Sitting around last night with my husband in our friends’ living room and listening to them talk about the kind of apartment they might want to move to, reminded me about why we chose the place we did when we moved to LA. I’m telling you this because I think our checklist for our apartment was a little different than most people’s and the result of that has been life changing for us.
What was the number one thing we were looking for in our new apartment?
No, it wasn’t famous neighbors or living by the beach like you might think (though we did get lucky and get both of those anyways). It was community. You see, at our last apartment, building community was actually our official job (yes, that’s a thing). So while we did have enough community to make us recognize the value of it, there were a lot of aspects lacking from it that eventually led to our transformation into 85 year old shut-ins. Only we were the kind of 85 year old shut ins who didn’t sit around collecting cat feces or filling out mail in surveys, or whatever it is that normal 85 year old shuts ins do, but we instead filled our time with working 90 hours a week. I know, it was ridiculous. What’s the good of spending all your time sitting around your apartment if you don’t memorize every word to every episode of I Love Lucy?!
So when it came time to choose a place to live in California, our search was immediately narrowed down to an area where we would have enticing reasons to leave the house and people all around us to leave the house with. We chose the crazy world of Venice Beach. Venice is the kind of place that has led many of our Orange Country friends to shudder as they ask us if we actually moved to Venice on purpose or if it was just some sort of crazy mix up at the property management office like you would see happen on a TGIF show or something.
Yes, we moved to Venice Beach on purpose.
It’s where majority of our friends live (and yes, they’re normal and they chose Venice on purpose as well). Venice is the kind of place where you actually see your friends out and about because people walk and ride their bikes everywhere. It’s also the kind of place where all your friends from other parts of town will willingly come to visit you on a beautiful Saturday afternoon for a game of volleyball on the beach, to finish it off with a BBQ in your front yard. Most of all, it’s the kind of place where there are boundless amounts of people around our own age with whom we longed to share life with.
I know, I know, it also has drugged out young girls who ask for your underwear on occasion (I do have a soul so I gave her an extra pair), as well as homeless people who use your outdoor shower when you’re asleep or hide their stolen bike collection behind the bushes in your back yard, and then there’s the skateboarders who knock you down while they fly past you yelling, “I don’t stop for tourists!”. Plus, I know some people just wouldn’t be cool with their neighbors sole source of income to be riding around on roller blades while playing an electric guitar and wearing a turban. But all of that is just the charm of Venice and we take the good with the bad. Sure, I’m worried about who’s urine I’m sitting in when I’m chilling on the grass or a bench, or even leaning on the rail at the beach skate park, but I’m wondering the same thing when I’m in those child herpes pits in Burger King playgrounds or swimming in public (cess) pools in fancy neighborhoods!
The point is, we traded in our 2 bedroom/2 bath apartment with a washer/dryer inside our place, a dishwasher, easy parking, 3 pools and 3 hot tubs, and a fitness center… that all cost only a third of what we’re paying now, for a 1 bed/1 bath place with none of those things and the added bonus of drunken passerbyers peeing on our bushes every Saturday night.
But we in no way regret it for a second. Why? Not just because of all the cool stuff I find on walks (see photos below of all the things I’ve found on walks).
But the real reason I never regret my decision is because all the fancy apartments, personal space, and amenities in the world aren’t worth trading in for the incredibly community we get in our current building, where there are neighbors who are forced to get to know one another because of our shared everything, and people who support one another like family because we’re in such close proximity to one another that we can’t help but be involved in each other’s lives.
The trade was beyond worth it.
When our nose is to the grindstone and we’re working at 9pm at night, but our neighbor interrupts us to bring us leftover matzah dessert from his seder dinner and then his roommate gets home from her date so she stops by to fill us all in on it and we end up laughing until midnight instead of working like we would’ve otherwise done, we know it was worth trading in EVEN OUR HOT TUB in Phoenix for this… and that’s saying a lot! And when it’s annoying that we have to ask our neighbors to help us move cars around in order to have a space for a visiting friend to park, we remember how awesome it is that because we interrupted our neighbor, they will most likely contribute a dish to our potluck dinner and end up hanging out with us late into the night around our fire pit. During which time we may find out that she’s having surgery next week and will need some help around the house or she’ll find out that our family is coming to town next week and we may need to borrow some pillows… or Xanax.
What I’m trying to say is that I think we made the right decision and that so many things that felt like sacrifices initially are the same things that have actually turned into blessings. I’m not kidding when I say that one of the major reasons we’ve been able to stay in LA is because of our neighbors. It’s been their support, as well as their hard work to help us find clients out here, that has given us the hope and the ability to stay in this place we love.
Relationships are the choice that wins.
I know everyone has different priorities and trade offs they’re willing to make, which is important because everyone’s definition of an extraordinary life is different and requires different things. However, there is still a principle here that is universal that I want to remind us all of. Just because we’re all used to things being a certain way, having a certain level of ease or comfort, doesn’t mean it’s right or that we’re not insulating ourselves with so much protection that we’re actually preventing ourselves from experiencing something truly beautiful and wonderful rather than just comfortable. Choosing comfort over relationships is a waste of life that will always leave us wanting.
The following are pictures of the things we gave up and sacrifices we made to live here….
(This is a picture of our shredded, detestable, laminate tile in Scottie’s office, otherwise known as our kitchen, otherwise known as our dining room. You can see our full dining room table stacked neatly in the corner).
(This is a picture of our giant bed that I have to jump to get into. When we lived in an apartment that was twice the size of our place now, it was just a regular bed. But after the move every square inch had to become an uber space saver. Now it’s our bed, our guest bed (extra mattress stacked on top of our mattress), AND our storage space (via IKEA bookshelves below) all in one).
The following are pictures of the reasons we gave things up and made the sacrifices we did to live here…
(This is a picture of all our neighbors having dinner in the Sukah we built together in our driveway for the Jewish Holiday of Sukkot).
(And this is a picture of us hanging out in our front yard on the pavers that we purchased and laid with the money we achieved through some very fun and unorthodox methods that our property management was not a fan of and shall therefore go unnamed).
(The photo on the left is our neighbor trying to break into her own apartment with the assistance of an untrustworthy ladder and several men who have had too much to drink, after locking the keys inside during Scottie’s birthday party. The photo on the right is my husband and our neighbor who together built a Jewish Christmas tree for our front yard during the holiday season).
(Spontaneous Fantasy Football draft party in our living room).
(This is just after we cleaned out our shared garage for a reality show episode being filmed about our neighbor).
(This is a picture of what happens on the weekends when our friends from all over LA come to visit us in Venice).
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The first choice between the ordinary and the extraordinary (i.e. between freedom and security) came for us before we were even engaged. I have already mentioned how one of my greatest fears was to end up with a passive man.Â It seems to me that passivity in men rears it’s ugly head the most when they are exhausted; and nothing exhausts an American man more than a tiresome job.Â If a man’s using all his energy to maintain a career, he has very little left for his family, or anything else in the rest of his life.Â The career IS his life…. whether he likes it or not.
When I met Scottie, he was working about 75- 80 hours a week doing very difficult, physical labor.Â When your boyfriend falls asleep in the middle of 1 out of every 3 dates… you have to wonder how awake he’d be throughout a marriage.Â I knew I wanted a husband who would try to meet my emotional and intellectual needs as much as he tried to meet my financial needs.Â If one of those areas is unbalanced, you can’t expect the others to thrive.Â So I agreed to marry Scottie, provided that he quit his job because I was getting married so I could have a HUSBAND, not a nice house.Â Scottie was happy to finally have something push him to quit since he didn’t like the monotony he saw in his future any more than I did, so he did it and we found ourselves a few months out from our wedding hoping that we’d be able to figure out how to make the free coffee I got from my part time job at Starbucks, in the cardboard box house we were going to have to live in.
Well guess what, we survived being poor.Â I know, money is a huge cause of conflict between couples, but I really do think it’s a different story when make the CHOICE to be poor.Â Â We had our stress from it, and we still believe in being wise with money so we’re definitely not preaching recklessness as the moral to this story.Â The point is that we chose freedom and relationships over money and we continued to make that choice time and time again over the next few years as we struggled to make ends meet… but had lots of time to have fun together in the process.Â Riding your bikes through the sprinklers at midnight is WAY better than a date at the fanciest restaurant that has to be over by 7pm so you can go to bed early and get up for the job you hate the next day.Â We’d discovered the beauty of choosing freedom over security (which is what living an extraordinary life means for us)… and we were never going back.
So we had survived our first choice between ordinary and extraordinary… and in a move that has been repeated many times since, we chose extraordinary.
(Thanks to Terence Young for drawing this as a visual depiction for this post. My favorite part is actually what he said about why he drew this. He said, “The thing that entered my head as I read your post is that you’ve found a relationship that sets you two apart from the rest of the world, in some way youâ€™re on your own little planet that youâ€™ve created.” So sweet isn’t it?!Â I loved this picture even more after reading that!)
Unfortunately you don’t get to ride off one good decision for the rest of your life… you have to make new decisions every day.Â We still battle the pull of comfort and security on a regular basis (just so you know we live in a small apartment in a low income neighborhood… and almost everyday I think about how much I want a house).Â We still battle all our fears (the first few days in Mexico we hid in our safe condo and didn’t meet anyone or experience much of anything), and we still cringe when we know we’re about to take a risk no matter how small it is.
The bottom line is that we’re still weak, cowardly, flawed human beings who are seeking to be extraordinary.