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10 favorite Personal Space essays of 2019

Finding furniture to remember a parent, growing up without a fixed address, and more

Every week, Curbed publishes Personal Space, a column of first-person essays about how our homes define us and reflect our relationships. Below, we present 10 of our favorites from 2019, all with original illustrations by Natalie Nelson.

I bought a house—and then moved into a van

By Britany Robinson

A psychic in upstate New York once told me I’d meet the love of my life on the road. That’s not why I moved into my campervan just two years after buying my first home. But I can’t say I didn’t consider the romantic possibilities of life in motion. I was broke and bored, terrified of settling for the wrong place or person, and looking in all directions for an alternative.

The roommates who taught me to love being alive

By Jessica Gross

I moved into the small upstairs room, for which I paid $1,000. (It was 2009.) Valerie lived there the previous year and had painted the whole thing baby blue, except for one wall of thick black-and-white stripes. I would never do something so bold—to date, I’ve kept the walls in all other apartments white—but when she moved to one of the bigger bedrooms and I took over the balcony, I kept the paint. I hoped something of it would enter me through osmosis, and transform me. And it did, though of course it wasn’t the paint. The decor only expressed what seemed obvious from a moment spent in Valerie and Elena’s company: They loved being alive.

Finding the perfect furniture to remember my dad

By Amy Plitt

When he was alive, Dad and I spoke almost every day; he was always overprotective, and when I moved away for college his calls just to check in became a part of my nightly routine. Those calls (and, eventually, emails) continued long after I graduated. We were incredibly close, and without him, I felt unmoored.

So I obsessed over this task, believing that if I found just the right piece of furniture—something that Dad himself might have picked out—it might lessen my grief and keep him with me. I didn’t have my dad anymore, but I had his stuff, and that was something.

When DIY becomes D(on’t)IY

By Tove Danovich

My husband and I bought our first house three years ago and I’ve checked most of those items off my wish list. We’ve repainted almost every room of our 2,400-square-foot home. I stenciled the walls of the guest room and dining room by hand—at least 24 hours of work. I repainted the gazebo and then reroofed it with some help from my in-laws. And I did feel accomplished. I felt proud. The home that I’d seen in my head when we made the offer was a little closer to reality.

But my head pounded from paint fumes (the windows of our 1930s house had been nailed shut so the previous owners didn’t have to deal with changing out the storm windows) and my back felt immovable as a board from hours sanding or holding a paint roller over my head. I started to wonder whether that homeowner’s pride was because it was done or because I’d done it myself.

I grew up without a fixed address

By Bobbi Dempsey

I grew up poor, living in an estimated 70 places before I graduated high school. For many of these pit stops, there’s no proof I was ever there. For me, and others like me, impoverished and lacking stability, entire chunks of my childhood don’t officially exist. My family lived in a sort of “constant temporary” state. We moved almost nonstop. Often, this was because we couldn’t afford rent. But sometimes it was also for our safety: For a long portion of my childhood, when my mother was trying to leave my father or after my parents’ divorce when I was 8, my mother and siblings and I were trying to stay under the radar so we couldn’t be found by my often violent father, who had routinely violated orders of protection.

Housesitting made me want a life I thought I didn’t need

By Logan Scherer

I was writing a dissertation about 19th-century spinsters and widows who opted out of normative life, becoming hermits, and I wanted to bring what I saw as their ascetic queerness to my own life. I wanted to be simple, with as few desires as possible, to reject the amenities I associated with heterosexual domestic life. My apartment was spare—a faux-suede green recliner, a mattress, a TV, a little table built into the kitchen, nothing on the walls—and I loved it. My cozy, minimalist hideout gave me the thrill of self-possession, control over expressing my identity.

An illustration of a woman peering through a hedge to the home hidden behind it. Natalie Nelson

The dark side of living in a unique historic home

by Giulia Pines

Our tiny, quaint apartment, with its faded pastel wallpaper and paint-spattered double windows, held few remnants of this sad past. It was in one of the old guards’ houses left standing around the prison’s perimeter. But in a 21st-century Berlin still obsessed with the parts of its history hiding in plain sight, it had all the markings of a great find: a facade riddled with World War II bullet holes, a private garden cultivated with lilac trees and strawberry plants, and an address that didn’t make sense to Google Maps, right near the main train station.

It was historic, it was romantic, and it was also really, really annoying.

A larger-than-life woman stands behind a hand drawn cluster of brick city buildings. She’s depositing a black plastic bag into a pile of free items. Illustration. Illustration by Natalie Nelson

Why I declutter my home via Craigslist

By Lauren Rothman

My Gmail history tells me that since 2014, I’ve posted 73 times, giving away everything from a lavender-scented terrycloth eye pillow (I never used it) to a French language workbook (I completed most of it) to a half-empty bottle of Tresemme hair conditioner (it didn’t work for my poofy, frizz-prone curls). At least in New York, where the cost of living is sky-high and inhabitants are constantly looking for creative ways to budget-trim, it’s possible to get rid of just about anything.

A blonde woman in a red shirt laying next to a television in a large bed. She’s watching an episode of the television show Golden Girls, The scene shows all four older women crouching comedically outside of a door. Illustration. Illustration by Natalie Nelson

Learning to make my bed and lie in it

By Briallen Hopper

A few years ago I got tired of feeling the slats underneath me through the thin foam, but I wasn’t earning enough money to buy anything better. I loved my low-paid teaching job, but I was always worried about losing it. I was scared to be in my late 30s and still unable to afford rent without roommates. When I inherited another thin mattress from a roommate who moved out, I stacked it on top of the first one like the princess and the pea. I felt simultaneously more comfortable and more precarious: The mattress on top would slip and slide in the night. I would dream about falling and wake up clinging to the edge.

An open window on a peach wall with white and blue gridded curtains. The window looks onto a backyard scene where chickens and chicks roam happily. Illustration.

My new home came with chickens

By Sarah Anne Lloyd

When I pictured my early days of homeownership, I thought I’d be digging up lawns, putting together makeshift planting systems, and setting myself up for a growing garden the next year, maybe eventually upgrading to small livestock. Instead, overnight, I became the caretaker for an overgrown vegetable garden, a packed greenhouse, and six chatty, social chickens—coop and all.