5 Secrets to Living in a Terrible Apartment

It’s no secret to most people that know me, but I live in what I lovingly call a hellhole. I’m lucky enough to not have to fork over my entire paycheck each month, but the discounted living situation means there are some cut corners. For example, we don’t pay the heating bill, but since our landlord controls it, we practically freeze to death in the subzero Minnesota winters. And the old wiring means that running more than one high-voltage appliance at a time causes our entire apartment to lose power. It’s lots of fun. It builds character. I think.

After living in this disaster of an apartment now for a year and a half, I’ve discovered some secrets to making it a touch less awful.

1. Know where your breaker box is.

One of the first phone calls I made to my landlord was “HELP! MY POWER WENT OUT WHEN I WAS MAKING MY SOY BURGERS!” This, it quickly became apparent, would be a continuous problem in our old building. I’m not quite sure why cooking anything for more than two minutes shuts off all power, but it is something I always prepare for whenever I hit COOK. I grab my cellphone, put on my flip flops, and wait. If the lights go off, I turn on the iPhone flashlight, curse a bit about living in a low-budget horror film, and walk down the hall to flip the switches. Thankfully, the breaker box is on my floor, but I’m a little more familiar with the electrical room than I’d like to be. I even had to reset the power in the laundry room once. You’ll be much happier if you know where to go when the old wiring in your miserable apartment picks on you for eating too many Morning Star burgers.

2. Learn to use natural ingredients to unclog your drains.

The pipes in this apartment are old. I’m fairly certain they have never been replaced. And it is usually once a month I find myself standing in the shower (under a fine mist some call “extremely poor water pressure”) ankle-deep in soapy water. Which is always surprising, because the tiny gutter stream from my shower head could never fill the tub that quickly. For a while I bought Drain-O and called my landlord every time it happened. Now I’ve discovered the wonderful secret of vinegar and baking soda, from the lovely Crunchy Betty. First, pour a pot of boiling water down the drain, to begin to dislodge any gunk. Then dump a 1/2 cup of baking soda down that bad boy. Let it sit a bit. Follow up with mix of 1 cup vinegar and 1 cup hot hot water. Let it sit for a bit more (5-10 minutes). Pour another pot of boiling water down that drain, and voila! Clear drain with no trip to Target.

3. Invest in equipment to help regulate temperatures.

Old apartments are notoriously terrible at maintaining temperatures. In the winter, those darling original windows (which gave it so much character!) will leak in cold air like body odor at the crowded state fair. If you’re lucky enough to control your own temperature, consider taking the super nerdy route and sealing your windows with plastic come cold weather. Your friends may laugh at you, but at least you’ll stay warm and have a cheaper heating bill. If you can’t control your thermostat, it might be time to break down and get a space heater. Sure, you’ll have a pretty high electric bill, but at least it doesn’t feel like you’re crawling out of your grave when you wake up in the morning. I invested in a smart space heater with a shut-off timer, so it runs for a few hours before turning off once I’m asleep.

There is likely no such thing as AC in your old apartment, and if you’re trying to stay cheap, box fans are the best investment. I found mine for around $10-$15 at Target. If you just can’t stand the heat, window air conditioning units are worth exploring. Keep in mind, like a space heater, this bad boy sucks up energy. Consider getting one with a timer.

4. Sign up to track you deliveries.

Maybe you’re luckier than I am, and this secret doesn’t apply to you. But the doorbell for our apartment has never worked (something we probably should have looked into before signing the lease). Since moving in, my Amazon Prime account has become all-but-useless. Ordering things online is now a hassle, from miscommunication via door tags to driving twenty minutes to pick up packages they couldn’t leave at the door to having packages stolen—the doorbell fiasco is a mess. But over the course of these mishaps I’ve discovered that both FedEx and UPS offer free delivery notifications if something is coming your way. With UPS My Choice and FedEx personal tracking you can receive text messages or emails when packages are headed to you (for free!). You can also put your account on vacation holds, and set up instructions for where drivers should leave a package. It might not make up for the $79 that Amazon Prime costs, but at least it’ll make deliveries a little less stressful.

5. Roll with the punches.

It’s unavoidable—something absolutely ludicrous will happen to you in your terrible apartment. You’ll find five millipedes on your bathroom floor one morning, accidentally break your single pane glass window while trying to kill a box elder bug, discover the joys of having to change ceiling fan lights for the first time at night. The power will go out for no reason, maybe they’ll even shut off your water. Whatever happens, keep in mind that it isn’t the end of the world. It may feel like it, as your stare at the shards of glass now spread out across your pillows and comforter, but it’s not. Ridiculous things will happen, and they are not a reflection of you, or your day, or your choices, or your lifestyle. They just happen sometimes. So grab your keys, and head out for a walk. The millipedes will probably crawl back into the drain by the time you get back.



  1. Paycheck? 😉

    2. Love this trick! Also works on garbage disposals (don’t ask how I know that…).

    3. What’s a little 50 degree temperature swing? Puts hair on your chest… wait…

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