So This Is What Building a Home Feels Like

Building it, piece by piece

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief


Last Sunday afternoon, I found myself elbow deep in homemade purple play-dough, discussing the location of Elmo’s home. Elmo probably lives upstairs next door, we decided. And Big Bird has a nest… indoors, where he’s nice and safe. Once we cleared away the play-dough, I started peeling apples for this apple-loving toddler’s first apple pie. It was something that, frankly, I didn’t have the energy to do. But as I peeled apples, and managed mischief, and explained the rules of baseball as the World Series played in the background, I realized that this was the home I’ve wanted for years… and the one I’ve somehow avoided creating.

The past few years have been full of changes for us. When we got engaged back in 2008—or really when we decided to move across the country together in 2007—we unleashed the flood of “big years.” Highlights included: moving across the country, David starting law school and then became a lawyer, me switching from professional theatre to investment banking (ugh) and then starting APW from the ground up, me writing a book and doing a book tour, having a baby, and on and on. That’s all in eight years. Eight years where we went from being twenty-something theatre professional New Yorkers, to thirty-something professional Oakland parents. Eight years that went by in the blink of an eye, where we struggled to maintain some sort of internal consistency.

When everything is changing, you cling to old habits with startling ferocity. When the outside world is defining and redefining you—single girl, New Yorker, theatre professional, fiancé, corporate finance worker, wife, self-employed, author, pregnant lady, small business owner, mother, married lady—it can help to find and hold on to some of your own labels and habits. I’m the laid-back one! The girl who likes dive bars! I’m the artist! And that can lead to you clinging to routines and habits long after they stop serving you.

This September, when APW’s theme was growing up, I dove into my real life “get your shit together” to-do list. And while we have in fact gotten through almost everything on that list (with varying results—my new trendy glasses look like Groucho Marx glasses, our yard is halfway re-landscaped… you know the drill), it turned out that there was something bigger hiding under that list of tasks. The reason so many things were unfinished was that I was resisting, with every fiber of my being, making changes I knew had to be made.

So in September, with the theme of “Growing Up” hanging over my head, I grimly looked at our life and got to work. We needed to carve up our time so we could exercise regularly, even if that meant getting up earlier. We needed to start taking our toddler to the park every weekend morning, even though I didn’t want to give into that dreary seeming routine of parenthood. We needed to be nicer to each other, what a pain in the ass. But it doesn’t matter much what my list is, because I suspect every person has their own list. It’s the list of things we need to do, but we don’t want to, because none of it sounds fun. Besides, what does it mean to be the kind of person who always renews your AAA membership? The person who always renews their AAA membership (which is of yet un-renewed), is not the same kind of person who frequents the best dive bars in America (#14 is our bar of choice).

When you’ve been delaying something endlessly, you’ve focused most of your energy into fighting the inevitable. And apparently giving up the fight seems like sweet relief. It turns out, toddlers are much happier when they start their days running around the park—making everything that follows easier. It seems that when you re-arrange things, so long needed workout routines can happen, the weight you couldn’t kick falls right off. That when you’re not spending the day fighting with a toddler who never got a chance to run off their energy at the park, you can spend it making things out of play-dough and (somewhat tiredly) baking apple pie instead.

It’s hard to find the confidence to paint over the home I built for myself in my twenties. To realize that as much as I’d loved visiting bars when the city was empty on Thanksgiving weekend, that wasn’t my always-future. It’s hard to have faith that it’s worth putting in all the effort it takes to create a home, when I saw so many of the efforts of my childhood end in tears. (Though my second grade year when I shook down the grocery store clerks for wooden crates to build a life-size nativity under the tree in super secret, was worth all the effort.) But this year, I’m taking it one memory at a time. I want my kid to remember fall afternoons with the smell of pie baking. So I gathered up my energy, and peeled apples. I want him to remember making holiday cookies with his mom, so I’m planning “painting” with cookies soon. (What? Do all the treasured memories you want to create not involve food?)

There are many parts of this new life that we built over the last eight years that are exhausting. There is the payroll I’m responsible for running, the AAA membership I have yet to renew, the middle of the night wakeups. But as I’ve aimed to not add one more thing to my plate, I almost missed the good stuff. The fact that we have a whole new person to teach about pie, that I finally have another (tiny) meat eater in the house to cook for, and that this is my chance to try out the traditions I hoped for as a child, now for someone else.

I’m always going to love the best dive bars in America, even though I have time to get to them less frequently. And I’m nowhere near sitting on the porch, watching the life I built play out around me. Instead, I’m in the middle, and I’m finally willing to own it. One lumpy cookie and lopsided Styrofoam Hanukkah-Christmas ornament at a time.

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit

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  • Another Meg

    This is completely us right now. Clinging to our “laid back youth” habits, trying desperately to ignore the fact that we need to do some grown up stuff from time to time to have the life we want.
    Sending this to my husband post haste.

  • AP

    “When everything is changing, you cling to old habits with startling ferocity.”


    “When you’ve been delaying something endlessly, you’ve focused most of your energy into fighting the inevitable. And apparently giving up the fight seems like sweet relief.”

    I am experiencing this place of transition, the evolution of single self into coupled self and exploring what that means. I married (and divorced) young, so I only began to reclaim my single and whole identity a few years ago and I have been super reluctant to give that up in my new relationship. Just this weekend, the bf and I attended a full-on Halloween party with costumes, keg, jello shots, the works. Only two years ago, I would have been playing beer pong and crashing out on an empty couch. This year, it seemed like the partygoers were all a good 3-5 years younger than we are. And we felt it. He had to be up super early for work, I’m not a big drinker anymore, we didn’t have the time to create awesome costumes so we kind of threw something together at the last minute. He went because I wanted to go.

    On the ride home, we talked about how this just isn’t us anymore. To be honest, part of me wanted to resent the situation, to feel annoyed that I’d have had a better time if I were still single. But when I let that reaction go, I realized I’ve been fighting to hold on to something I don’t really want anymore. We may not quite know what we’re moving toward just yet, but it was freeing to accept that we’re way past where we’ve been.

    • joanna b.n.

      THANK YOU for articulating this. For me, not planning a family that includes children, this is the hardest part: “We may not quite know what we’re moving toward just yet, but it was freeing to accept that we’re way past where we’ve been.”

      When the future has yet to be created, though it may be (and likely will be) incredible and beautiful, it’s hard to let go of the known to tackle uncharted waters. But looking back does kind of help to see what we’ve already created.

      • AP

        I think you just hit on something that has been gnawing at me… it seems like my friend groups fall into two camps: Child-Free and Rowdy, and Young Families with Kids. My partner and I fall somewhere in the middle, without a lot of support or role models for what it’s like to be Child-Free and Over Thirty. If we don’t go to parties or music festivals, we’re boring. If we hang out with our friends/siblings with kids, we’re left bewildered and exhausted. Right now we’re caught between worlds and, as you said, “tackling uncharted waters.” It can be a little alienating.

        • Meg Keene

          There is also those of us who are young families that are still a little rowdy ;) We took our kid to two Halloween parties where he was the only/ or one of only two kids this this weekend. There was blessedly no beer pong, but there were drinks and… dinners made of chips and pizza.

          I think there are lots of us caught in between worlds, and you just sort of… solider on, I guess. Most (I mean, the VAST majority) of our friends don’t have kids, so we just sort of… try to make it work. One day I suppose we’ll be some people’s support or role models, maybe, but it seems like not near term! We had thought more friends might have kids shortly after us, and that’s looking like it’s not going to happen en masse any time soon. So… onwards. With the kid at the music festival. And the pie in the oven. Watcha gonna do?

          • AP

            Onwards. A lot of truth in that one word. And cheers to the Still Rowdy Young Families:)

          • Valerie

            As one of the non-kid-havers, I love it when our few kid-having friends bring the kids around! We get to hang out with the kids, hang out with the parents (and give them a bit of a break if the kid isn’t in a must-cling-to-parents phase). I also love having small people in my life that love but am not personally responsible for, and who give me the excuse to buy (for example) tiny bear-themed Yosemite shirts complete with tail. So, yay for young families that are still a little rowdy! Not that you needed me to validate your life choices. :p

          • Meg Keene

            I just like having all kinds of friends around. When I didn’t have kids I was so bummed when people would have kids and move away or stop hanging out. I mean: I didn’t have kids! Which basically meant that I’d like to use yours for free, please with a return policy! The friends that really let us do that have kids that are now much bigger that we’re still so, so, so close to.

          • Manya

            Meg, I agree. The sooner we stop worrying about whether we are like other people and start crafting a life that fits us, the sooner we find our way to some sort of enduring sense of home. We don’t exactly fit in either. Because I became an adopted mom so young, and am married to a slightly older man who had kids young-ish, I am a 39 year old with 3 older teenagers in a world where everybody my age has littles. We are WAY out of play groups and way into worrying about college and have–and always will be–a little rowdy. It is a little awkward to be “out of phase” and it certainly means that others look to us for advice and mentoring as they move through phases we saw 10 years ago. In any case, there’s no way to do it right or to win–we all shuffle through and figure it out.

        • Audrey

          As another set of Child-Free Over Thirties, my husband and I are still working on what that life looks like for us. We don’t go to tons of parties or music festivals, but we definitely have more free time and actively pursue things that would be harder with a kid or kids.

          • Audrey

            And spend a bunch of time with friends with kids, honestly. Fortunately a lot are young enough that if you do something with them in the evening you get a few hours of “with kid” time and a few hours of “kid in bed” time.

  • Jen

    I love this. And food does equal some of the best memories!

  • DM

    Reading “I grimly looked at our life and got to work” THIS morning couldn’t be more perfect timing.

    We currently have a pile of dishes that extends on to the counters because we haven’t been able to finish them and keep ourselves fed. Our laundry is scattered on chairs and in baskets throughout the house. We haven’t addressed invitations, ordered shoes, or done anything else wedding related in weeks. On my way to work this morning as I sleepily meandered through our home I thought “man, we should get to work.” So. . . this afternoon.

    • BB

      you can do it!

    • Kara E

      Can I suggest a week or so of paper plates (suggested only slightly facetiously)? Sounds like you have a lot on your plate. Good luck!!

  • emilyg25

    I very rapidly transitioned from happily single out on the town city dweller to happily married pregnant suburbanite (like, within two years) and it’s been a hard transition. I do very much love my new life, which we’ve built with careful effort and conscience. But man, it’s trippy to put all the new money from your promotion into your retirement account, or spend Friday night debating whose insurance plan it makes sense to move to during open enrollment. As always, thanks for this, Meg.

  • Juanita

    “When everything is changing, you cling to old habits with startling ferocity. When the outside world is defining and redefining you—single girl, New Yorker, theatre professional, fiancé, corporate finance worker, wife, self-employed, author, pregnant lady, small business owner, mother, married lady—it can help to find and hold on to some of your own labels and habits. ”

    I am working on the releasing right now, it’s been a wild journey for me and we’re not yet married, and I can only imagine what things are going to happen for us over the next 8 years. But it’s so crazy when I consider I started dating my now fiance thinking it was just going to be a brief fun moment. Then we fell in love. And rapidly labels are changing and habits and I’m not the person I was when we started our almost 4 year relationship, and so I’m clinging and knowing I’m clinging trying to release. Really looking forward to the posts this month!

  • Veronica

    Don’t renew your triple AAA membership, at least if what you value it for is the roadside assistance! You can renew over the phone as you call from the road with a problem. Totally saves you money by extending the life of your membership. I’ve done it several times :)

    • Meg Keene

      Hahaha. THAT is a brilliant, if tricky, life hack.

      • The irony for me is that my AAA membership has been on permanent auto-renew. It still has my maiden name on it. It charges to a card I never use. My hurdle is calling them and changing my name. Ha!

    • mimi

      I’ve done it too. Very quick & easy!

    • Kara E

      Or…most car insurers offer their own version. Geico’s is about 3 dollars a month for me – and I live in a major city.

    • Hannah B

      I let mine not renew because I do not have a car anymore..but triple A discounts are good at hotels and sometimes random places like the eye doctor (who did not take my health insurance…but took my AAA?) .

      • I don’t have a car anymore either and it is on my to-do list (today actually!) to call and quit….or just make sure it won’t autorenew at the end of my year.

      • Jess

        Oh man, we saved so much in hotels this year thanks to AAA.

      • I’m on an Amtrak train as I write this and I got a sweet discount in the business class car thanks to AAA :) I don’t even have a car… (we use my husband’s family’s policy)

    • dearabbyp

      I’m not sure that’s true… as I recall the roadside coverage didn’t kick in until 24 hours after renewal just to prevent this kind of thing. So if you want to wait around… sure.

  • Brandi Hassouna

    All the memories revolve around food, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think it ends up being about the time we take to stand around the stove and mixer together, giving undivided attention. The three year old won’t take no for an answer when it comes to wanting to “help” in the kitchen.

    We’re in the process of reestablishing home. Literally. Husband hung shelves yesterday. Cabinets need to be organized. The purging of things we thought we did a good job on before packing continues. We’ve moved across the country to a place where two different wardrobes are required and we halved our closet space. Oops. We’re also trying to find our feet with routines here. Suddenly the dog feels like a bigger pain in the ass than his presence warrants. We want to be able to go and play in the city unfettered, like we did when we moved to LA. But we can’t. A dog and two kids. Babysitters need to be paid well, thus we can only afford them occasionally.

    I’ve long been a list maker and menu planner, but I’ve finally given in to prepping everything on Sunday night. It really does free up my time. I feel a bit at sea, but am trying to be my kids’ anchor. It’s hard, and I cry a lot when no one is looking. Maybe some more shelves, and a place to put my piano will help me feel a bit more settled.

    • Shotgun Shirley

      Hugs! And I wish you many shelves. :)

      • Brandi Hassouna

        Thanks. We need them. Lots of them both.

    • Meg Keene

      Here is to less tears and more cookies this holiday season.

      I told you it was hard, it probably doesn’t help, but remember the part where I told you it gets better and worth it. It just… takes awhile. SIGH.

      • Brandi Hassouna

        I remember. I do well remember. I was struggling with feeling isolated before we left LA, and it’s doubled down since we got here. I went to a speed dating for mom friends event a week and a half ago, and had a great time, but the “matches” procured at this event have yet to respond. I’m trying to be patient, and not let seeming rejection keep me from making overtures. Introvert by nature, so there’s that. I think the thing that’s hardest is how hard it is for me to communicate what this truly feels like for me to husband, he goes to work, he sees people all day, he has a guaranteed social outlet. I miss my band.

        • Meg Keene

          It’s hard to make friends in NY. It’s just…. slow. It’s more European than American in that way, I think. People open up very slowly, but once they do, you’re stuck with them for life ;)

    • mimi

      These last 2 Sundays, I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen prepping for the week. It’s time-consuming, but I think I’m a convert. It just makes the week so much easier! It seems like a good new routine.

    • MDBethann

      My kid hasn’t even arrived yet and I use the weekend to prep my meals for the week. I have an hour commute each way by train and I’m the primary chef in the family, so to avoid eating dinners at 8 or 9 pm, I started making as much as I could on the weekends (roasts, lasagnas, other casseroles or meals that reheat well) and then one or two nights a week my husband makes steak/chicken/pork or something that he likes to cook. Another motivator was that we participate in a CSA from June through October and get our produce on Fridays, so I had to start planning meals & cooking over the weekend so I could use the produce at its freshest.

      Will be interesting to see how things change or stay the same in the food prep area once the kiddo arrives.

  • I spent my 20s building an identity that I’m really proud of: living alone in another country, learning to rock social situations (I was a painfully shy teen), starting projects and organizing events that I wouldn’t have had the confidence to tackle when I was younger. While some of those labels are still me, the situations and habits that created them are inevitably going to be change as we move towards a “couple” and then a “family” identity. It’s going to be hard to let go, but I guess also exciting and scary to see what other sides of myself (and what dreams) I’ve suppressed while I was busy killing it.

  • Nicole

    Haha. Ditto on the AAA membership renewal. We are in the same sort of place right now, and it’s petty crazy to fit it all in, and start this life you’ve always wanted, but is so different from the one you had.

  • Laura C

    You know, recent APW posts have gotten me thinking about how much less I feel like I have my shit together than I did a year ago, even though I can’t put my finger on a single reason that would be the case. If anything, I feel like rationally I should feel better about stuff. But … I don’t, and I’m trying to figure out why, and this post gives me a new direction to think in.

    • M.

      I don’t know if this is where you’re coming from, but I have felt the same way for awhile. I am recently married, living in NYC with my husband who is having amazing work success, I got to quit my awful just-for-the-$-job bc of his success, I’m going to work for myself in a new field I love, we are traveling frequently, we have good friends and a great life. Everything’s coming up Milhouse!

      …but I have my shit together WAY less than any time ever before in my life. Like, WAY.

      But, behind the curtain is this: (and bless my therapist for helping me see), three years ago I was recently returned from a year abroad, living in my parents’ house in the Midwest, student teaching, and finishing a masters, and I was single. Almost none of the things I defined myself by then are true now. And I am reeeeeling, and half of the reeling is, why don’t I feel better?? Things are good?? Which they are, but also takes time.

      • Basketcase

        Oh yes.
        I’ve gone from happily-contracting (because my money was our play money), and loving the freedom, to being an at-home-mum and then a student.
        My shit is so far from together.
        And so many people envy the life I have – that we can afford for little to be in daycare and me at university – but sometimes its lonely. And its not what I have seen myself as. I was never intending to be an at-home mum, its been forced on me by circumstance.

      • Manya

        I really think that “having one’s shit together” is a myth. We change and change and change…and then change some more. Just when you get your shit together on one front, another front crumbles, or shifts. And sometimes (heaven forbid) disaster strikes, or health events occur, or you just plain old start getting older. There’s nothing wrong with feeling uncomfortable a good deal of your adult life. If anything, I have found redefining having my shit together as becoming ever-more-comfortable with discomfort has been helpful.

    • For me, as I learn something, I usually get to the point where I know more, but then I realze just how much I don’t know. It’s like the four stages of competance (there’s a wikipedia article on it): 1) Unconscious incompetence, 2) Conscious incompetence, 3) Conscious competence, and 4) Unconscious competence. There was a stage after I moved to Quebec and had been studying French for YEARS at that point, and I was just so discouraged because I realized how far I was from where I wanted to be. Likewise, the more I get my act together with “Adult’ stuff, the more I realize how much I still want to (need to) do and the list grows. So it’s easier to focus on all I still have yet to do, instead of remembering that ten years ago, I didn’t even know that some of those things needed to be done. Wasn’t even on my radar…

  • kcaudad

    Finally checking things off the never-ending ‘adult’ to-do list: adding more insullation in the attic, getting the roof worked on, getting the animal control problem taken care of, getting additional life insurance, reorganizing the funds in our bank accounts, cleaning the house on a regular basis, decorating the house, etc, etc, etc. It feels good to have things accomplished, though!

  • This is hitting us hard right now. Dependence has never been easy for either of us, but now it’s smacking us in the face. We have a week to ask the Coast Guard very nicely where we’d like to live for the next four years. And while we want to make decisions like we used to (highly rated restaurant scene! close to paddleboarding! Guam for a year!), we have to actually make decisions based on boringly adult things like ease of licensure transfer (me) and commute times (him). Apparently our freewheeling twenties are over.

    How We Did It: Deciding Where to Live When Staying Still Is Not An Option coming soon….

    • AP

      I am SO looking forward to that post!

  • I’m so glad to have read this, I feel like I’m smack in the middle of my own big transitional shift (deciding to work towards marriage, buying a house, getting engaged, married, trying to find a way out of my ‘real job’, have kids…) and sometimes it seems it will somehow stall and leave us in this weird in between state… We’ve gotten though a lot of our list, Thanks for the reminder of what may lie on the other side :)

  • lottie

    I’m really excited for this month because I’m not really sure how I feel about home right now. On the one hand, I recently moved and know my current spot isn’t permanent, maybe two years at best (ah, the academic’s life), my childhood home will be on the market come spring, and I feel unmoored to home and community right now. On the other hand, I’m finally earning a real salary and can live by myself rather than with roommates, I have real furniture (admittedly family hand-me-downs, but solid stuff), and I bought myself new plates because I decided that a 30-something with a PhD can have matching, non-chipped plates that I chose for myself. What does building a home look like when home is new and transient and disconnected from people/relationships? I’m not in my 20s (in fact, that decade seems far away), but what’s really different about home life now? What does home look like when you grow into yourself but the foundation for home still feels rickety and susceptible to lots of change? I’ll be doing some hard thinking this month.

    • Good for you for buying your matching plates! I did the same thing some years ago, after a breakup, because I decided I deserved matching plates for myself! In the subsequent years I have SO MANY TIMES been thankful to my younger self for doing that. I think the act of doing that for myself somehow did something valuable within me (ie., telling myself I don’t need to wait to have a partner to begin my “real” life…). And I love the aesthetic of my plates and have thorougly enjoyed using them. :)

  • Erin

    FH and I had a fairly big fight somewhat along these lines this weekend. We were sitting down for our first cuddle session on our brand new couch (just moved in together 2 months ago, wedding is in 2 weeks) and after five minutes of “I love this guy and our new home and yay we’re getting married” bliss, I found myself growing agitated with the view from the couch of an entertainment center full of DVDs and 2 overstuffed bookshelves. It felt cluttered to me, and I was pissed about the mismatching shelves and general lack of clear space. FH was all “You realize we live in NYC and therefore have to make do with the tiny amount of space we can afford, right?” and I began to really struggle because I realized I wanted some of the books and DVDs to go away. And as a creative type who has written a novel and used to blog professionally about movies, and found a guy with the same tastes and interests, that was HARD! How could I tell him that I didn’t want Mystery Science Theater 3000 to be the theme of our living room? And when did showing off our awesome taste in books and movies stop being a priority in setting up our apartment to me? Am I becoming an image conscious bitch, or is it a sign of maturity that I’d rather have a relaxing, less-is-more style than cram all these DVDs we’ve already watched into our home?

    • River

      Erin — TOTALLY HAD THE SAME FIGHT last week. Our couch is coming on Thursday (finally) and even though we’d already ordered it, when we were doing a workout on Friday morning, I started griping about how once there was a couch there wouldn’t be room for us to both workout and how there were too many books and not enough shelves but I didn’t want more shelves.

      I honestly think part of this is wedding stress — and part of it is being a little uncomfortable in my new skin. You know? These new identities we’re growing into, sometimes I think they itch the way new feathers growing in must tickle a moulting bird.

      Not sure if that makes any sense — pretty sure you’re not becoming “an image conscious bitch” (!), just maybe starting to need more peaceful views.

      • Erin

        Maybe I should have used the words “peaceful views” instead of “classy” and “grown up”.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          With my husband, I try to be really specific and objective. Like, I told my husband that only books with ISBNs could go on the shelves in the living room – which meant no notebooks, no binders. I didn’t want to argue about whether a sewn notebook with a spine was a “book.”

        • Jess

          I laughed. Out loud. Those would have been the words I used too!

    • Not Sarah

      I totally started crying on Saturday morning because my boyfriend moving in involves me getting rid of my desk and apparently I am really attached to my desk?! Moving in is much harder than I thought it would be.

      • melissa!

        Don’t feel bad. Moving in and learning to share space is really hard! It’s the sweetest challenge and most challenging sweetness. (Until you have a toddler, maybe.)

        • Not Sarah

          That’s such a good way of describing it :) I’ve also been job hunting and been super stressed out about work, which doesn’t help!

          • Emma

            You’ve got change piled on change! No wonder you’re crying about the desk! Hang in there, it will take a little while to settle in to your new routine, but I definitely agree with melissa! about it being the sweetest challenge.

          • Not Sarah

            Thank you for the kind thoughts – you raise a very good point :) I’m also on a work visa and very wary of losing my job and having to leave the country and my condo I love…lots of things going on.

      • mimi

        It’s not the desk, it’s the change. I went through the same stuff, and still do whenever my husband brings up yet another thing he wants to change in the house. The changes are typically good in the end, but it was my house for 4 years before he moved in, and it still feels a little personal when he wants to change something, even though he’s been living there for 3+ years now. Hang in there!

        • Not Sarah

          Exactly!! I am terrible with change, but it’s also him moving into MY place that I bought all on my own. He’s been slowly moving in over the last 8 months or so and in the next month, it’ll be a huge amount of stuff. One of the roots of the desk in particular though is that I need more personal space than him and getting rid of my desk would make that harder since our desks would be in the same room. He was quite understanding of that part and we did talk a bit about how moving in overall has been harder than we thought it would be.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      We moved a couple weeks ago, and I had to tell my husband that because his bookcase is the very first thing people see when they come in the front door, it had to be pretty. I’m sure there’ll be other hard discussions as we clear out the boxes.

    • Meg Keene

      Ha. Our bookshelves are sort of our main point of decor in any living room, but we keep them matching and try to make it seamless… if they all run together, it’s less cluttering. DVD’s, however, are all shoved in a drawer. The future is here, and it streams.

      • Erin

        The compromise we reached after a few hours of sulking and crying was we will paint the bookshelves so they match, and the PILES of books that are stacked in front of the nicely lined up rows of books on the shelves have to go (in other words, I need to be able to see at least an inch of clear space on each shelf). But the DVD fight will rage on until we have a library like the one at the castle in Beauty and the Beast.

        • Jess

          What about having decorative bins or boxes on the shelf? The DVDs will still technically be there, but camouflaged by something new and less cluttered looking. Or even one of those false book spine thingys to cover them up? Those are awesome…

          I don’t think changing home decor tastes are really that big of a deal, and not really indicative of your relationship or future wedded bliss or anything. As much as I love all my stuff, sometimes I just get tired of looking at the same ol thing EVERY DAY. I bet if you moved the DVDs or changed it up somehow, you might find yourself wanting to display them again in a couple years…

    • M.

      Re: wanting things gone or hidden making you an “image conscious bitch” (it doesn’t!).. I find this so interesting! A huge part of our home-creation the last 2 years has also been about books and DVDs as related to image, but in a different way. (This is of course only our experience and I know it doesn’t work this way for everyone).

      We both studied film, literature, and language over multiple degrees, and we were AWASH in books and DVDs. To me, my books were “proof” that I was smart, educated, well-read, accomplished, traveled. Our DVDs and tapes “proved” our taste in film, our unique technical and historical knowledge, film nerd street cred and, again, education. As we have moved MANY times, married, and tried to fit into a Brooklyn 1bd, we have come to realize that, while those things do signify to the outside world, it wasn’t necessarily something we NEEDED to signify. That removing some of the symbols didn’t remove the reality, the work, the history, our interests and personalities. It’s been a process over years, but the two bursting book cases that remain now hold the re-readers, fave authors, special copies, current reading, much-used reference. 100s of DVDs we likely won’t watch again and/or know we can always rent or stream have been donated. We kept beloved favorites, foreign-bought, and hard-to-find/OOP ones. We are more thoughtful about new purchases.

      And in the end, of course, we still know and love all the same things! We’ve still read and consumed the same stuff and have been shaped by it. The difference is now we have more space physically AND mentally/emotionally. We keep what we LOVE and use in our CURRENT life, not our past selves, and I guess just too bad for me if someone doesn’t know just how MUCH I know about the Hays code by looking at my books. I like not caring so much :)

      (This is not to say that I think a Tom Servo pillow wouldn’t fit in somewhere…)

      • Erin

        Oh, how I wish you could talk to my FH and get him to come to the realization you did. That’s what our problem is, really. I’m at the point where you are, but he isn’t. He needs to be surrounded by his books, movies and comics to feel like himself. And although he enjoys making use of Netflix, he’s still very against getting a kindle because he romanticizes the physical experience of reading a book. …I get that in that I love going to bookstores and would be sad for them to be replaced entirely by online shops, but the longer I’ve lived in NYC the more I’ve come to romanticize the idea of personal space and an apartment that looks like grown ups live in it. But the 18 year old version of me who went to study creative writing in the backwoods of Maine is mad at the new me for not being on “Team Books Forever!!!!”

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Between my husband and I, we’re on the cusp of embracing e-readers and streaming video v. needing tangible things. I have an e-reader. It’s good for some things, and not for others. 2 e-readers could never replace our 3 tall bookcases.

          My husband and I have an ongoing conversation, a conversation I began with myself before we met, about space for books. Even if you only buy a book a month, you’re going to find yourself needing another bookcase every few years, unless you also give away a book a month. So a book habit becomes about what you’re willing to trade: a cramped living room plus $x for more books and bookcases? an uncrowded living room for lack of immediate access to all. the. books? maybe space in his closet that “normal people” would use for clothes?

          • Sarah E

            We haven’t started that conversation in our household yet, and keep acquiring tons of new books for our tiny space. Book worm that I am, I’ve never been a huge book purchaser. My partner, on the other, buys every book he wants to read. I get all my material from the library, then plan to purchase the ones that I really love, only when they come out in paperback. You make a great point about how books grow sneakily. We might need a “Come to Jesus (that is, the library)” moment when we move and tons of book boxes to carry.

          • M.

            “..unless you also give away a book a month.” Exactly. We practice 1-in, 1-out as best we can for books and clothes.

            I would say we are about 1/3 library, 1/3 Kindle, 1/3 hard copy.

            For Erin, know that it takes time. We were lucky to end up in the same mindset and run toward it head-on, but it wasn’t as easy for him at first as I made it seem. Ultimately we are in complete agreement about the type of home we want to live in and the lifestyle, and this gets us there. It’s a conversation (or, many conversations) and an evolution.

            And Sarah E, my Come to The Library moment first came after a big move. :) Moving that many books is very persuasive!

          • ElisabethJoanne

            I’ve definitely done 1-in, 1-out for clothes. We also, for books and clothes, need to come up with a policy about gifts. The best closet-cleaning or shelf-clearing plan can be completely upset by 1 birthday, in our families.

      • lottie

        Have you read Anne Fadiman’s essay on merging libraries? Your description reminds me of it.

        • M.

          I haven’t but I know of her book. Thanks for the tip!

    • Granola

      My go-to strategy is to sit or stand somewhere in our Queens apartment and figure out what the “view” is and then largely take care of only that area. So if I sit at our table, the “view” was into the entrance hallway, which ended in a very clutters shelf of household supplies. It drove me nuts, so I put a curtain over the shelf — voila! Less rage.

      Then when I walk in the apartment, our hallway opens up into the living room. So my rule there is that whatever I look at through that view needs to be pleasing. There can be a mess slightly out of the sight line, as long as it doesn’t spoil that one view. It’s helped me to pick my battles more. The whole apartment doesn’t need to be lovely, but certain spots that have great impact must not cause teeth-gnashing upon entry.

      Perhaps for you the view from the couch, if that’s where you spend a lot of time, should be a priority. There’s nothing worse than trying to relax and having unfinished messes silently guilting you.

    • Amy March

      Can you reorganize them all by color? I recently did that with my work books and it’s significantly more aesthetically pleasing to me without getting rid of anything.

  • MDBethann

    Our “home” is rapidly being redefined – we’ve been in a big transition all year, first with a home renovation/addition, then simultaneously finding out that our first child will arrive around Thanksgiving. Now we’re trying to quickly check off remaining “to dos” on our list before our daughter arrives and changes our definition of home even further. Her arrival means changing traditions too – Thanksgiving & Christmas at our home in Maryland this year instead of in Pennsylvania with our families as we’ve always celebrated it. The changes are good, but it doesn’t make it less overwhelming.

    For added fun, my sister just started a new job in a new city. Loads of transitions and redefinition of “home” in my family right now. But in line with September’s theme of “growing up,” I think figuring out “home” and making these transitions is a large part of growing up. It doesn’t mean growing old, just up.

    • Meg Keene

      Thanksgiving babies are the best! Ours is in the “Thanksgiving Window” (Nov 22-28) so his birthday will always bop around. He was born the Monday after Thanksgiving, and this year is the day before. Etc. It’s a nice time to have something extra to celebrate.

      • Cleo

        As a Thanksgiving window baby…I wouldn’t have asked to be born at any other time. I’m always excited to hear a kid was born during that period.


        Most likely you don’t have to go to school/work on your birthday and during the rare years you do have to, most people are so ready for break (or are recovering after break) that you’re practically guaranteed a light workload.

        With the exception of Thanksgivukkah (which won’t happen again in our lifetimes), you’re far enough away from holiday gift giving that you don’t get a hybrid-winter holiday + birthday gift, but if you want one, you can manage to weasel in a “IswearIwon’taskforanythingelseifyougetmethisonething” without feeling deprived come winter holiday time.

        Especially relevant from those who have moved away from our hometowns: you get to see your family on your birthday/near your birthday every year if you want.

        Blowing out birthday candles in pumpkin pie.


        A bit harder than normal to find a good time for a birthday party.

        • Meg Keene

          It’s brillz to be like, “Great, we’ll bring the kid to you for Thanksgiving, get him cupcakes,” and then be able to wander off home and do whatever party we feel like in peace and quiet ;) I think he’s forever our holiday party though. Or at least for the next long while.

      • msditz

        I was born on Thanksgiving, and I love it! No matter what day my birthday falls, I always celebrate with my family on Thanksgiving, so after an awesome meal I get to open presents :-) Like an amazing feast all for my birthday.

      • MDBethann

        I’m excited about a Thanksgiving baby – I’ve been telling everyone I’m baking the Thanksgiving turkey for 9 months ;-)

        But seriously, I like the fact that she’ll always get to see her family around her birthday (provided she arrives on time – my due date is Black Friday, so I won’t be going shopping this year) and even if she’s late, her birthday will be far enough from Christmas that she gets her own “day” separate from Christmas. And we’ll get 2 first Christmases with her – her real first, but then the first where she can actually interact and enjoy presents.

  • Ally

    Aww bar number 20 is across the street from my college dorm!! <3 Emerson College

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Well, this inspired me to make a list of gyms to check out that are close to our new apartment.

  • Emily

    This is beautiful and so true. I love my married and settled life, but I do find myself comparing it to my single life… I was much more of a bachelor than my husband was. One thing I’ve been realizing this year is how much our habits and stories come in cycles. For about two years my active, athletic self suddenly didn’t want to work out or do anything physical. It was a blow to my story of who I was… how could I love being active but not want to be active? This year, changes have brought more sleep and some time freedom… and I’m finding myself wanting to be active again. It was just the less active part of the cycle, not a huge betrayal of self. That’s one example, but I’ve experienced this in multiple parts of my life, to the point that now I feel a “oh hello! I guess that is coming back now.”

    • Not Sarah

      How did you get back to wanting to be active again?

      • Emily

        I don’t know, it just happened. Here are my guesses on the factors that came into play: I take a kid to school every morning, and I started taking the dogs with me and walking them during that time, so that became a habit. I also have spent roughly the last year getting my thyroid levels to an approximation of normal. I left a job that was really hard on me, mentally and physically. Finally… something just happened. I spent about two years thinking about hibernating and wanting to be at home, reading or journaling all the time. Then slowly, like a sunrise, I’ve had more and more interest in being out in the world and being active. Last Saturday I hiked an awesome twelve miles!

        I can see some obvious factors in there–thyroid and leaving job, but I also really believe these things come in cycles. Since you are asking this, I’m guessing that you might be dealing with something similar. I hope you are able to be kinder to yourself than I was (I spent a huge amount of time worrying about who I was becoming). Give it time and trust yourself.

        • Not Sarah

          Thank you! I just accepted a new job offer and things will get a bit crazy again for the next few months, but hopefully I’ll be able to start a new routine once I start the new job early next year :)

      • Jess

        I’m on a finally active again swing too! I ran a half marathon again, I signed up for an indoor soccer league, I go for runs and yoga classes. I don’t do power lifting anymore, and that’s ok.

        The biggest thing I want to echo from Emily is to be kind to yourself. If you feel like you need to sit, there’s probably a reason, so sit and take care of yourself. It doesn’t mean you’ve become a less active person FOREVER, just for right NOW. And that’s really hard to understand for someone (like me) who based her identity on being “The Active Friend.”

        I was going through the worst depression I’ve had in years last winter, and pushed myself to still go snowboarding… I was miserable 80% of the time on the hill. I finally got some help and I think that is getting me to feeling more like myself overall.

        I woke up one day and decided I wanted to run after work. Not very far, just go for a run. I wanted to be in yoga because it was rainy and chilly, and yoga was warm. Because I wanted to do those things, I did them. So whenever you do want to do something, encourage yourself to prioritize it. Even if it’s once a month rather than daily, give yourself permission to follow what you want to do. It comes back.

  • Food! I’ve got a home related post coming to you on just that topic. That is, as soon as the thought of it stops making me nauseous.

  • AGCourtney

    I really loved this post. Very timely. Thank you!

  • Sarah

    “Do all the treasured memories you want to create not involve food?” Oh hells yes! The past two years we have made empanadas at Christmas (with varying success) pretty much for this reason! My partner’s family is Latino and his mother is an amazing cook, so many of his favourite childhood memories are of the amazing empanadas/quesadilla/etc his mom made. I don’t really have that as my parents aren’t great cooks.. But I LOVE to bake and do have good memories of standing on a stool next to the bench next to mom and being allowed to sift the flour, or if I was very lucky crack the eggs, for a cake. I can’t wait to do this stuff with our future kids.
    Food aside, this piece is just so smart. The past five years have brought about big changes (meeting and moving in with my partner, starting my first full time job, both of us deciding to go back to study, moving again) and I know that the next three years or so are going to involve more change and sadly more moving. Sometimes I still cling to my 20s when I used to go out for drinks and dancing with my girlfriends most weekends, but at the same time I can’t wait settle down, find a permanent home and cook empanadas for our kids. Feeling comfortable in this middle space is hard.

  • Stacey Cuddhy

    I read this post earlier and it made me think of that BigLots commercial with the lady belting out how she’s gonna “nail this Christmas”. Annnnnnd now that commercial is probably my anthem now ha– because when I’ve NAILED Christmas I think just maybe I’ll feel like an adult with a home with my shit together. Cause right now, my shit is together packed in boxes taking up wall space in our tiny ass one-bedroom apartment.

  • KJS

    Does anyone have a good link to a “Get Your Shit Together” checklist for adulthood? I’ve been loving the APW posts on budgeting, growing up etc. and have been feeling so much more adult recently simply by thinking all of these topics through and beginning to discuss them with my partner.

    I have a few weeks before my next major work project starts and it would be great to have one massive list to go through to sort out/automate a lot of those “adult” things that tend to get pushed to the side when we’re busy… anything from small to large, so I can pick and choose what works for our lives.

    Or if one doesn’t exist, help me make one?

    – AAA membership
    – Wills
    – Life insurance
    – Private health cover
    – Meal plans
    – Savings / finance plans
    – Ambulance cover

    • ElisabethJoanne

      There’s actually a “get your shit together” web site, and maybe a book to go with it. It was written by a widow after her husband died suddenly and she didn’t know how to put their finances back together.

      The posts and comments in the September series will also be very helpful.

      • KJS

        Awesome, thanks! I’ll check it out. (Should have just searched for that instead of Googling “How to be an adult checklist,” “Grown-up to do list” and the multiple other combinations that didn’t work).

        And yes, discovering APW in around September was what got me started on trying to get all of these things done once and for all!

        • KJS

          For anyone interested, there’s a checklist!

          It covers wills, finances, insurance etc. – all of those “what if something went wrong?” things.

          Would still be great if anyone knows of a list for the more day-to-day stuff like AAA memberships.

          Cheers. :)

      • This website looks really useful. Thanks for sharing it, ElisabethJoanne!

  • Kiani Angus-Torres

    This Sunday was the first time I brought one of my single-life customs into our shared home: Soup & Cookie Sunday. Six years back, in my first crappy apartment share in Hoboken, my roommates and I discovered that the most efficient way to warm our drafty place was to cook all day, and fill the place with warm bodies. So we invited some friends over every few weeks when the weather was cold, and a collaborative cooking effort was born. We put out all the ingredients to stew and bake all day, and everyone would chip in, and rehash the debauchery of our weekend — hookups, hangovers, and so on. Establishing a routine cooking event with my ‘found family’ in a new city was what really made that place home. The seasons changed over, and year after year as soon as the leaves started to change the messages would come: “When’s Soup & Cookies?”

    Six years later, Chris and I gearing up for our first winter in our new home in Brooklyn, and I decided that we simply couldn’t call it ‘home’ without Soup & Cookie Sunday. Granted, the conversations and quality of food has shifted dramatically since our days in my 3 bedroom share. We’re not nearly as hung over, wedding planning has taken the place of comparing hook-up stories, and we fancy a good Cotes du Rhone over 3 buck chuck. Ultimately, we’ve all grown together, and one of the many principles Chris and I have in common is that our home is as much about who we share it with as it is about what we plan to build together.

    • Sarah E

      That sounds like a really lovely tradition, and the kid of home I’d like to have: one where everyone can just pile in for food and company. Right now, it just doesn’t work in our apartment, so I really appreciate friends like you who open their space to everyone :-)

  • Jess

    I’m really excited for this month, because I am about to embark on the setting up of a home. Not a house, not a marriage, but a home. R and I are looking for a place to move into together (we have agreed that we want to start fresh, to make a space together instead of make room in our current spaces).

    I feel like I have the chance to make decisions that allow me to be who I feel like I am now, growed up and dependent on another person (whoa…). I have relished my independent life, and now the idea of taking our traditions of Sunday Dinners and Saturday Breakfasts and hosting game nights and friends for dinner and New Years parties and moving them all into a together life is really exciting.

    It feels freeing.

    • Not Sarah

      Yay that is so exciting!!! Making a space together is so smart. I own my place and my boyfriend is moving in and it is definitely an adjustment since I loved my independence so much. I wish we were both renting sometimes so we could pick out a new place together!

      • Jess

        We lucked out in that we are both renting and can wait around until we find what we really want. It would have been a lot harder for me, emotionally, to accept the change if I were asking someone to carve out space for me and my things or if I were taking apart a place I’d created to make room for someone else.

        This way, we’re focused on the togetherness of it. We’re still in the looking phase though, so soon I’ll probably be more in the reality and feel differently!

  • Rachelle

    Wow. This resonates with me entirely too well as I bounce my new baby on my knee and think to myself “Is this seriously my life?! Why aren’t I ‘in da club?!'” etc. etc. Ugh, bookmarking.

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