Living Solo: a VISTA story

By Eden Teller

On day nine of living alone for the first time, I stepped out of bed into the sunlit living space and groaned. The three square feet of counter space in my kitchen was piled high with pots, pans, and yolk-covered breakfast dishes. I turned to face the living room and was confronted with discarded envelopes scattered across two tables, HDMI cables snaking across the hardwood floor from computer to TV, and a small blue recliner so weighed down with jackets that it tilted 30° of its own accord. What a mess, I thought.

But wait — this isn’t a story of cleanliness, nor organization (though I did roll up my sleeves and tackle the mess that afternoon). Nay, this is the tale of how I acquired all of these beautiful belongings, so lovingly scattered across my apartment, without breaking the bank.

I moved out of a shared living situation in March, six weeks earlier than planned. Not being the best with uncertainty, I had snatched up the first apartment in my price range that I liked — a ground-level one-bedroom with light that pours in from south- and west-facing windows.

With some savings and a hefty tax return (thanks, Uncle Sam), I was able to afford the doubled rent and deposit, but my dreams of Swarovski crystal chandeliers would have to go on hold. The VISTA stipend isn’t conducive to a high-rolling lifestyle, so after hauling my few belongings (bed, dresser, cast iron pan and a single butter knife) from old apartment to new, it was time to assess and act.

My to-do list looked something like this:

  • A couch and armchairs for the living room
  • Everything for a kitchen, minus the pan and butter knife
  • A pantry/open storage situation
  • A TV for long evenings of Westworld binge-watching
  • Decor? Oy vey

The high number of colleges and universities in the Twin Cities yields an unexpected blessing: many students, at the end of their leases, are so sick and tired of hauling furniture that they’ll dump the unwanted meubles on the side of the street. Cruise up and down a few sideroads at the turn of the month and perhaps, like me, you’ll come away with a coffee table, disassembled shelves, and a beautiful wooden cutting board upon which, after several sterilizations, rests my tea collection. 

Time to spice up the walls. I drank a kombucha to get in touch with my inner hipster (let’s be honest: outer hipster) and made my way to Ace Hardware. Corner brackets, screws, a small drill, but what for? The answer lay outside by the firewood: several wooden pallets with sturdy wooden planks itching to be mounted on my wall. With permission from the store, I loaded one into my hatchback and spent the afternoon sawing, sanding, and screwing the boards into place. Top with my most revered novels and a few plants and voila — a living room worth its weight in plywood.

My first foray into capitalism was Saver’s. If you haven’t visited already, it’s a treasure trove. In the packing process, I had set aside six and a half bags of odds and ends to donate. When the dust settled in my new apartment, beautiful in the slanting afternoon sunlight, I made my way to the East Lake Street location with half of the bags. Life hack: you get a 30% discount coupon for any large donation-drop off, so if you can, split your closet purges in two and drop them off separately.

I donated off my goods (farewell, glow-in-the-dark watch; adieu, sequined mini-dress) and stepped inside. Forty-five minutes later, I wobbled out under the load of a full set of plates, glasses, pots and pans, several whimsical mugs, and a knife block for under $50.

The final frontier was the internet. A word to the wise: never underestimate the power of Facebook Marketplace and Nextdoor. A sweet woman and her very pregnant dog Sage thanked me for taking their matching blue recliners off their hands (and paws); a delightful stranger complimented my blouse as I stumbled away with her TV; a neighbor stood in awe as my selfless friend Amanda and I navigated a fold-out couch out a winding staircase and wedged it into the car. With the trunk strapped down by bungee cords and the last third of the futon dangling over the street, I drove the six blocks home at 15 miles per hour and conked out on its cushions after wedging it into place.

I woke up, disoriented in the did I sleep for two hours or 200 years way. I washed some dishes; watered my plants, grown from clippings and rooted from grocery-store discards; and rolled back in a recliner to settle in for some knitting and trashy sci-fi television. Living solo ain’t so bad.

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