A Love Letter to All the Places I Lived Before

Interiors & Decor

bedroom kate arends decor wit & delight
Photo by Collin Hughes

My memories stitch the story of my life together in moments that I can smell, taste, and experience more than I can narrate. They appear, most clearly, in the rooms in which they unfolded, in the homes I made for myself in my first fifteen years of “adulting.”

We speak a lot to making a home on this site, and sometimes the lives that unfold here are secondary to topics like tile and sofas. The truth is, the textile on my first couch is a vivid as the breakup that happened atop those corduroy cushions. I can still remember the first time Joe walked into my creaky old apartment and asked to use my bathroom. These rooms hold the stories we keep as long as our memory serves us, so this month I thought it was high time I write a little love letter to all the homes that led to the life I’ve built today.

Note: The first few apartments I lived in were before Instagram and before Wit & Delight, and I have hardly any photos from them. Below you’ll see glimpses of my decor choices in the few photos I do have, and glimpses of the lifestyle I led, too. I hope you enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at a younger version of me.

To My First Apartment on Emerson and 32nd


Two twin mattresses, pushed together on the floor. Nightstands made up of empty plastic storage containers. The same lunch prepped each day: iceberg lettuce, canned chicken, and fat-free dressing.

Life was measured, careful, and destructive all at once. I never missed a six-mile run at dawn—rain, snow, or shine—fearing life was just a house of cards held upright by rituals and superstition. Most nights I spent alone caring for my roommate’s fat, mean cat, who couldn’t care less if I was there or not. He knocked over my water glasses to make sure I knew it, too. 

I watched Sex and the City hoping I’d find some kind of clue as to what I was supposed to be doing with my life, because it felt more confusing than I’d anticipated. I got mad that no one warned me how lost I’d feel.

I barely recognize the girl who lived here. With her calorie counting and rules and rituals and timidness and fear of failing at life. She felt entitled to the comforts and security of someone who had yet to look under her own hood, to assess what was there and what needed tending to. She humbled me and showed me people are who they show you they are, not who you hold they’ll be. 

To the Party Apartment on Lagoon and Knox


With a mattress held down to the top of my car and only the arms of a few strong friends, it took three trips to collect all my things. The only pieces of furniture I brought with were a dresser and a red vintage stool. We moved in the day the bridge collapsed; a friend (hoping to be something more) brought us a hot apple pie on an even hotter August day. 

We sat on the old wood floor on our backs, tracing cracks in the ceiling, drinking five-dollar bottles of wine in plastic cups. Countless nights we met here at this place. Extending our youth long past our “due dates” with late nights and drinking games and taxi rides across town past midnight. We hosted countless parties and after hours and “grown-up” progressive dinners that deteriorated into packed kitchens, fueled by plastic bags filled with a mixed assortment of cheap beer. 

This place wasn’t about design or decor or frivolities. It invited us to squeeze the most out of our freedom—the freedom that comes from owning only what you could fit in your Volkswagen Passat. 

We hit quarter-century marks, watched Sex and the City in sweats marked with alma maters, and daydreamed about getting houses on the same block so we could still see each other on the weekends even after the inevitable marriages and childbirths began to stretch our time together slowly apart.
This place wasn’t about design or decor or frivolities. It invited us to squeeze the most out of our freedom—the freedom that comes from owning only what you could fit in your Volkswagen Passat. 

To My Broken Down Palace on Holmes and Lake


With a ring on my left hand, we began playing grown-up. It was fanciest of places I had lived, one we could not afford. Yet I pushed with only the pressure someone desperate can muster, and squeezed you into our budget like it was the only sustenance needed to survive. No matter how fine, how shiny, or how new your finishes, the never-been-used granite countertops and the new appliances couldn’t contain what was broken in you. We can paint pretty pictures and tell pretty stories, but they’ll still read like lies if they require an audience to become true.

It was light and beautiful and new things arrived almost every day. Cups and bowls and plates, all with the promise of a new life together, often bathed and shined brightly in the sun as each day came to a close. And yet, I felt less at ease than I ever had felt before. 

No matter how fine, how shiny, or how new your finishes, the never-been-used granite countertops and the new appliances couldn’t contain what was broken in you. We can paint pretty pictures and tell pretty stories, but they’ll still read like lies if they require an audience to become true.

You, my perfect adult apartment, showed me what I spent a lifetime running from. I couldn’t wish away or bury my relationship with myself. For if you cannot treat your body as a home worth maintaining, worth loving, how can you possibly know what it feels like to be home? Really, truly “at home”?

You, my shiny new apartment, taught me things and appearances could never fill me up, the same way alcohol and work and love couldn’t bury what I’d have to confront myself. You brought out the worst in me, only so I could stop pretending there wasn’t pain to face. 

I don’t walk past your doors, even today. I even thought about leaving this address out of this collection of memories. But that wouldn’t erase you. In the disappointment and complexity you brought, there is freedom in knowing I cannot be bought. It could have been easy, to just stuff those feelings deep inside. But much like we cannot put the toothpaste back in its tube, some of us cannot go back to pretending we are someone we’re not.

To the Home That Healed on Colfax and 24th


dining room tulip table kate arends wit & delight
Photo by Collin Hughes

I walked through the musty hallway into this crooked corner apartment and knew I was home. A closet for a kitchen, an apartment made for one, it was a pinhole of light at what was my rock bottom. Bit by bit, I found my footing.

You were the one place that did not judge—when friends and family and strangers heard stories and shot glances and worried I’d lost my way.
Here, I roasted chicken late into the night, found faith I could change through a loving dialogue rather than a punishing one. I let go of my eating disorder and embraced what it felt like to be full—full of real food, real freedom, real self-love. 

Something about those plastered walls, old and cracking from the weight of countless tenants, gave me strength. I slowly opened up into a version of myself that I know today. I wasn’t afraid to share an opinion, to speak up at work, to ask for what I wanted.

I don’t think I’ve ever cried more. Though there were men and parties and plenty of people to lose myself in, my bed remained mine as I continued to prioritize my relationship with myself first.

living room decor kate arends wit & delight
Photo by Collin Hughes
Photo by Collin Hughes

Something about those plastered walls, old and cracking from the weight of countless tenants, gave me strength. I slowly opened up into a version of myself that I know today. I wasn’t afraid to share an opinion, to speak up at work, to ask for what I wanted. I was OK with being too much for some people. A firm foundation where I wasn’t at the mercy of a stranger’s approval? Who knew freedom could taste so sweet. 

A New Beginning on 2nd and 10th


modern apartment living room couch art wit & delight kate arends
Photo by Melissa Oholendt for The Everygirl

The morning we moved in, I woke late alone in our bed. Joe had gone to get bagels and returned with an engagement ring. We sped toward marriage, high on endorphins and the feeling of familiarity that floods your heart when you meet someone who loves you despite everything you’ve learned to hate about yourself.

We sped toward marriage, high on endorphins and the feeling of familiarity that floods your heart when you meet someone who loves you despite everything you’ve learned to hate about yourself.

We merged lives and beds and kitchens and schedules. We gained weight and stayed up late and smoked pot and let thoughts of saving for retirement and buying a house wait for after the high of love found its steady footing in our day-to-day rhythm. We fought about things so trivial we laugh about them now, and I try to think of this often because I’m beginning to forget those short years we were just you and me. 

modern apartment living room bertoia  chair kate arends wit & delight
Photo by Melissa Oholendt for The Everygirl
modern apartment bedroom decor kate arends wit & delight
Photo by Melissa Oholendt for The Everygirl

I don’t remember why we said yes to a brand new, shiny apartment, which was so identical to The Broken Down Palace (down to the choice of granite). I don’t think that’s surprising. Your newness wasn’t novelty.  Your sameness wasn’t nostalgia. In many ways, the choice to move in with my second husband in a place that so resembled where my first broke down reflected my hope that despite all that came before, you can always gift yourself a fresh start, a new beginning, a new chapter of a story when it comes time to turn a page. 

modern bedroom decor it's ok wall hanging kate arends wit & delight
Photo by Melissa Oholendt for The Everygirl

BY Kate Arends - February 17, 2020

17
Leave a Reply

Tiffany

I love this. What a great reflection and something I think most of us can so deeply relate to.

My favourite post! I haven’t thought about my previous homes in a long time but reading this made me remember the good times I had at those places. Especially the party home, that was fun lol,

Tiffany Stark

Aghhh I adore this. I too can list a handful of Minneapolis apartments that I ‘grew up’ in- and this makes me so nostalgic for them. I was also friends with Collin Hughes in middle / high school and seeing his name made me even more nostalgic!

This is so beautiful and makes me think about each of the places I’ve lived before. A great love story!

wow wow wow i loooove this. i feel like i missed out on a lot of these since i didn’t go to “real college” or live in an apartment or have single fun. i love reading about it though. more like this!

also this line – For if you cannot treat your body as a home worth maintaining, worth loving, how can you possibly know what it feels like to be home? Really, truly “at home”? – is absolutely perfect.

emily

This is one of my favorite pieces you’ve ever done, Kate! Thank you so much for your vulnerability. I am in one of the ‘phases’ you describe, and it’s so comforting to wrap your words around myself and know that I’m not alone in this season of life.

Amanda

One of your best posts… brava!

Alex

This was a beautifully written post!

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Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.

Hi, I'm Kate. Welcome to my happy place.

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