the Backstreet Boys. It was perfect. I’m never moving, I declared.
Then, suddenly, there I was again, standing on the cold, tiled, sloping floor, surveying an empty living room. When Nisha told me she was moving out, one beautiful year after big beige arrived, her announcement took me by utter surprise. What had I done wrong? I knew she’d never lived on her own before and wanted to try it, but, but… But as the tears of shock and abandonment ebbed, this change began to feel right, like maybe it was time for me to move on, too. I certainly wasn’t going to stay there without her, playing my hand at roommate roulette. Even though now, with the living room bursting with furniture, maybe it’d be easy, maybe I’d find someone perfect right away. But it wasn’t worth the risk. I had tax money coming in and the Spanish I’d been learning was itching to get used.
Lil’ plaid went to a friend, tattered green to Nisha’s brother, big beige and the yellow footstool to my mom’s new apartment. All my books were sold or donated or boxed up with the prayer flags and Eiffel Tower, packed and distributed to storage lockers. By the end, only the papasan remained; I offered it to Nisha to take to her new place.
I sat down on the cold, empty floor that last night and stared up at the papasan and over at the hole, now filled with steel wool — your move, arachnids — and across at the empty walls. All that time spent collecting… and now, everything gone. When I came back from my travels I’d have nothing. No couches, no love seat, no yellow footstool. I’d have nothing but stories and perhaps a brand new handwoven blanket. Maybe then I’d start investing in sturdy pieces from Ikea or Pier One, or commit whole-heartedly, sourcing brushed suede barcaloungers and hand-crafted wine racks. Or maybe not. Maybe change is what keeps me alive.
Or maybe my sense of home rests not in couches or things, but in people. People who help me move couches in and out, in and out, wherever I choose to go. What I do know is that cold, tiled, sloping floor will always have a place in my heart, right next to the papasan, Nisha, and all the other roommates and couches and scampering spiders before them. Because for some us in our twenties and maybe beyond, we’re all just looking for something. Something that feels like home. Or not like home. Somewhere to explore, disappear in, ex-patriate towards; some place to fall in love with. Some place, some where, some thing, we don’t really know. But not knowing doesn’t mean we can’t have a full, comfortable, acquired-for-nearly-free living room for just a little while. Or maybe longer.
The author, Kelly Tatham, currently lives home-free.