It’s no secret that I kind of hate where I live.
Nearly 10 years ago, my now husband and I moved into a rental townhouse where we started our lives together as a new couple. Within 3 months of moving in, however, we discovered mold. And since then, we’ve discovered mold numerous times and in numerous places.
Our property management company has been, to put it nicely, complete crap. We’ve seen multiple managers and maintenance workers come and go. We’ve had our floors replaced – twice. The first time we couldn’t use our living room for almost 9 weeks. And then they had to do it all over again a few years (and many many complaints) later.
They made us temporarily move out of our place with only a day’s notice and put us in a disgusting, poorly-ranked Airbnb – which they also managed. When we moved back in, they broke the wheel off our brand-new portable dishwasher and scratched the backs of both our loveseat and couch. It took them over 6 weeks to address these issues and only did so after I sent a letter stating I was taking them to the tenant’s board…
If you’ve ever been in a living situation like this – or worse – I’m sure you can relate.
And I know what you’re probably thinking.
If I hate where I live so much, why don’t I just move already?
And trust me, I’ve spent many many hours contemplating the same thing. So what’s the problem?
More specifically, the lack of alternative affordable places to live.
Housing affordability is a real, growing issue for both renters and homeowners. People often end up stuck in the cheapest places to live because living costs are increasing but our income is not.
High Rental Prices
Rental prices have skyrocketed over the last few years, and will only continue to do so. If you’ve been renting the same place for a while, you’ve probably been priced out of similar units. Particularly if you live in a rent-controlled property, or in provinces or states where laws regulate the amount rental prices can increase each year.
For example, the monthly rent for the unit we live in now is $715 more than we’re paying.
The median household income certainly hasn’t increased that much!
Downsizing might be an option – but it might not help, either. You’re likely to end up paying a little more for less space. If you are also struggling to make ends meet and live comfortably as it is, trying to find another $200+ a month in your budget could be out of the question.
The Real Estate Market
If you own your home, selling it and buying a new home is an option. But it’s not an easy one. It can be a long, expensive process with a whole lot of hassle and a high potential for making mistakes.
Although real estate is usually seen as an investment, housing costs fluctuate. Sometimes a lot. Remember the housing market crash that happened in the mid-2000s? It could happen again.
In small towns and small cities, selling your home can take years. Especially if the community has been hit economically and has high unemployment rates.
If the market isn’t in your favor and home prices are lower than the actual home value, selling right now might not make any sense. I don’t think anyone wants to sell their house at a loss (or can afford to do so), no matter how much you hate it.
If it’s the neighborhood you live in that you don’t like, you might not be able to afford to relocate to a neighborhood that you do like. Particularly if it’s considered one of the best places to live in, such as an in-demand or up-and-coming affluent area.
Moving is Expensive
If you do decide to move, the move itself is another, potentially large expense.
For renters, if you can find another affordable place to live, in most cases you need to have the first and last month’s rent available. And possibly a security deposit, too. For most of us with an average income, trying to save $2,000 or more can be incredibly tough.
For homeowners, there are lots of hidden costs involved with buying and selling. Home inspections, appraisal fees, taxes, warranties, insurance, legal fees, renovations and repairs. It doesn’t take long for things to add up!
And then you still have to physically move.
This could mean hiring a moving company, renting a U-Haul, or bribing your friends with beer and pizza (like we did). It can be done for cheap, but if you have a lot of furniture or are moving far away, it probably won’t be.
Then maybe you’ll want to repaint or decorate. Maybe you’ll need different furniture or appliances to fit the new space. Maybe you’ll have to set up new utility accounts. Or have to keep things in storage. All things that also come at a price.
What Can You Do If You Hate Where You Live, But Can’t Move?
Whatever situation you’re in, if you hate where you live but you’re unable to move somewhere else, there are things that you can do to make your home tolerable until you are able to find something better.
What Works In Your Current Home?
There’s got to be something about your home that you like. Something that made this the best place to live when you first picked it. (Assuming that you did choose to live there, that is.)
Think back to when you first saw your home. What made you excited to move in?
I remember loving how light and bright our place was. And then we painted the living room walls a dark color, added dark black-out curtains, and complained about how dark it was. So when our landlords were in to fix the mold issues, we asked them to paint our walls white again. Between that and a new set of curtains, it made our living room that much better.
There is probably something similar that you can do to make your current home at least a little bit more livable.
What Doesn’t Work in Your Current Home?
This might be easier to answer than the last question, but take some time to really think about it.
Keep a mental list (or hey, why not an actual list?) of the things that make you hate where you live and what you want for housing in the future.
Instead of saying, “this layout sucks” – be specific. What sucks about it? Is the bathroom too far away from the bedrooms? Maybe there is no room to move around in the kitchen? Or the storage room too inaccessible (or in our case, non-existent)?
Maybe it’s the livability of the neighborhood or the size of the community that you don’t like. You currently live in a big city, but would like to settle down in the suburbs, where there is a low crime rate, a better school system, and lower property taxes. Or you live in a small town and want to live in a walkable metropolitan area with better job opportunities, a lower unemployment rate, and public transportation.
You may not be able to change these things in your current place, but when the time comes for you to move again, you know exactly what you’re looking for and what you’re not. Hopefully, this will help you avoid getting stuck in yet another place that you don’t want to be in.
Change What You Can
Not too long ago I was given the advice to “focus on what you can control”. I’ve tried to keep that in mind ever since because it’s the exact thing I needed to hear and is something I am constantly reminding myself of.
Since you can’t move, focus on what you can do to make your home work for you.
Is it your daily commute that you loathe? Talk to your manager to see if there are other options, such as working from home or adjusting your hours so your not getting up early every day to beat traffic. Or maybe it’s time for a career change? Finding a place to work that allows you to work remotely is much easier in today’s job market.
If you rent and have a good landlord or property manager, they might be willing to work with you to make some of the changes you want. They may even be willing to pay for these changes (or at least chip in).
As a homeowner (and, in some cases, a renter), there are a lot of changes you can make that will improve your space but also increase your home’s value:
- Rearrange the furniture
- Deep clean
- Get some plants
- Add a backsplash
- Change the tiling
- Re-grout the tiling
- Change your shower-head
- Change your kitchen faucet
- Replace the lighting fixtures
- Add more lighting fixtures
- Replace the carpet or flooring
- Add a rug
- Remove a rug
- Hang shelves
- Build a deck or small patio in your yard
- Power-wash your bathtub
- Polish wooden surfaces or stainless steel appliances
- Add something functional and/or visually pleasing to that dark and unused corner
Do something that fits your budget but will lessen the things that annoy you.
For us, lack of storage is one of the main things I dislike about our place. Our spare bedroom has become a dumping ground for stuff because of this. By spending less than $200 on a pair of these ugly, but super durable shelves, a lot of the storage issues were solved. It was an easy fix and is something that we can take with us and still use when we can move.
Don’t Outgrow Your Space
On that same note, we wouldn’t need this storage space if we didn’t have so much stuff to store. Most of it did not move in with us, but has accumulated since.
At least once a year, I get into that spring-cleaning mode (although it doesn’t always happen in the spring). Each time, I donate at least 2 trunk-loads of clothes and various household items that I no longer want or need. I would love to spend a full week giving our place a major declutter overhaul, but every little bit helps.
One suggestion I’ve heard time and time again to help avoid clutter is the “one in, one out” rule. It basically means for every new thing you bring into your house, one (usually related) item has to leave. So if you’re upgrading that old coffee maker, don’t hang onto the old one. Get rid of it! Same goes for any new clothes, books, toys, gadgets, etc.
If you really want to get ahead with decluttering or downsizing, up the number. Get rid of 2 things for every new item instead of just 1. And, of course, only buy or bring into your house the things that you actually need.
Out-Growing Your Space Isn’t Just About “Stuff”
If your family is growing, it may be impossible not to outgrow your space. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to move into a bigger place to raise a family. It is possible to make your space work with a bit of creative thinking (and decluttering).
Think about how you can use those unused or underused spaces in a better way.
Consider smaller pieces of furniture, less furniture, or multifunctional furniture. Mount your TV to the wall instead of using a stand to free up some floor space. Utilize your vertical space (like the top of cabinets) as well as those hideaway spaces (like under your bed). Or convert a closet or nook into an office space.
Keep an Eye on the Market
Even though I know moving is currently out of reach, I still look at the rental listings at least a few times each month. (I also used to want to be a real estate agent and find this stuff interesting.)
But it’s useful to keep an eye on the market – whether or not you’re currently looking to rent or buy.
Knowing the median home price and the average rent for places in your favorite neighborhood will help you determine whether living there is feasible or not. And if so, it will help you set realistic goals when it comes to your budget. You will know how much you will need to save for first and last month’s rent or for a down payment if you’re hoping to buy.
You may also luck out by finding a new place at a price you can afford. It’s only happened once to me, but by the time I reached out to the landlord, the rental was gone.
By keeping an eye on the market you may have better luck than I did and be able to move sooner than you thought.
If you really hate where you live, making some small sacrifices now in order to eventually find a place you love is probably worth it.
I kick myself whenever I think about this. I was unhappy living in our rental right from the start. By waiting longer to move, we can’t afford the prices of what comparable rentals are now going for. Instead, having controlled rent increases is working in our favor over moving somewhere new. If only we had moved after our one year lease was up!
After our wedding, we spent some of our gift money following some of my earlier advice. We changed what we could to make the space work better for us. We bought a deep freezer, because the small freezer in the refrigerator just wasn’t cutting it for us. And we also bought a soundbar for our TV, since we’re homebodies who watch too much TV.
In hindsight, I wish we would have used that money towards moving expenses instead. We could have made do with what we had.
Increase Your Income or Make Extra Money
Yes, another obvious suggestion that’s not always easy to accomplish. But if you want to move to one of the best cities or communities, anything you can do to increase your family income will help!
There are a ridiculous number of different ways you can increase your income or make extra money. Some are easier than others, and of course, the pay varies:
- Ask for a raise
- Work overtime
- Get a better paying job
- Get a second, part-time job
- Do gig jobs
- Sell unused items or have a garage sale
- Make extra money online
- Start a side hustle
- Sell your unwanted clothes
- Use cash-back or coupon apps
- Test websites
- Answer surveys
- Join a focus group or paid research study
I know, I know. Easier said than done. There are probably many other things you need (or want) to spend your money on instead of saving it.
Do some research to get a better idea of how much moving might cost you. And then figure out how much you’ll need to save to make it happen.
For example, if you need:
- $500 to hire movers
- $250 for utility deposits
- $3,000 for first and last month’s rent
Moving will cost you $3,750. If you hope to move within a year, that will mean putting about $315 a month aside.
Putting real numbers (even if they are estimates at this point) will give you a realistic goal to work towards rather than a “someday” goal that may never happen.
If you hate where you live but can’t move, these are just some of the things that you can do to make your space work better for you until you can.
Do you hate where you live? What have you tried doing to make it better? Leave a comment and let us know!
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Amanda Kay, the founder of My Life, I Guess, provides valuable career advice and support for anyone striving to make a living and, more importantly, make a life. Whether it's navigating job searches, learning new skills, overcoming unemployment, or dealing with debt, My Life, I Guess has been a go-to resource for career guidance and financial stability since 2013. Amanda's expertise and relatable approach have been featured in trusted publications such as MSN, Credit.com, Yahoo! Finance, the Ladders and Fairygodboss.