What to look for in living space

For most people in this world, your living space is likely to be by far your biggest expense, in both the short and the long term. Virtually everything else that you'd need in life is vastly cheaper; The second-most expensive thing that most people have is their car, and cars cost much less than houses, or even apartments. Besides, if you really can't afford a car, you can make do just fine with public transportation as long as you live in an urban area, but it's hard to make do without a place to live no matter where you are. Everything else is relatively cheap: Home appliances also can be expensive, but not as much, and food, while being a constant expense, is cheap as long as you're employed.

So it makes sense to plan out your biggest expense and investment. You don't want to jump into it without making a list of everything that you need and want in your little corner of the world, whether it's a house, a condo, or a basement apartment. I myself must do this, and so I decided to place a list of my musings online, for other people who might be looking for their first personal living space.



One of the most fundamental aspects of any personal space is how big it is. This dramatically affects how well you can live in it, and also how expensive it is. Obviously, at a minimum, you need a place you can lie down to sleep. A separate place to eat is also preferable, although you can eat on your bed. Depending on what you do in your spare time, you'll probably need additional space for things like a desk and a chair, so you can sit and read, write, or operate a computer. Beyond that, you'll also need extra space to store all your things; The amount of space that you need relates rather directly to how much stuff you have.


You may have heard the old saying that the three most important things to look for when you're looking for a home are location, location, and location. You might not agree, but there's no doubt that the area in which your living space is located should play a significant role in your decision. First of all, it should be a clean neighborhood, without urban decay like crime and violence. Obviously, this is hard to discern if you haven't lived in the area for a while, but you can often tell just by looking at the types of buildings and people in the area what sort of neighborhood it is. Also, you should choose a place that's close to any places that you might have to visit on a regular basis so you don't have to go too far to run errands. If you don't have a car, check to make sure that public transportation runs nearby. And if you have a job, hopefully the place where you live won't be too far from the place where you work. A basic list of locations which should be close to where you live might include:

- Supermarket
- Drugstore
- Bank
- Hospital
- Gas station
- Car repair shop
- Public transit stop (bus, train, etc.)

The topic of location leads to the next consideration...


The first consideration in how secure a living space is where it is located. Again, this is difficult to know unless you are familiar with the area, but it's in your best interests to find out, perhaps by asking some of the local residents or even the local police force. (The police are there to serve and protect, right? It's not a crime to ask.)

The Internet is, of course, transforming the ways in which people get many types of information. For example, you can use a website like www.crimereports.com to see a map of reported crimes within a specific area for the past several days. This will give you a picture of where higher-crime areas are, assuming that the local police force reports crime data to the website. I suspect that in the future, the Internet will become an even more useful tool for researching the nature of residential areas.

Even the quietest neighbourhoods are vulnerable to break-ins, however. In fact, often they are even more so, because quiet neighbourhoods tend to be inhabited by richer people, which makes them a more tempting target for burglars than slums, which are inhabited by poorer people and therefore not as likely to have much worth stealing. So make sure that your personal living space has a good lock (a dead bolt, not just a simple lock in the doorknob). Most good apartment complexes have a security system in place, such as security cameras, and preferably human guards who patrol the area. If your living space is a private house, think of getting it its own security system.


As already mentioned, your living space is likely to be the most expensive thing in your life, so it makes sense to take the price into serious consideration before you put any money down. While conventional wisdom states that no more than 25% of your income should go toward your living space, this is a ridiculously unrealistic figure for most people who are just starting to carve out their lives; A person working at minimum wage makes about $1,000 a month, and you'll have a very hard time finding any kind of living space for $250 a month. Bottom-of-the-barrel apartments tend to be about $500 a month, and it just goes up from there. A more realistic figure, unless you have a good-paying job or find an extraordinarily cheap place to live is to expect your living space to eat up about 80% of your income. If that figure seems high... Well, it is. That's why it's hard to live in this world. Indeed, many people spend more than 100% of their income on rent, meaning they spend more money on their housing than they actually make from their work. This is an ugly situation, usually entered into out of necessity, not preference.

Another huge problem is that most landlords will expect to check your credit history and see proof of income (usually in the form of pay stubs from an employer) before they rent out space to you. Even if you have a good credit history, providing proof of income is not possible for people who are just entering the real world (or students, who usually aren't making any money by studying); If you get lucky, you may be able to convince the landlord that although you're not currently making any money, you have enough stored up to pay your rent until you actually get a job. If you have a good credit history, this may be enough for them.

Also find out how fixed the price is; That is, whether it includes all expenses, or if additional expenses (usually utilities like electricity, water, etc.) are extra. Even if utilities are included, know that many places will charge you for electricity anyway if you use an unusual amount of it, which is usually caused by using high-energy appliances, especially air conditioners and laundry machines (washers or dryers). Telephone and TV cable charges are never included with the rent since those charges go directly to the utility companies (the phone company and the cable company).

If you have a car, you'll want a place to park it, and most apartment buildings do offer parking, but it's typically about $50 extra per month. If you're checking the rental ads, you should be aware that it's common practice among renters to place an ad with a much lower price advertised than they actually have on any of their apartments, then claim that none of those apartments are "available" when you ask about them. (A better way of putting it would be, "they don't exist".) Expect to pay more than the advertised price on virtually any place you call, so don't take the advertised price too seriously; Instead, make a point of actually going out to see any place you're thinking of renting and getting a solid price on it directly from the renter.

What they want from you

You have your own list of things you need from your living space. Similarly, the people who you buy or rent it from will have their own list of what they need (or want) from you. Especially if you're renting an apartment, you can expect some rather stringent requirements from your prospective landlord or landlady. As mentioned, most of them will require a credit check, proof of income, and possibly a rental history with references from previous places that you rented.

Your credit history is a whole subject unto itself; If you have bad credit, improving your credit rating is outside the scope of this page, although most people who know what they're talking about will insist that the only real way to improve your credit rating is through a slow process of making payments on time. Proof of income is easy if you have a job; However, many landlords will actually reject you if your income is too low. Many of them expect you to make four times as much money as the prospective rent will be, and if you don't make that much, they'll refuse to rent out the apartment to you. This is bad enough for low-income people, but it becomes even harder for no-income people (students, those in between jobs, or those who for some other reason are not currently employed). If you don't have a regular job that gives out pay stubs, count on having a very hard time finding any place to live, no matter how much money you have. At the very least, they'll expect you to expose your banking details, showing a current statement of your bank account balance and payment history. Most renters will also want to see your rental history, which shows where you've lived previously and under what landlords, so they can call those landlords and ask them how reliable you are in making payments.

Many people will also expect a security deposit from you, which could be as gentle as simply paying one month's rent ahead of time, or possibly several months. In addition, in many apartments, they will expect you to purchase your own insurance policy (known as a renter's policy) from a separate insurance company, which is basically for fire and other such disasters. Mercifully, these insurance policies are usually relatively cheap: Typically a one-year renter's policy is actually much less than one month's rent.

Number of bedrooms and bathrooms

If you live alone, you'll only need one of each. If there are more people living in the same space, you may want separate bedrooms, and possibly separate bathrooms as well.

Windows and Doors

Ideally, you should have a living space with a window. Perhaps even more than one window. Even better are windows that let in sunlight instead of being blocked by other structures.

Artificial Lighting

Sunlight is great, but eventually it gets dark, and if you don't go right to sleep when this happens, you'll probably want some way to create light. This can be done with electrical lighting (probably the easiest way), so make sure that there are enough light fixtures to cast sufficient light in any places where you might want to create it. If you prefer to use candles, make sure that there are enough candle holders.

Separate entrance

Ideally, your living space should have its own entrance from the outside, so you don't have to pass through spaces which are inhabited by other people. This is not the case in many rented-out spaces that are actually in someone's house; They typically are a bedroom or a basement in a normal suburban house where you must pass through the hallways where you might come into contact with the others who live in the house. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but most people prefer for their space to have its own entrance.


If you have a car, you need a place to put it. Otherwise, it tends to get towed away. If you live in a house, your garage should have room for as many cars as you intend to have and park. If you live in an apartment, you should have your own designated parking space.


Most people will need to receive mail at one time or another. A mailbox section where people can get their mail delivered is therefore preferable.

Garbage disposal

Everybody generates some amount of garbage, which creates a need for a system to manage it. If you live in a house, obviously you'll want the service of a regular garbage pickup; In most cases you'll have to pay the local city government for this service. If you live in an apartment, make sure there's a garbage disposal area that's publicly accessible; Most apartment buildings have a garbage chute where tenants can just toss the garbage in.



This is probably the most fundamental living appliance for most people: Everybody needs to eat, and most people would like to store some food where they live. Since food tends to spoil quickly, you need some way to preserve it, and a fridge is the standard way of doing this. However, you can actually live quite well without a fridge by simply buying small amounts of food at a time, so you can eat it all before it goes bad.


Almost everybody wants to clean their clothes occasionally, and a washer and dryer is certainly useful. However, they are expensive, and besides the initial cost of buying the appliances themselves, the additional costs of the water, detergent, and electricity needed to run them can be expensive if you're on a tight budget. If you can't justify the cost, that's what public laundromats are for. Many apartment buildings also offer laundry service to the tenants, in which you can simply leave your laundry somewhere and have it picked up, cleaned, and dropped off. Sometimes there are on-site washers and dryers that you can use yourself, although often they are coin-operated.

Vacuum cleaner

The most expensive cleaning tool you're likely to have for your living space. Mercifully, vacuums aren't that expensive, and you can usually find them for fairly cheap prices at yard sales and the like.

Cooking appliances (Stove, oven, microwave, toaster)

Helpful if you enjoy prepared home-made food that needs to be heated. These can also be unnecessary if you simply eat a lot of raw food, however, which is healthier for you anyway.

Heater and Air Conditioner

A necessity for some locations; In other places, you can do without these. If a central air system isn't built in, you can get small portable heaters which work fine but use a lot of electricity. You can also get portable air conditioning units, which also use a lot of electricity and need to be mounted in a window (since they don't actually create cold, but simply separate cold from hot).

Air cleaner

Some places tend to have dusty or musty air. You can get small portable air cleaner units with HEPA filters, which do a good job of cleaning contaminants from the air. They use very little electricity and require no maintenance other than changing the filter occasionally.

Sufficiently large hot-water tank

The water utility company delivers only cold water. Thus, for people who desire hot water, it is necessary to heat the water locally. This is done using a hot-water tank, which is usually heated using either electricity or natural gas.

As a universal rule, all hot-water tanks in the world are too small to take showers with. The math behind this phenomenon is simple: Suppose a showerhead passes water at a rate of 5 gpm (gallons per minute, a standard rating for showerheads in the U.S.), which is a reasonable rate for a basic showerhead. Simple math then tells you that since a typical shower may last up to 60 minutes, a hot-water tank should be 300 gallons so that a person can take a shower without running out of hot water and having to finish the shower using cold water. Yet typical hot-water tanks in the U.S. are about 30 gallons. In other words, the typical tank needs to be literally 10 times larger to be an appropriate size.

People justify these tiny tanks in several ways. First of all, Federal law in the U.S. now restricts commercially-sold showerheads to a maximum of 2.5 gpm to conserve water. Most people also maintain the water in their hot-water tanks at a temperature that is higher than would be comfortable for a shower. This way, they can mix the hot-water flow with some cold water for a warm-water shower, meaning that not all the water is drawn from the hot-water tank. (I don't know why they do this, as this is a dangerous way to extend the longevity of the hot water; it creates the risk of burning yourself with the too-hot water, when it would be safer to simply keep the water at a comfortable temperature and just use a larger tank.) Taking these factors into account, assuming a 2.5 gpm showerhead and assuming that perhaps half of the water flow for a shower is taken from the hot-water tank, this produces a net flow of 1.25 gpm from the hot-water tank, which for a 30-gallon tank allows a person to shower for 24 minutes. That's enough time if you're taking a quick rinse-off, but for people who actually care about being clean and want to have a good soak in the shower, such tiny tanks will always run dry on you before your business is finished. For any prospective residence you end up examining, then, expect to complain that the hot-water tank is too small simply as a matter of course.



In this day and age, it's difficult to imagine people living without electricity. We depend on it for so many things that it would be hard to list all of them. At a minimum, you're likely to want electric lighting so you can see inside when it's dark. You should also make sure there are some elctrical outlets so you can operate whatever electrical devices you want to use, such as a television, a computer, a sound system, a clock radio, etc. If you use electrical devices a lot, make sure there are plenty of outlets around the living space; They have a notorious habit of ending up behind furniture.


You can live without a phone, so this is kind of a luxury. However, you may need it for your job, and in fact many employers are reluctant to hire people who don't have a phone number. You may want to get a voice mail box, which is usually cheaper than a dedicated phone line. Or, you could get a cellular phone, which (believe it or not) is often cheaper nowadays than a regular phone line as long as you don't use it much.


It's difficult to live without running water. You need it to wash yourself, and also to wash other things. Make sure that there is, at a minimum, a toilet, a sink with both hot and cold running water, and a place where you can either take a shower or a bath (depending on your preference). And absolutely check to make sure that all the plumbing works on these devices before you settle for a living space.

Natural gas

The preferred way of creating heat in North America, mainly because it's cheaper than electric or oil-based heating. Natural gas can be used for furnaces and for ovens/stoves.

Cable TV

A definite luxury, although many people feel that they can't live without it. You decide. Still not available in most rural areas.

Walls, Floor, and Ceiling


Do you want carpet or bare floors? If you want carpet, what color? If you want a hard floor, do you want tile, hardwood, or linoleum? Hard floors are much easier to clean, while carpet keeps your feet warmer, and it's softer. Of course, if you habitually wear socks, you may not notice the difference.


Do you want wallpaper? If so, what style? If not, what color should the walls be?


Roofs come in many varieties, but many people still opt for the basic asphalt shingle, which works fine. Some people prefer tiles because they look nice, and steel roofs can look great and last a very long time, but they're expensive.



The one thing that every living space needs. You bed should be long enough to accomodate your height (so that your feet don't have to dangle over the edge), and wide enough for however many people will be sleeping in it (if you intend to sleep with someone else, it should be wider). Get a mattress that's soft but not too soft, something that'll support your body comfortably. There have been too many stories of people who got their backs damaged by bad mattresses. Also get some sheets to cover the mattress and help keep it clean so you can just wash the sheets if they get dirty, instead of having to somehow wash the mattress. If you live in a place where it gets cold, you should also get a quilt to cover yourself.


Useful for keeping things off the floor, at waist height, a more comfortable height for working with objects.


You can't do certain tasks comfortably while lying down. For example, reading, and especially studying (when you're reading from one book and trying to write in another) is not comfortably done on a bed. This is what chairs and desks are for.


You'll want a place to store your clothes. If you can't justify the expense of a dresser (basically a cabinet with cupboards and/or drawers, made for holding clothes), you can just use a big basket to hold your clothes, but it'll be hard to find a specific article of clothing.


A desk isn't actually that different from a basic table, but it usually has drawers where you can store things.


If you have a lot of books, you can store them more efficiently with a bookcase than you could by just heaping them on the floor; A bookcase saves space because you can store the books in several layers (via shelves) rather than on only one horizontal plane.

Filing cabinets

On the other hand, if you have a lot of loose-leaf papers, it's more efficient to store them in a filing cabinet. (Bookcases don't hold papers well.)

Closet hanging bars and shelves

Having a closet to put clothes into is nice, but some people also like to hang their clothes, which requires a horizontally-situated bar, typically affixed to opposite walls of the closet. If you want to hang your clothes in this way, make sure your closets have bars like this. Also, ideally the closets should have a shelf slightly above these bars, so you have another place to lay things down besides just the floor of the closet.


Swimming pool

Many apartments and houses have swimming pools. If this is an apartment pool, several other people will be using it, so you should consider how well-maintained it is (how clean is it?) Also note how large the pool is, and whether it's above-ground or in-ground.

Whirlpool bathtub

There's nothing quite like the relaxing massage that these babies can give you, but they are a definite high-luxury item, usually found only in the most classy of establishments.


In an age where increasing numbers of people work jobs that are very physically inactive, the need for exercising your muscles in your spare time becomes more important. Many apartment buildings have public gyms right on-site that are included with your rent.

Basic household consumables

Soap and shampoo

Keep in mind that soap comes in different forms: There's hand soap (for when you want to wash your hands, obviously), body soap (for when you take a bath or shower), dish soap (for washing dishes), and laundry soap. There's also a whole slew of general-purpose cleaning products for cleaning off your floors, walls, sinks, etc. And to use these products, you'll also want...


'Nuff said.

Paper towel and toilet paper

If you ever happen to run out of these, you may be in big trouble.

Basic household non-consumable equipment

Laundry hamper

You want something to carry around dirty laundry in. A simple, washable plastic basket which is well-ventilated works fine.

Bathroom stuff

Vanity sink

Sinks come in two basic styles. Pedestal sinks are simply not much more than a basin with two taps and a faucet. But a vanity is a unit which is basically a cupboard that rests on the floor, with a sink embedded in it and a counter surrounding the sink. You should get vanity sinks, if possible. This sounds like a minor detail, but you might be surprised how big of a difference the vanity makes in providing a convenient place to rest items around the sink.

Medicine cabinet

Similarly, it's surprising how convenient it is to have a small, wall-mounted cabinet just above the sink. Together with the vanity, a medicine cabinet will significantly improve the quality of your bathroom life.

Shower curtain

If you didn't get a shower curtain with your shower, make sure you put one on it, or you'll be surprised how much water gets on the floor after your first shower. And if your shower didn't even come with the little plastic clips that hold the curtain in place at the top, then make sure the curtain you buy comes with the clips as well, or you won't have any way of holding the curtain in place.

Toilet plunger

No matter how hard you try to not clog the toilet, eventually those little accidents tend to occur. When they do, you'll want to be prepared; Have one of these sitting next to each toilet.

Shower head that is higher than the top of your head

By definition, the function of a shower is to spray water downward onto the top of the person taking the shower. I have seen many shower stalls in which the showerhead's pipe is at about eye-level where it protrudes from the wall. I have yet to determine what the intent behind this design is; either these showers are designed for people of reduced stature, they are made to shoot water up at the user while the user is washing their hair, or they are designed with the intent that the user will crouch on the floor during the extent of the shower. None of these ideas make much sense to me. A typical human being is about 6 feet (approximately 183 cm) tall. The shower pipe should be at least a foot (about 30 cm) higher than that, so make sure that the shower pipe is at least 7 feet (a little over 210 cm) above the shower floor.

Removable hair traps

Some shower stalls and bathtubs have "Hair traps" in their drains, which are essentially sieve-like plugs which fit into the drain and are meant to allow water to drain out while catching hair which would otherwise wash down the drain. The intent of these traps is to prevent excess hair from clogging the drain. While these traps sound like a good idea in practice, I have never seen one which did not clog with hair to the point of utterly blocking the drain within a matter of minutes. When this happens, you need to interrupt your shower to fish the loose hair out of the trap so the water will drain out again. Having to do this every 2 minutes while taking a shower makes showering quite unpleasant. If your prospective living space has a hair trap, make absolutely sure that the trap is removable; otherwise, you'll need to end up breaking through it with a hammer and chisel, which can potentially damage the drainpipe. The hair trap sounds like a small detail, but once you've tried to shower with one, and had the experience of a foot of water pooling up around your feet while you're trying to wash yourself off, you'll never want to take a shower again.

Apartment-specific stuff


A big deal is made about having a balcony for some apartments; Some people don't care if there's one or not, and for others it's a nice place to look down from. If you want it, most apartments have one.

House-specific stuff

Distance from street

Some people like to have a house that's far away from the street so they don't hear much road noise. This tends to depend a lot on the location of the house; Suburban houses rarely have long driveways, but some of the more luxurious ones do, while rural houses almost always are a fair distance from the road.

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