The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.
I had just turned 20 years old when I first began calling Toronto my home, although given where I was living at the time, "dwelled" probably would've been a better word. In the summer of 2014, my friend Dave and I foolishly decided to sign a lease that would lock us into living in a tiny bachelor apartment in the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood, a musky basement unit we lovingly nicknamed "The Palace."
It was the first of many wildly stupid life decisions I made in my early 20s, but one that stands out due to the sheer number of lessons learned. I wouldn't be the mostly adult person I am today if I hadn't gone through it, which is why I don't regret it. I mean, I would never recommend it to anyone, ever, but it wasn't the worst thing I've ever done. But that's a tale for another day.
Gather around children. Uncle Patty will tell you how you can survive in Toronto as a broke twenty-something so that you can remain fresh-faced and just maybe, wind up less jaded than me.
Free meals are your best friend
Patrick and his friend Dave about to make a horrible mistake.
Even though Dave and I secured an apartment that allowed us to pay $400 each (which seemed like the best deal ever), we quickly realized that it's not just Toronto rent that's expensive. It's everything, everywhere, all the time.
You either sink or swim under such crushing financial circumstances, and we learned how to doggy paddle with the best of them.
Our one saving grace was that Dave worked at the Five Guys at Yonge-Dundas, a job that allowed him to whip either of us up a meal whenever he was on his shift. I used to walk from Wellesley to the TD Bank Tower near King Street West for my job. I'm still convinced those free patties and bag fries gave me the protein I needed to do it.
We also managed to narrow down our nightlife to a single bar, the long-defunct Pint House near Yonge and Bloor, which at the time served gloriously cheap $10 pitchers of Molson Canadian.
The steady flow of delicious burgers and cheap beers kept our spirits high through the cold dark months and made everything seem better than it was, or maybe it was just good in its own simple way.
Neither one of you will ever have sex
I mean, yeah. This one was a toughie. How can you court someone when at the end of the night, you're taking them back to a basement bachelor where your roommate is loudly playing Grand Theft Auto 5?
I'm not saying it's impossible, but David and I certainly didn't have the game nor the organizational skills to make such a thing happen. There were no moleskin planners or books of any kind to be found amongst the beer can pillars of "The Palace." Just scratched vinyls of The Doors and a neon green bong.
Our incredibly close living quarters put our sex drives in cruise control, which given the fact that we barely knew how to talk to women, let alone offer them anything in the bedroom, probably wasn't the worst thing to happen to the world.
If you end up in a similar situation. I recommend that you and your roommate come up with a schedule or a secret code word to send over text that lets the other know to find a coffee shop for a few hours.
A friend of mine recently told me he had done this during a similar living situation, and I felt like Einstein discovering the theory of relativity. Oh, well, at least we saved money on condoms.
Personal hygiene and tidiness are survival traits
A photo of "The Palace"
Dave and I are ride-or-die Momma's boys raised by incredible women. So, naturally, when left to our own devices, our apartment and humble collection of items became a disgusting man pit.
It was often hard to tell if we smelled bad or if our environment was simply too rank to feel clean while within. In hindsight, I think it was probably both of those things. Both odours were fighting an impossible war.
One finds themselves at a crossroads when living in such a small, filthy space for months. You either turn into a punk rock squatter or become a true blue minimalist. Dave and I chose the latter option. We threw out everything and lived out of our suitcases. Is it a brilliant strategy? No. But it kept our apartment clean.
"The Palace" was actually the go-to hangout spot for our friend group a lot of the time, which I imagine had to do with the fact that downtown Toronto was steps away, not our decor.
Life without silence is miserable
By now, you may be thinking that I am a big baby. After all, many people share cramped dorm rooms at university, so what's the big deal?
To that, I would argue that one of those scenarios is set in the real world and the other is not. The day-to-day bubble life of a student isn't comparable to two people on different work schedules trying to sleep in a single room.
I worked early mornings, and Dave worked nights exclusively. That is a recipe for disaster, folks. No matter how hard we tried, we kept each other awake every single day. This was by far the worst part of the whole experience. I will never take having my own bedroom for granted ever again.
The only way to escape this hell was to hang out at the Toronto Reference Library every day for hours at a time. The massive public space offers comfortable seating, tranquil quiet and enough cool books to grab the interest of even the most passive readers. And, you don't even have to pay to be inside of it!
If you're living in a similar situation, but aren't close to a giant library, I'd recommend finding a locally-owned coffee shop and turning that into your home away from home.
You'll see each other at your absolute worst
Nobody wants their friend to see them writhing in pain all day because they pull their groin at the gym, but when there are no walls to separate you, whatever your roommate is going through, you're a part of it whether you want to be or not.
I can hand-to-heart say that aside from my mother and girlfriend, my friend Dave has seen me at my most human. If I could've been that vulnerable in acting class, I'd be giving my Oscar speech right now, not thinking about every unshakeable image I have of my roommate in his tighty whities telling me about his girl troubles.
Radical acceptance was the key to this one. Eventually, you just get used to having a constant exterior presence in your life. You genuinely stop worrying about what at least one person in the world thinks about you, and it's bliss.
It'll make you better prepared to move in with your future partner
Patrick and his partner
I quickly moved in with my girlfriend. A choice that she was understandably apprehensive about since we'd only been dating a few months and because of who I am as a person.
I, however, was confident it would work out. Why? Because I knew whatever habit or pet peeve she had wouldn't be a deal breaker. If I could live with another dude in a basement bunker for a year, I was positive that living with a real live human woman in a one-bedroom apartment would be a major glow-up for me, and it was!
Not only did she smell like cotton candy, but my newfound passion for tidiness and her vast collection of vintage furniture has turned our apartment into a one-heck-of-a-cozy hobbit hole. That may not sound like a good thing to you, but it works well for two people that love plants and books.
In closing, I'd say if you feel Toronto is where you think your life should be, but you can't really afford it. Don't let that stop you. Compromise and overcome.
Eventually, the city will give you a break. Even if it doesn't, those who want it bad enough always find a way to make it work.