While I was taking time off work to recuperate from my injury, I got so bored that I dared to sort through my cache of important papers. I’m only partially organized in that everything was dumped in one small box, from my secondary school transcript to a jumble of tax papers from the last decade.
Canadians are only required to keep income tax records from the last six years, so it was time to get rid of some retro government documents.
I was shocked by how little money I made in my mid-20s. In 2008, my employment income was just under $13,500. This was the same year I took a three-week trip to Europe. I remember being told by my mother, “You are so lucky you have the money to travel! I can’t afford to travel!”
“Yes, Mom… I am so lucky I don’t have a mortgage to pay for! Imagine having your own car rather than relying on public transportation, eww.”
This was the last year I lived in Victoria where I shared a two-bedroom place with a roommate. I don’t remember exactly how much I paid in rent, but it was around $400/month.
I made significantly more in 2009, nearly double what I made the year before, but I decided to ditch the idea of living with roommates. In Canada’s most expensive city, Vancouver.
This meant I had to find living quarters for under $800 a month: the options in this price range were appalling. I viewed about 6 or 7 places, all basement suites but one. Only two places were under $750, one was all the way south of Vancouver, practically in Richmond. The family that owned this house was hoping to find someone who would occupy just two rooms of their lovely home. The “suite” was to be accessed through a glass sliding door around the back of the house. There were a mini fridge and a table with a hot plate in the washroom, next to the shower and toilet. The lucky tenant was expected to brush their teeth/wash dishes in a laundry tub!
So, when I found a place for just $700 in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood (within sight of Downtown), I took it.
Oh, this place set the bar for future living spaces so, so low. Oh, the windows even had bars. The landlord threw plywood directly over concrete and stapled cheap carpet to the boards. The plywood boards had warped from the moisture so I could feel them wobble and slap the concrete when walking over the stained carpet. There were exposed pipes in the kitchen which was one with the living room. Spray foam insulation was used to fill in the cracks between the wall and pipe. Nothing was used to conceal these earwax-coloured blobs.
I wasn’t too embarrassed to have people over as I had the prestige of living solo at 24 in a city like Vancouver. I was doing my best.
I dabbled in home renovation when I trimmed the expanding foam so that the pipes wouldn’t distract from the slanting kitchen floor. If I dropped a grape, it would roll to the back of the room. On the upside, this place did not have vermin. Or black mold (yet!).
Three more photos to show what $700/month would get you in Vancouver in 2009.
Now I live in a basic one-bedroom with my boyfriend Yann and pay half that in rent. I don’t personally own a car, although I do pitch in for gas because I often fill the passenger seat of Yann’s car. Not having children is also very budget-friendly.
My low standard of living spaces is what affords the illusion of wealth, such as international travel. It’s like when Marge Simpson found that Chanel suit at the Odgenville outlet mall and got invited to join the Springfield Country Club. Or to use a more relevant example, my suspected affluence is as deceptive as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s fancy coat.
Before cohabitation, I tried to raise my standard of living and found it to be underwhelming. Living in a comely place with pretty furniture just didn’t give me as much joy as the adventures that could be afforded by living cheaply.
What about my pre-$13,500-a-year days? I had to live on a tight budget and only make trips to places like… Winnipeg or San Francisco. My first year of not living at home were spent eating rice and potatoes off old camping dishes and sleeping on a futon. At the time, not having to live with my parents was rewarding enough.
During these years I was in a miserable loop of working, eating, and sleeping. I was resentful towards those who received government assistance or had parents who financially supported them. If I could miserably survive off minimum wage, so should everybody!
Now? I believe that if more people enjoyed their lives, the world would be a kinder place. Hideously rich people are what’s wrong with the world, not those who may spend a part of their government assistance to treat themselves every now and then.
I may be pretentious, but I also don’t think everybody should follow my lead and force themselves to live in a place like my 2009 bargain-basement suite. I think we all need to examine what brings us joy. For some adults, it’s coming home to a place full of toys and collectibles still in their packaging. For others, parenthood is happiness. And some adults do get along fantastically with their parents who are happy to share their home with their grown children.
I don’t have deep pockets figuratively, or even literally as the jeans I am currently wearing have fake pockets, but I’m happy with the choices I’ve made. Except for these fucking jeans.