The transient’s guide to Lower Mainland living

Cover by Joel McCarthy

Cover by Joel McCarthy

How to survive your next move, and the next one, and the next one

By Jacey Gibb, Distribution Manager


I didn’t choose the title of vagabond—rather, it was chosen for me.

Throughout 2016—while I was in my final year of post-secondary—I moved three times. It hadn’t been intentional. I wasn’t sitting there on New Year’s Eve 2015, swearing upon a resolution to move as many times as there are square meals in a day. And yet, a new personal-high score for moving was set.

The first move was a heartbreaking renoviction, where a landlord evicts the tenants to conduct renovations and (assumedly) jack up the rent. The second move was by choice, after my Craigslist roommate repeatedly left the door to our basement suite unlocked, even after I was robbed. Frustrated and owning several electronic devices fewer than I had when I moved into the place, I put the majority of my things into storage, and retreated to a sublet. The third move was to my current place, and marked the end of what many of my friends referred to as my year as a vagabond.

It’s not like my transient lifestyle is uncommon amongst young people. Almost everyone I know has moved at least once in the last two years, including my good friend and former Other Press Life & Style editor Sophie Isbister.

“I would sometimes move into situations that were less than ideal because I was experiencing home insecurity,” said Isbister, who has tied my high score of three moves in one year. “When you’re concerned about having a roof over your head at all, you’ll just pick any roof […] My mom used to accuse me of picking the very first place that I looked at, and she’s right. That’s probably why I’ve had to move so much, but you kind of just have to pick the first place that isn’t absolutely horrible.”

In total, I’ve moved seven times in the last seven years. Across provincial borders, from Vancouver to Burnaby and then back to Vancouver, to basically down the street. I’ve acquired and dismantled enough moving boxes to build a formidable kingdom, and I’m still in my 20s.

With a housing market as volatile as the one here in the Lower Mainland, moving frequently is simply a way of life. Rent at your current place will increase out of your budget, properties will switch hands, and landlords will hand out renoviction notices, or maybe you’ll outgrow the mouldy basement suite you were initially thankful to find. No one enjoys the process of moving—there’s even a word for that: tropophobia, or the fear moving or making changes—but I’ve assembled advice from myself and a couple other part-time vagabonds to help you get through your next move, or several.

With a little help from my friends

With the date of an upcoming move saved in your phone’s calendar, one of the first questions you need to ask yourself is if you’re going to ask friends to help you move.

It’s an awkward situation to be in. Even your truest of pals would rather be doing anything else on their day off than helping you lug your personal belongings from one location to another, but chances are they will because that’s how friendships work. Or you can do what Isbister did back in the early 2000s, and turn to the Internet for support.

“One time, all of these people helped me move and I’d never met them before,” recalled Isbister. “I had tons of Internet friends on this blogging website, LiveJournal, and lots of them lived in Vancouver but we’d never met up. I’d twisted my ankle and I was moving out of my boyfriend’s place after a bad break-up, so I put out on my LiveJournal that I needed help, hoping that some of my friends that I knew in-person would help, but these people that I only knew through LiveJournal came out and they totally helped me move.”

A simple post on social media account will sufficiently get the word out that you need help, but directly asking a couple of close friends is just as effective.

If you’re not moving a ton of things and you’re able-bodied, I’d recommend sucking it up, asking to borrow a friend’s truck or SUV, and complete the move in a few solo trips. If you own a lot of stuff (including heavier items), then you might need to enlist a friend or two to aid you. Just remember that if someone helps you move, you’re legally obligated to treat them to pizza and beer as a thank-you.

Craigslist giveth and Craigslist taketh away

One of the simultaneously most exciting and most tedious parts of settling into a new home address is the actual settling in that takes place. Let me explain how the cycle works, in six easy steps:

  1. The first time you move out, there’s a mad dash to accumulate all of the household items you might’ve not realized you needed. The typical essentials like a couch and kitchen table, but also those minor things you’d never even consider, like a spatula and one of those cutlery drawer dividers. Fuck those things, but they’re also kinda important.
  2. You reach a threshold of contentment for personal items. Maybe you trade up for better versions, but overall the number of things you own is enough, for now.
  3. An impending move—either through your own doing, or due to external factors—means you’ll soon be looking at every item with the same inquiry: Is this item worth moving with or not?
  4. You conduct a massive purge. Tears are shed; somewhere atop a throne of money, Marie Kondo releases a single, Mr. Burns-esque “Excellent.”
  5. Once moving into the new place, you quickly realize how necessary many of those now-purged items were, and begin a rebuilding phase similar to stage one.
  6. Repeat until the end of time.

Let me be clear: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with conducting a semi-regular purge of the crap you call personal belongings, even without the added incentive of not having to lug it from dwelling to dwelling. However, if you’re dropping hundreds of dollars on buying frivolous purchases after every move, you’re doing it wrong.

Enter the “free stuff” section of Craigslist, where an abundance of consumerism leftovers is up for grabs in an online free-for-all. Here you’ll find everything from the practical (kitchen tables, sofas) to the indulgent (random pieces of art, pool toys), and the sensical (a dresser) to the whimsical (a box of stickbugs, which remains the weirdest post I’ve ever seen).

Even if the “free stuff” section is slim pickings, never just rush out to do a bulk household item purchase at IKEA, Walmart, or whatever global giant you prefer. Sometimes you can luck out with items that are still-in-the-box and were never assembled, but even choosing gently used furniture can mean saving up to 50 per cent.

As satisfying as it is snagging treasures from the free section, Craigslist is also a prime place to unload during your purge. Post in “free stuff” if you’re desperate to have something out of your space/apathetic about turning a profit. It also beats having to donate the furniture yourself, or even having to pay to have a removal service come do it for you.

Home is where your meaningless personal effects are

When you’re averaging a move per year throughout your adult life, nesting can become more of a chore than something done for enjoyment. It’s easy to adopt the mentality of, “What’s the point in making a space my own if I’m going to be moving again anyways?”

I’ve personally gone through phases where I’ll invest time and money into a new residence, but then at the next place I won’t even fully unpack my belongings, ready to move at a moment’s notice.

My friend Danielle Haslip, who has the personal best of having moved five times in a single year, unknowingly addressed this mentality when I asked her if there was one thing she wishes she’d known back when she first moved out. “Nesting is important for comfort, and comfort is so important for my mental health. I started [too late] carrying around with me a blanket, twinkle lights, and a garland I had made to set up the same ‘headboard’ in my rooms to feel grounded,” she said.

“I always hesitated to put effort into setting up a room if I wasn’t sure I’d be staying, but then I realized that putting a little bit of effort to make any place feel like home really helped not feel so transitional or chaotic at all times.”

I’m not advising that you rush out to buy fresh paint for every room you move into, but Haslip has a point in how consistency can be a calming thing. Now all you need to do is find your own twinkle lights-blanket-garland combo.

Pet-friendly, and pet-not-so-friendly

There are many facets to effectively moving frequently and efficiently. One major handicap, however—and one to avoid if you’re not already in this situation—is becoming a pet owner. As someone who frequently shares a bed with a six-year-old cat, owning a pet is a wonderful experience otherwise, but for renters it can be a nightmare. Consider how, according to a survey conducted by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., at the end of last year, vacancy rates in Metropolitan Vancouver were at 0.7 per cent for one and two-bedroom units. It’s already an uphill battle finding a place to live, and if you add in the prerequisite of “pet-friendly,” your options go from slim to near-zilch.

While some landlords don’t allow dogs or cats, the aversion towards pets can transcend all the way to even a fish. And, unfortunately, it’s common for people to surrender their pets to the BC SPCA because they’re in the position where they have to choose between their pet and having a place to live. Even though advocates are speaking up to challenge landlords’ rights to ban pets—including a recent petition started by the Animal Protection Part of Canada—it’s unlikely that a sweeping change will occur any time soon.

If your five-year plan contains even the possibility of having to move, you might want to hold off on bringing another organism into the fold. Instead, try volunteering to be a foster guardian for the BC SPCA, through the City of Vancouver website, or through Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA).

Moving can be an exciting, leaf-turning experience, or it can be a drawn-out, hellish nightmare. More often than not, it’s a healthy mixture of the two. No matter how chaotic and in disarray things might feel now, never lose sight of how, in a few months, things will have settled down and you’ll be comfortably settled into your new place—at least, until the next time you have to move.



The Other Press

The Other Press, Douglas College's student newspaper since 1976. Articles, insight and updates from the New West and Coquitlam campuses.

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