How to find an apartment you love

So many people talk about finding the right home.

How to find an apartment you love
How to find an apartment you love

You know, the perfect family room with kitchen, the open plan, the separated rooms, the bathrooms that make you feel like you’re at a spa.  Blah, blah, blah…

What about an apartment?  Sure, you know that you’ll be there only a temporary time… but, temporary can sometimes mean years. And you know you need to find a place that you can afford, does that mean you have to have a major commute to work daily?  Some people save a couple hundred dollars in rent only to turn around and pay that in gas money to get to work or school.  That’s not smart financially. Or smart on the stress levels.

I don’t want to live like that.  I want to live enriched.  Finding an apartment has become not just a challenge, but an adventure!  I know this is a short-term situation, but I want our family to be happy, at peace, and feel safe in our temporary home.

It’s more than just location, location, location

There are several excellent tools on your phone to help you find a worthwhile place. Forbes has a great post about finding an apartment in the big city here, while Lifehacker offers suggestions here.  The apps we’ve been using are: Zillow, Redfin, Hotpads, and Trulia.   Each app offers great options, allows you to filter your search for what you are looking for and allows you to save the search and send your favorites via email.

The problem is, like finding a new minty toothpaste, there are just way too many choices.  And some great properties are listed one app will be missed by another.  What my husband found on one app was different than locations I was finding on another app.

We are on the hunt to the find the right apartment for our next few years and we have done some intense looking.  I never looked for an apartment like this before, and I know that this one decision will have impact on other decisions in our life, like:

  • Will this area be safe for our family?
  • Where will we meet our next good friends?
  • Will my daughter be able to make friends in the next community?  What about a playground?
  • Where will we attend church services?
  • What about the daily commute to work and school?
  • What grocery stores are nearby?  (Sure, we do the big shopping trip of the week at our store, what about the late night gotta get just 1 or 2 things before school tomorrow runs?)

We have been on the hunt, checked out properties, big complexes, small ones and have had several random conversations about making a decision.  But here’s the problem:  we aren’t getting anywhere.

Ever been there?  It’s probably because even though an apartment looks great on an app, we aren’t able to see that apartment in the context of the location.  We aren’t seeing how close our neighbors are, how the parking is for the complex and if and where the playgrounds are located.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Finding an apartment is temporary living, but temporary can be… years. @itsamyrobles” quote=”Finding an apartment is temporary living, but temporary can be…years.” theme=”style4″]


You can talk about all the cool things you’ll want in the next place you’ll live, but until you have a plan and priorities it is just talk.  That’s what we’ve learned.

We’ve been talking about the next place to live for too long that we had to start looking at the locations, making the drives, and getting a feel for the different complexes in the area.

We also had to start evaluating the kind of floor plan we want.  Oh, and the price.  We know that smart family budgets spend 25 -35% of their monthly take-home pay on rent and utilities, we want to stay as close to 25% as possible.

Through conversation we determined that our priorities include:

  • A more open floor plan.  (We would much prefer space to host family & friends over than have a couple of extra closets.)
  • We want a pantry in the kitchen to ensure we are cooking as many meals from scratch as possible.
  • We could be happy with two bedrooms, but having three would give us the space we could use for an office/ guest room.
  • We are determined to stay within in our housing budget to keep our financial plan on track.

Start looking early

You are not just looking for a bachelor pad for a couple of months.  You are looking for your own personal spot in the world.  This decision matters.  When I worked at a high school, the most important thing for incoming freshmen was to have their own locker assignment. They would freak out and you could see the stress in their eyes, desperate to have their locker.  What I didn’t understand is that they were making their own safe place in school.  It wasn’t about getting a place to hold their books, it was about their place have some peace during the day.

Your apartment is way more important than a locker at school. Give this decision the time it deserves.  Starting at six months just driving around the area on a lazy weekend afternoon will give you an idea of the area, see how comfortable it is, and let you see what the routine would be like in your life.  While I know that six months isn’t always possible, I’ve had those company paid for weekends to find my next spot to live in an entirely different state, the earlier you start looking the better prepared you are to make a wise decision.

[clickToTweet tweet=”An apartment should feel like a home. Not a box to hold my life for a while. @itsamyrobles” quote=”An apartment should feel like a home. Not a box to hold my life for a while.” theme=”style6″]

Ask more questions than you think you should

Sometimes, especially in apartment living, the most important part is precisely what they don’t tell you.  Ask questions about the utilities, how much does the price in heating go up in the winter, really?

Garbage and trash pick up is on Tuesday.  Decide now if you are taking things to the dumpsters or taking a bin out from your place.

What about the amenities?   Sure, the pool is gorgeous. But if it closes every day at 6pm, there’s not a lot of swim time after work.

This is going to be your home.  Make it yours.

A gift for you

After discussion with my husband, we decided that best way to make this happen was to actually be able to see it.  We talked about a few methods and decided that in a couple of Saturday afternoons we can take the decision between dozens of places to just a handful.  But remembering all those specifics, taking all the notes can be tedious and getting all the numbers accurately would be a nightmare.  So I made a matrix to keep all the differences clear in my mind.

And if you are looking for a copy, I’d be happy to send it you!

The people who were hosting the properties and showing us around took us much more seriously and seemed to “step up their game” when they saw me with the list of questions, asking all about the specifics and no-nonsense approach to finding our next place to live.

How to Find the RIGHT apartment
How to Find the RIGHT apartment

If you would like your own copy of this to help find your own place, join the email list and I’ll send it to you directly!

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Declutter. It’s not about things

Editor’s note:

Declutter: It's not about the Things
Declutter: It’s not about the Things

Heather Shue has been a source of inspiration and focus as I’ve been working through the March Challenge to minimize the clutter at home.  Here’s a guest post sharing her perspective on the beauty of getting rid of all the s-t-u-f-f around the house.  Check out her blog SimplySaveMN, or shout out with Heather on Twitter or on Facebook.

It’s Not Just About Things

Decluttering isn’t just about having a tidier home; it goes much deeper than that. It’s a process and a journey and no two are the same.

It’s about time.

Declutter: It's about Time
Declutter: It’s about Time

Things involve maintenance and upkeep. Whether it’s as simple as replacing batteries or dusting around the knick knacks, this is time away from the people and things you love the most and that time adds up. I’m sure that you wouldn’t hesitate to agree that you value your loved ones and passion projects much more than knick knacks, so why do we give away so much of our time to the upkeep of things?  Time is finite. We all get the same amount of hours in a day and there’s nothing we can do to get any extra.

It’s about money.

Declutter: It's about Money
Declutter: It’s about Money

Sometimes we fall into this cycle of cleaning out the closet and selling the clothes, only to fill up the closet again with brand new clothes. That’s not the type of decluttering I’m talking about, but when you do declutter, you can sell many of your things and have some extra funds to put towards debt, holidays, or whatever your financial goals are.

You can sell books, movies, CDs, sports equipment, clothes, accessories, and more to consignment stores. Facebook garage sales, Craigslist, and NextDoor are other great places to sell things. Most local police department lobbies or parking lots serve as a safe place for these transactions.

You may not get a ton of money, but you’ll earn more than you would by letting the items continue to collect dust in your home. When you learn to be comfortable with less, you eventually want less, which saves you money in the long term.

It can sometimes be difficult to let go of things that we spent money on, especially things that haven’t been used or still have tags on them. But the truth is those are exactly the things you should get rid of. The money has already been spent, hanging on to the item won’t make it a good value, enjoying it and using it regularly will. If you haven’t used it within a few weeks of purchase, you likely never will. Let someone else get joy out of that item.

It’s about head space.

Declutter: It's about head space.
Declutter: It’s about head space.

Decision fatigue is a real thing. What seems small, like choosing what to wear or which new TV to buy, takes a little bit of your brain power each day. Multiply that by the countless small choices we make every day and that’s a lot of brain power used up in just our daily routine! No wonder we’re exhausted by the end of the day and just want to chill in front of the TV!

Eliminating clutter reduces decision fatigue. Even the smallest amount makes a huge difference, leaving you more brain power and head space to be present and engaged with your family.

It’s about acceptance.

Declutter: It's about Acceptance
Declutter: It’s about Acceptance

Although we may not realize it, we tend to buy many things because we think that we “should.” For example, the media and society tell us that when we have kids we need all these fancy things to be a good parent. Or when we buy a house, we should have a kitchen full of the latest gadgets and be ready to entertain guests at the drop of a hat. Well what if you don’t enjoy cooking or hosting parties?

We all have different values and interests; therefore, our possessions should be as unique as we are! There is no standard Parent or Homeowner checklist that we all have to follow. It’s ok to accept that you don’t enjoy cooking and that your child will be just as safe and happy without the latest popular toy.

The same philosophy applies to decluttering. There is no right or wrong way to go about it. You may choose to keep things that your best friend would part with. But I bet you each have different hobbies and priorities! You likely won’t keep the same things so don’t waste energy comparing. Use that energy to motivate and encourage!

Your self-worth is not defined by your possessions. Let go of “should” and the items that come with it.

It’s about joy!

Declutter: It's about Joy.
Declutter: It’s about Joy.

Decluttering is not about getting rid of things you love, it’s quite the opposite! When you eliminate the excess, you get to enjoy your most cherished possessions that much more! They’ve been there all along, but you can really see them when you get rid of things you kept out of obligation or because you thought you “should” have them. You may find yourself sitting on your couch, looking around, and smiling at your things as though you’ve only just discovered them.

A Real Life Example

Think about your morning routine: you stand in front of the full closet assessing your options and you might think to yourself, “What to wear? I really should wear that top I bought last year because it cost $30 and still has the tags on. It’s the latest fashion, but it’s just not that flattering on me. I have nothing to wear! I guess I’ll wear my old standby favorite outfit that I wore a few weeks ago.”

What a way to start your day! What if the feeling you get when you wear the old standby outfit that you love is how you felt in all of your clothes? Confident, comfortable, ready to start the day feeling great! Decluttering the closet covers many of the principles mentioned above:

  • You save time and brain power when you know you look good and feel good in everything in your closet. Easier choices equal less decision fatigue and more time being present with your family.
  • You made some cash by selling the clothes you got rid of and are a little closer to your financial goals!
  • You accept that you prefer some styles over others, regardless of the latest trend. You let go of “should” and save money by sticking with what you like and not following the trends.
  • You’re left with a closet of fewer clothes, but clothes that you like! You don’t feel the pressure to wear things only because you spent money on them. You no longer start your day with negative thoughts and low self-esteem about your image. You feel good and confident in everything you own!

It’s not just about the things.

Sure, when you declutter your house is tidier and it’s easier to find things, but that’s just the beginning! Decluttering is about much more than just the clutter. It’s a worthwhile process. Start small, work at your own pace, and don’t worry about what others are doing. You’ll be amazed at the impact it has in your life.

Tidy up. Spark Joy.

Note: March is the challenge to organize your home.  I thought this one would be a piece-a-cake for me.  I know how to clean, de-clutter and purge all the junk that has gotten caught in our home.  Whoa.  It’s been much, much more than I expected. This Mama has a lot to learn!

Tidy Up
Tidy Up

My little secret

Before we get into all the nitty-gritty deets of my house, and we have a little share-a-thon, I need to tell you this:  If you were to come to my house today it would be clean.  I like clean.  In fact, I thrive in a clean place.  But, just because it looks clean doesn’t mean that is clean.  And it certainly doesn’t meant that there are not certain areas of my house that are a big-fat-pile-a-craziness that I have no idea where it came from![clickToTweet tweet=”Just because it looks clean doesn’t mean that is clean via @itsamyrobles” quote=”Just because it looks clean doesn’t mean that is clean,”]

You know, an assortment of collections of shoes, makeup, old clothes and all the things I’ve been keeping that “we may just need, in case of _____.”  And believe me, tsunami, earthquakes, major firestorms, famine, and well, the ever popular possible meteor showers of debris hitting the planet have already had plenty of time on my list.  I’m sure you have absolutely no idea of what I’m talking about.  You have never seen piles of junk and overcrowded drawers of clothes and shoes, Oh, for the love of the shoes!

Oh. please.  There is such a thing as being “too prepared” for the possible need of balloons and sombreros.  (No, that’s not an exaggeration.  I do happen to have a few extra sombreros…for that one special moment.)

I knew it was bad.  I knew I had some serious cleanage/purging/de-clutter America fest to bare down and just knock it out, I just didn’t see it being this bad.

I thought I was doing pretty well, then was inspired to read this The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up from my friend, Kristin.

Ho.  Lee.  Smokes.

Have you read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up?  Put this one on your list.  I know that the book came out a while ago, but for me, it has been that moment of “When the student is ready the master will appear.”  Truly, the right read at the right time for me.

Let me tell you what I love about this:

Not just a purge

This is not your typical organizational book of “use these bins to store this,” and blah blah blah.  In fact, inThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up the author, Marie Kondo NEVER uses the word, purge. She only uses the word tidy.  Since this read, I’ve noticed that every time I have been using that word I get this really negative connotation come up.  In fact, while writing these words on the computer I literally pulled one side of my nose up because I feel all grossed out.  You should never feel grossed out while making your home a better place to live.  Yes, maybe grossed out about all the stuff you have kept that just needs to be thrown away but no more than that.

This is an adventure in looking deeply into what kind of environment you choose to create around you.  Ultimately, you don’t realize it, but what you are doing is determining the kind of person you want to be and the kinds of items you want around you.  Creating your most enriched environment of your life.  It’s like tangibly making your “Enriched Thinking” come to fruition in your home.  I can’t begin to express how good this process has felt internally and externally.  You see the clean, but you feel this tremendous peace in the process.  Something I have never experienced before.

Spark joy

Spark joy
Spark joy and tidy your home.

The KonMari Method, KonMari is what Marie Kondo named her process by merging her names together.  Think, “Brangelina” but much more organized.  Seriously, take a minute to google, Konmari Method, and you’ll see several examples where people explain how it has “changed his/her life.”

The KonMari Method is all about what you should keep.  If I read one more stinkin’ article about stuff to throw away I’m gonna…purge.  Again, all negative.  And the best part?  You know how she teaches you to decide what to keep?  She asks you one simple question:  Does this spark joy?  When I first read that, I stopped, looked out the window and thought to myself, “Did she just ask me if this sparks JOY?  Oh yes!  Mama’s into this stuff!”

Because that’s the way your home should be.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Your home is where you keep only the stuff that brings you joy. @itsamyrobles” quote=”Your home is where you keep only the stuff that brings you joy.”]

Sure, I knew that instinctively.  But why did I have so much…junk?  Can we call it junk?  Why was I collecting all this junk?

Oh yeah.  Because I wasn’t paying attention.  Kind of like our finances before we started any of this process.

The process of the KonMari Method

Here’s how the process works.  I am not following it perfectly, because I like to make modifications so that it really works for me.  Start with your clothes. Take all of your clothes and put them on your bed.  (I know, it sounds wild, stay with me here.)

Pick up that first T-shirt, hold it in your hands and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” or, “Does this shirt bring me joy?” If the answer is a resounding “Yes!” You keep that puppy.  It’s a beauty.  It makes you happy.

If the answer is “No,” or, “Well, kind of…”  or, “Ummm….” that’s a sign.  A BIG sign.  You have gotten all the goodness and joy out of the said item and you will be better off by letting it go.  And here’s the really good part:  Hold that shirt in your hands and say to it “Thank you.”  You are being grateful to the item for bringing you joy.  You are grateful for what it has brought to you.  You are grateful to Grandma, or your buddy who gave you that shirt.  And you have no guilt, frustration, or qualms about just letting it go.

I know.  It sounds like a lot of work.  And it is in the beginning.  But the good news is that once you go through your items eliminating this stuff you are making huge strides in knowing exactly what you want in your life.

Teaching KonMari Method to others

I thought, “This might just click because I’m a feeler.”  So we took a challenge and my four year-old daughter and I tackled all the reading books in her bookshelf.  Many of them were gifts. There are several books that we have 2 copies of- as we had one at home and received another as a gift.  Lots of books. Too many, in fact.

We talked about donating some books to her school so that other kids can enjoy them, we are donating the big, single word books to the nursery at church so the babies can learn more words, and some we are just taking straight to the library.

KonMari Method with books
KonMari Method with books

It started slow.  We just piled them into stacks.  She didn’t like it much.  Then we started the process of which ones to let go of and which to keep.  Always focusing on keeping the ones she just loved and brought her joy.  Pretty soon she was catching on and then she was running the entire process.

The boxes and piles started taking a life of their own as she was making the decisions and getting so excited about sharing the books that had brought her so much joy.  She took one in her hands and made the decisions.  It was empowering for this little one to learn how to do this!

Don’t take my word for it.  Read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Uptake these steps in your life and see what happens.


March challenge: Simplify home

Editor’s note:  I know that we are starting this on the 2nd of the month, with travel and family time, I am just getting started on this challenge.  Better late that never and I am getting started!

Simplify Your Home
March Challenge: Simplify your Home

So, this is a big one.  We are making some changes.  We have lived in our rental home for the past three years.  My husband didn’t want us to move here initially as he was concerned that I would fall in love with the space and when it would be time to leave that we would be unable to find something similar in our price range.

Boy, have we changed.  After our time here, research, and this incredible financial journey, we have realized that this is not what we want in our life right now.  So, to help us focus on our financial situation, to give us the space we need and not just what we want, and to help us minimize excessive spending, we are ready to downsize.  Here’s the challenge for March.

The March Challenge

Primary goal:  move from a 4-bedroom, 3 bath, 2 car garage, 3,000 square foot home to an apartment from 1,000 – 1500 square feet.  That’s a downsize.

Secondary goal:  eliminate all the junk in our home by 40-50%.  Room by room. Closet by closet.  Shelf by shelf.  

This is no joke. It’s time to roll up the sleeves, and get to work.  Are you with me?

And while I’ve never been a minimalist, nor am I trying to be a minimalist at this time.  I am certainly working to simplify our home during the month of March.

Here are the rules.  (And please, just know that these are the rules I’m using to get my home in order.  Please adjust as you deem necessary.)

  1.  Focus on one room at a time.  This is where I have gotten off track in the past.  You know, take this sippy cup into the kitchen, spend five minutes sorting mail while I’m there, then off to do laundry and… somewhere in there I lost a complete hour of good working time.  I plan to use the Pomodoro timer app to keep me in the area, focused, and working on just the section I need to be working on to finish.
  2.  Cupboard by cupboard, closet by closet, item by item. I plan to do it like this to make the right decisions that will keep the home in order for a good, long time.
  3.  Eliminate 30-40% of stuff.  Okay, everything I’ve read leads me to the 80/20 rule.  But getting rid of 80% of our stuff?  That’s huge.  HUGE.  I plan to start with 40-50% and see how it goes from there.
  4. Week by week through different areas of the home.  I’ll take a portion on the house, usually certain rooms and make the decisions of the day.

And, just arriving back home from our travel to my sweet Grandma’s funeral, I’m looking at the house with fresh eyes.  Part of learning to live an enriched life means living below our means.  For most of our marriage, we have tried to live “Right at our level of means,” or worse, “Just a smidgen above our means.”

Part of me dreams of being just a little OCD, so our home is stunningly clean and gorgeous at all times, in all seasons, and no matter who pops in for a visit.  But, let’s be real about this.  With all this, dare I call it, crap in the house we are never going to achieve that!

This is part a de-clutter, part a spring cleaning, and part purge of the junk.  So, what would be the perfectly- appropriate-upbeat-title for that?

Spring Simplifying?  Too vague.

Primavera purge?  Sounds like a bad trip to Olive Garden.

Tidy up for the Tiny House?  Who am I Stuart Little?

Ahem.  I digress.

Even though we are without a catchy title, let’s get going on this challenge.  (Side note:  if you think of a name for it, please send it over.  You’ll get all the credit, for sure!)

DeCluttering Calendar

March Challenge: Wk 1 Bedroom
March Challenge: Wk 1 Bedrooms

Week 1:  Bedrooms.  I plan to go through each closet, each drawer, each pair of shoes and make thooooose decisions.  I just have stuff around the house right now that we don’t need, and probably won’t use for a very, very long time.  I plan to ask questions like, “Have I even worn this in the past year?”  “Will I need this in the next six months?”  “Is there someone I know who could use this?”

You’ve seen those shows.  The kind where the person who is a collector of waaaay too much stuff calls in a professional organizer and gets things in order.  I plan to do that on a much smaller basis.  I’ll have 2 bins set up:  one for donations to Goodwill, the other for someone else to decide.  (For example, if my husband needs to decide on clothes or if one of my daughter’s friends could use clothes she’s outgrown.)  Other than that, it will go back in its place, nicely organized for a simpler, cleaner, clearer home and lots of organized future use.

Week 2:  Bathrooms. This will include going through the medicine cabinets, checking expiration dates, chucking those half-used bottles of shampoo, the stuff that just seems to clutter up the bathroom counter and get us back on track.

Week 3:  Storage Spaces.  We have a study that is more like the “stuff and study.”  We have an extra room that has been the place of  “stuff we will need in a couple months,” that has been in there for 3 years.  It’s embarrassing to say that aloud, but it is time to come clean and purge nearly all of that!  I’m sure there’s a couple things that we might be able to sell, but we will get there.

Week 4:  Kitchen, Living Room, and Playroom:  You knew that was coming, didn’t you?  Our kitchen is pretty organized.  That’s where most of my OCD tendencies come in to play.  The living room is pretty simple, and I want my little girl to see that we are donating a lot of stuff and are still okay, in fact, we are better so that she gets excited about donating more of her stuff.  She’s done a round of donating items before, I think we will have much more success in the future.

This is one of those months where I’m going to share with you the stuff of my life.  You know, the messy, ugly and all those nooks and crannies that just need to be cleaned up.  In complete hope that it will be organized and I’ll have it documented here to never have it get this bad again.

Care to join me?  What are you going to clean, de-clutter, and organize this month? Comment below and let me know.  I’m delighted to hear about it and even more excited to cheer you on to your success in simplifying!