So the boyfriend and I took a big step recently: We decided to shack up. As daunting of a step as that can be, it was an easy choice to make. In addition to all the lovey dovey stuff, we didn’t want to live with anyone else and felt really ready (plus our leases were up, so duh). Besides trying to get our cats to bond with each other (whole other long story with more tension than an ep of Scandal), merging our two households was surprisingly easy. The big step was making our new home feel like home.

We live in an older building in Chicago owned by a management company, and part of their cleanup process before we moved in was repainting the place white. Like, super white. We tried the whole room-by-room apartment makeover thing with wall art, but the white white white was still too much. After a few months, I finally called the management company to see if we could paint (which you should always do — otherwise, hell hath no fury like the damage to your security deposit). Once we got the go-ahead, it was time to buckle down and go for it. Needless to say, between trying to choose colors and strategizing how to best paint an itty-bitty bathroom and kitchen, more than one freakout ensued. Here’s how we got through all of the emotional stages of painting our first apartment.


1. Decision Paralysis: Once we found out we could paint, we did a little happy dance that quickly turned into a “Now what?” conversation. We live in a large one bedroom with a big ol’ living room and dining room. Where do we keep it neutral, and where do we go a little crazy with it? Our apartment was our canvas now, and that ruled, but it also brought out my indecisive side big time. We walked through every room and had a thoughtful, sometimes “playfully” argumentative discussion to make sure we were on the same page. For example, I knew I wanted to go neutral for the most part but still keep it interesting, and Kenny — well, Kenny was leaning more on the wild side (there was a discussion about stripes in the living room — a very short discussion). We ended up choosing a different color scheme for each room, in a mixture of earthy tones and bolder colors. It ended up being a lot of work, but it also meant each room had its own thing going on, which is really fun. The final product is a colorful apartment that’s not too in your face.

2. Deliberation: After pinky swearing we wouldn’t buy any paint on our first outing to the paint store, we picked up a bunch of swatches for each room and went home to deliberate. We had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do when we left the paint store, but I still wanted to sleep on it, so when we got home, we ordered a pizza and got to discussing. The only room we were super torn on was the living room, so we got a couple samples of colors and tried them out. Samples from paint stores are super cheap (two of them ended up being about $10 together). It helped big time in our decision. This night also involved texting a lot of friends for opinions, of course.


3. Commitment: After falling into a pizza coma, we slept on it hard. In the morning, we looked at our living room colors in the light of day and our decision was made: “Hey, cool, we still like these colors.” We also had two days off in a row, so why not go for it? Chicago was having a bit of an Indian summer feel that week, so we felt the timing was perfect to dive right in.

4. Brain Pains: Here’s the thing: We bought too much paint. Way too much. As careful as we were about everything else, we should have done our research in that department. If I could go back, I would make sure to measure the walls in each room and talk to the peeps at the hardware store. The upside to our over-buying is that we have plenty of paint for future touch-ups, and I’m already planning to use some leftover paint on a couple DIY projects. Still, we have so much paint, we’ll probably use these colors for future apartments.


5. Confidence: I’m lucky in that Kenny, the aforementioned BF, is very experienced with painting. He’s painted several apartments in addition to the house he grew up in, and we both felt fairly confident going into this project once we’d secured our supplies (including Stiegl Radlers, podcasts, records and chili waiting for us in a crock pot. We were so ready). We painted five rooms over three days. Kenny got the kitchen and bathroom done in one night while I was at work (god love him).


6. Going Bold: For the bedroom and living room, we decided to do accent walls in deep rustic colors — dark green in the living room and what I call “flower pot red” in the bedroom, which at first gave me a bit of a Twin Peaks vibe. But when we finished, I actually loved it. It’s a nice way to bring color to a room without over-committing. When we put the rooms back together, I was kind of proud of our boldness — the colors might have been risky, but in the end, the walls turned out really cool and unique.

7. Panic: When we were halfway done with painting our living room accent wall that dark green hue, my boyfriend remarked “Well, it kind of looks like a chalk board.” I started to freak out. Had we made a giant mistake? We invested in this color, and now it’s just going to make our living room look like a classroom! But then I thought to myself, “Calm down. Sleep on it. If you really hate it, we can paint over it.” And as of right now, we still love it. If we don’t love it in a month or even a year, we can always repaint. It’s just paint!


8. Organizational Overdrive: Reorganizing an entire apartment is an ordeal in itself, but I was anxious to tackle it. Taking everything out helped me rethink the room and improvise new options for maximizing the space. It was a bit of an unseen perk to painting your apartment: Ripping it all up gave me a chance to put it back together thoughtfully.

9. Home Improvement Zen: It’s a few months now since we’ve painted, and it’s made a huge difference to our small space. We went yellow for the kitchen and, once we put all of our thrift store knick knacks back in order, it took on a disco era vibe that I love. The gray in our dining room feels so grown up, and I can’t wait to plan a dinner party. Even if we only stay in this apartment for a year or two (which hopefully won’t be the case, because moving sucks), I’m glad we did it. My hands hurt from rolling all that paint, and there *might* be a few stains on the hardwood floors, but it actually feels like home now.

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