Simple in the City: Entertainment

Living in a small apartment in the city has some major perks, but entertaining can be tough when you only have a few square feet to spare.

A typical Saturday at our apartment looks like this: sitting on the floor around the coffee table tossing game dice with six other people. Sometimes we pull together all of the chairs we can find (and chairs that friends bring) and squeeze to fit around our dining table.

Most of us hold our drinks because there’s no table space available thanks to the extensive board games we like to play.

We have one of the largest apartments in our group of friends (650 square feet), so we’re most often the gathering place. For as fun as it can be, it can get overwhelming. So how do you keep it simple when it comes to entertainment outside the apartment?

Why it’s not always best to stay in

My husband and I love our evenings together in the apartment. But, since I work from home all week and don’t usually have access to the car, I need to get out at least once or twice during the weekends.

Staying in is cheaper, yes, but when you’re living in a large city there’s so many opportunities for unique and interesting entertainment. It makes “keeping it simple” a little bit difficult, but by defining what you really want in advance and creating a solid plan, you can expand your horizons without the overwhelm.

And that’s why it’s not always best to stay in: getting out and seeing different things gives me new ideas and fresh eyes. It’s a great way to kickstart a sluggish creative muscle.

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Planning makes perfect

I’m a big proponent of planning. Even if I don’t follow the plan to the letter, it always gives me clarity and direction for the week.

So start by defining clearly what you enjoy doing and what you expect from entertainment. For me, physical activity, chatting with new people and trying new beverages in interesting places are important parts of entertainment. You might like quiet spaces, ear-bursting concerts, historical education, cultural immersion, getting out of town or staying close to home.

Then, considering your budget, put together a list of general things that meet those expectations that you can reasonably do most weekends or in your spare time. Mine would be hiking, checking out coffee shops or bars, or taking a class or going to a meetup of sorts.

Then fill in the spaces! If you like hiking, spend some time each week finding a new place to hike. I scour Yelp for popular bars or cafes and plan a happy hour when I can to save a few bucks. Planning what, when, and where you are going to do in advance adds a little structure and prevents drastic impulse decisions, last-minute planning stress or defaulting to something like shopping for the sake of shopping.

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A few ideas for finding entertainment

If you’re the outdoorsy type, check out All Trails and look for good hikes in your area. I’ve been using Hiking Guy, but he’s only got a limited area of coverage. Google is your friend here – keep an eye out for tips on getting to trailheads, parking, what supplies to bring, and difficulty level.

If you’re gastronomically inclined, Yelp is the obvious choice. I’ve found that since moving to the city, there are a LOT more reviews, which makes the average rating a little more accurate. I was used to seeing 10 reviews for places in Indiana, compared to hundreds or thousands here. Where the F*** Should I Go to Eat? is a fun website when you’re feeling stuck.

Once you find a restaurant or cafe you like, check out their events calendar online for open mics, concerts or happy hours. Bar entertainment is usually cheap and more intimate than a giant concert venue.

And if you’re lucky enough to have comedy schools available (I’m looking at you, LA, Chicago and NYC), check out student teams and professional comedy groups. Stand-up and improv comedy can be inexpensive if you know where to look! The Groundlings, Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade are great places to look for solid evenings of entertainment.

I hope a few of those ideas strike a chord with you! What is your favorite way to stay entertained without all the overwhelm?

While we’re on the subject, you should check out my husband’s newest YouTube sketch that he wrote and performed for his comedy group The Swing Shift. They’re such a talented group of people who I have the pleasure of calling my friends. Victor (my husband) is pursuing his passion for comedy as a student at The Groundlings School!


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Simple in the City: Getting Around

You’ve found a place to live, so now it’s time to explore your city. But how? Today we’re talking transportation!

The golden rule of transportation

Let’s all say it together, class: less is more. After a year and a half of big city life (and big city traffic), it’s safe to say that the less commuting you have to deal with, the better.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t hop in the car every once in a while—our trips to the beach and to local hiking spots are a welcome respite from the madness of Hollywood.

But, like I outlined in my post about where to live, the closer you are to necessities the better. My best tip is to avoid long commutes to and from work, especially if you’re traversing that path twice a day, five days a week.

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The zen of driving

When you do have to drive, make it a positive experience. That’s not always possible in Los Angeles, but I try my darndest.

Bring a bottle of water or tea and a granola bar for longer drives. A sip here and there at stoplights or stuck in traffic can relieve a lot of tension. Avoid anything too caffeinated for regular commutes, because it’ll just make you anxious. Also if you’re like me, coffee may cause some bowel emergencies that aren’t welcome when you’re stuck in traffic.

Know your route as much as you can before taking off, and know that a GPS is an excellent alternative to a phone—no one texts you on your GPS.

And of course, music makes things a whole lot better. I’ve been hooked on public radio, classical/jazz stations, and classic rock. I try to keep it easy and low-key for driving so that I can stay calm. Road rage is all the rage here in SoCal.

And for the love of all things, put the phone down.

Opting out of the car chaos

We’ve chosen the hassle and expenses of a car, but because of those drawbacks, we’re going to stick with just one for the foreseeable future. I’ll discuss this more in detail in a later post about budgeting, but insurance alone is three times more expensive here than in the Midwest, so that’s something to consider.

If you’d rather live without a car, there’s no better place to do it than in the city. There’s public transportation, taxis or other transportation networks, bikes, and just plain walking.

Since I’m not well-versed enough in public transportation (I’ll admit that I’ve never called an Uber), I can’t really give great tips. My best advice is to research, research, research. And take advantage of first-time ride offers when you can!

If you’d prefer to bike, find out what you can about bike laws. In Los Angeles, keep an eye out for where you can ride your bike on the sidewalk versus the road (drivers are insane here, so I’d be nervous on the road). Look for bike lanes and bike routes so you can get where you’re going as safely and efficiently as possible.

It’s okay to stay close to home

I’ve scoured maps of our area and keep an eye out online for new restaurants, bars, and cafes opening up within walking distance. There are plenty of unique spots in our area that we’ve become quite fond of.

For the first time ever, there’s actually a bar a few blocks away where the server knows my name. It’s opened up even more opportunities to explore—she can recommend places I haven’t discovered yet.

Stay safe in your travels, my friends! How do you prefer to get around in your city?

Simple in the City: Where to Live

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: cities aren’t all just cement and buildings, and rural areas aren’t all just cornfields or desert. There’s so much variation throughout every landscape that you can make just about anything out of just about anywhere.

So once you decide where to live (there aso many great cities to choose from), you have to decide exactly where to live within that space. And if you’re looking to keep things simple, the cheapest area is not always the most ideal.

So what should you look for in a city dwelling?

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Location

This is honestly my top priority, especially in a city like Los Angeles. I know so many people with 45+ minute commutes each way – and it’s not a peaceful one, either.

It may take some fancy financial footwork, but living as close as you can to your work and everyday needs will save you more than it costs in the long run. We managed to find an apartment that is surrounded by grocery stores, cafes and farmer’s markets – and it’s only four miles from my husband’s office.

We searched Craigslist and Zillow for available spaces within a specific zipcode, but you can search by neighborhood, street, or using the lasso tool on Zillow.

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Style & livability

Good style and livability are essentials for me, although it may not be for you. I have to have a lot of windows (this apartment has five huge windows) and the layout needs to make sense to me. An outdoor area is preferred, but not required, as I like to grow plants on balconies and doorsteps.

The best part of city life is that you don’t need vast amounts of square footage, since there’s always something going on outside of your home. Plus, living in a smaller space means you have to curate your possessions – less space means more intentional living.

We are still finding things to donate or trash, and we’re a year and a half into living in Los Angeles.

Don’t be afraid to sacrifice room for entertaining guests. Turns out, our friends don’t care too much about a formal dinner or extra seating. Gathering around our coffee table on mismatched chairs and pillows on the floor and playing games is one of my favorite memories so far.

Affordability

This obviously has its limits based on your specific budget, but it’s more nuanced than you might think.

For example, the cost of two hours commuting could be transferred to paying for a more expensive apartment fifteen minutes from the office.

The right layout can help with your budget too: if your kitchen is conveniently designed, you’ll feel more inclined to make food from scratch in your home. Paying for a better kitchen might be worth it if the alternative is frozen or fast-food dinners.

And finally, know that you’re paying for the experience you’re going to have as a city dweller. If you can afford to pay a little extra for a space you love, it’s going to be easier to thrive in the city environment. If you’re too focused on the bottom line, you may find yourself sacrificing your own well-being.

Signing a lease is like choosing the lens through which you’ll see the next year of your life. What will yours look like?

Simple in the City: A Series

Simple living doesn’t always mean going off the grid and self sustaining – you can live a simple, slow life anywhere.

My husband and I have learned a few lessons about city life from living in Los Angeles, and I wanted to share those with you in a series I’m calling “Simple in the City.”

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To some people, slowing down and living an urban lifestyle can go hand in hand, and still others can make a “rural” lifestyle fit into the city they live in:

It it possible to be simple in the city?

Yes! We have a more simple daily life in the middle of Los Angeles (just south of Hollywood) than when we lived on the outskirts of Indianapolis. There, we had to drive everywhere (except Target and Starbucks, and even then there were no sidewalks).

Here in LA, we’re able to get to grocery stores, farmer’s markets, coffee shops and more just within a mile’s walk. Bonus: there are sidewalks and there is no winter (sorry NYC).

We also have more free activities, local restaurants and rich sources of entertainment than we did in Indianapolis (I will say, though, that we never lived downtown in Indy, which would have been a lot more interesting).

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The living spaces in the heart of the city are tailor-made for people who want to live small, and typically are designed with efficiency in mind. And since there’s more to choose from, it’s easier to find a place in the exact location you want to live. Hello, short commute.

The extra cost is palpable, but that’s where you have to ask yourself: is this experience worth the expense?

City life isn’t for everyone, but don’t let your ideas of “simple” prevent you from pursuing the life you desire.

What this series will cover

There’s a lot to say about living with less in the city. You can go as extreme or as mainstream as you want.

Obviously, there are no rules for simple living (only what you decide for yourself), but I can provide some guidelines and lessons I’ve learned about urban life. You can look forward to city-specific posts about:

  • Finances
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Entertainment
  • Shopping (specifically food)

There’s such a misconception about city life being hectic (especially Los Angeles), so I want to provide an alternative insider’s perspective. There are many pains (like traffic, expenses, lack of nature) that can be mitigated by just living in the right area of town.

Simple city living is about working with the flow and rhythm of the city instead of against it.

Stay tuned for these posts over the next few weeks! What city have you dreamed of living in?