On the 28th of July 2003 I started on a vital personal Mission. The objective was simple; to find myself a home of my very own. After visiting 19 different apartments, I ended up choosing the first one that I’d seen and on the 12th of August 2003 I signed the promise contract and left a deposit for the apartment that was to be mine. On the 5th of April 2004, on my 22nd birthday, I finally received the keys to my very first apartment.
So what’s it like?
This question has been swung at me with a frequency of at least once a day. I find it difficult to answer, as the journey has barely begun and this life’s project is still far from completion. What I can do, is describe the experience thus far:
Signing the paperwork is the easy part. Although your hand feels heavy and your signature strange to your eye… after observing your name on important documents, you’re left with mixed feelings. On one side you feel a huge weight of responsibility loaded on your shoulders, you realise that you are there forth responsible for the monthly down payments of the apartment for the next forty years of your life. On the other side, you’re left with immense relief as you realise that from now on, everything that happens between those walls are under your control and regulation.
The ink on those documents has barely dried when the havoc begins…
Bank managers, real state dealers and salespeople for some reason, live under the impression that you know their work as well as they do. They forget to inform you of those tiny details that normally come right out your pocket. The minority of these details shouldn’t be values worth arguing about but after you add all the euros you’ve spent here and there, you realise that it entails a considerable amount not initially calculated into your budget. For those of you who plan to begin on such an adventure, I advise you to read all the contracts, double check the paperwork and most importantly ask questions… don’t stop asking question until you feel that you know exactly what’s going one… even if it means the person explaining goes red from repeating himself.
Setting aside the dreadful paperwork, after receiving the keys to my new home, drawing up a list of necessities was of the utmost importance. You’ll be shocked when you realise how much a house needs to become home worthy! Buy a pack of multivitamins and comfortable shoes… if you’re going to be looking for price bargains, be prepared to wear down the soles of your shoes… not to mention invest precious time! It took me months and going in and out of approximately 15 different appliance stores before I found… “the one”… the fridge and the washing machine that is destined to spend a good decade or so in my life! (Once again I ended buying in the first store I’d gone into but I’d like to add that at least I didn’t feel guilty that I hadn’t looked over all of my options.)
Looking at the appliances in the shop is one thing… getting them into your apartment is another! Imagine two construction workers and three delivery boys trying to keep a hysterical little girl in uniform from crying. This is the scenario you can expect when the carpenter decides to fit in a cupboard before the plumber finishes his job. The lack of a tap in a strategic spot means that you cannot connect your new Candy washing machine. The delivery boys offered to open a nice big, uneven hole in your never before used cupboards whilst the two construction workers argue vehemently that it’s not their responsibility and that thee new owner (that’s me) would have to do the plumbing job herself. The good news is that the female threat of waterworks makes these tough guys soften to a point where all I had to give up was a lunch hour to get the job done. Of course I found it amusing that it took four cute construction workers to drill a teeny tiny little hole. But hey! The view of the denim covered, cute rear ends, was the only perk of the sod story.
Have you ever imagined yourself entering the supermarket with an empty trolley and walking out with it fully loaded? Although I was a qualified supermarket shopper, I don’t believe that my trips to the Pick ´n Pay or Pingo Doce could ever prepare me for the experience of shopping for my apartment for the very first time. I chose the colour of my broom, mop and bucket. I got to smell all the fabric softeners before choosing the one I liked best. No longer did I buy the brands that my grandmother or aunts favoured… three cheers for freedom of choice! When I arrived in Madeira I tried explaining to the locals that frustration for an immigrant is walking into a supermarket and not knowing the brand of toothpaste to buy… I smiled as I happily put an Aquafresh tube into my trolley. Even though you feel like choking after looking at the final amount on the cash register, you find yourself going home happy that you’d just bought your houses new “cosmetics”.
Cleaning a new apartment is a backbreaking task. I thanked my lucky stars that I bought a one bed roomed apartment and swore that the only way I’d move out of there was if the next place was a mansion… and that my significant other took care of half the responsibility (calculating of course that I’ll only move into a mansion if I acquire a bigger family or win the lottery… PS. Winning the lottery is not in my astral map therefore this goes out as a warning for Mr. Future Prince Charming who wants a family!) Dust accumulates EVERYWHERE! The walls and floors might look clean but give them the cotton bud test and you’ll find that before your eyes is a film of dirt plastered on the walls.
Wash, wipe, scrub, dust and vacuum… a one bed roomed apartment seems pretty big once you realise it takes half the day to clean and organize a kitchen! He, who runs for pleasure, does not tire. And once you’re done and you’re sitting in the middle of the clean room that will hold your future laughs and tears, you’re left with a huge sense of accomplishment! The feeling is so big that you often wonder if you’re dreaming and pray that if you are, that you don’t wake up! I realise that months from now, the weekend cleaning ritual might become a drag. But for now, I love cleaning in my old t-shirt, with the music loudly in the background and singing to the end of my broomstick!
I can’t help grinning at the surprise on the face of the hardware store’s salesperson when I tell him all the equipment I’ll need. It’s probably not often that a short girl dressed in a pink sweater and denim pants asks you for tools with precise requirements. The man explained himself in easy terms in slow motion, probably thinking that a woman wouldn’t understand everything he was saying. I humoured him by nodding my head and thanked goodness that I’d learnt a thing or two about tools and D.I.Y from dads garage. The only time that frustration made me wish that I’d been born a man is after I’d put in a screw as tight as I could, my uncle came and give it another two full turns. Helplessness is what a woman feels when she can’t put together the cupboard she bought and when she depends on the man to drill the holes necessary to place the curtain rails. I will however add, that I changed all the locks and appliance plugs myself! Try getting a Barbie doll to do that!
When I met my neighbours for the first time, I was asked if my mother was at home. It wasn’t the first time that I was mistaken for sixteen year old but I was amused at the expression on their faces when I explained that I was neither newly wed nor planning to move in with anybody. Sometimes when I look at my face in the mirror, the reflection I see is filled with insecurities; luckily in the same face I can find courage and determination. I believe that the most valuable things you can have in life are those you’ve fought for and this is the knowledge that drives me.
No man is an island; I don’t know what I would’ve done without my family and friend’s help and support. However you’d be surprised at the things that you’re capable of doing on your own… an old sheet and a little bit of pulling power is all you need to get three heavy couches from one room to another without scratching the floor. It might seem like a small achievement but it was enough to take my spirits to cloud nine. How do I feel? Exhausted but happy. This is the kind of work is that makes life worth living. I look forward on taking my first shower, eating my first home cooked meal and sleeping my first night at my apartment. I plan to savour every new experience. To some people all this strain is the stress attributed to buying a new house, to me, all of this is the work required to turn an apartment into a home.