Sleeping Around: Why I Can't Stay Put

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Sleeping_AroundDesigned by Ly Ngo.
I slept in 53 different places in 2013. That might not be a lot for a frequent business traveler, but it’s a ridiculous amount for me, a freelancer whose de facto office is often the top of my bed covers. The places include a random Viennese hotel rented at 2 a.m. with a 21-year-old Australian backpacker I’d met at a bar; my best friend's guest bedroom in New Jersey, where I woke up to the sounds of her toddler daughter crying in the bedroom below; and no less than nine New York City sublets. I’ve slept in the bottom bunk of a hostel in a room crammed with so many beds that it looked like the set of Annie. I’ve dozed in chilly climate-controlled hotels off the interstate. And, I've slept on countless lumpy couches, courtesy of friends big on hospitality and small on real estate. I have four mailing addresses, none of which is actually a place where I currently live. Checks are always late. I spent the polar vortex shivering in my not-at-all-weather-appropriate fall jacket because it was too cold to go to my storage space and dig through my boxes to find my puffer coat. And, I don’t know what state — or, hell, even what country — I’ll be living in this time next month.

When people ask where I live, I make the frequent relocations sound like a grand adventure, because, for the most part, it is. I’m single, and being a writer, I can work remotely; I'm truly untethered and can go anywhere. There’s something magical about touching down at an unfamiliar airport and knowing that even if you don’t know anyone right now, you could before you leave. But, the flip side of not having any responsibilities is feeling like I don’t have any roots — which isn’t always easy.
Sleeping_Around_2Designed by Ly Ngo.
For most of my 20s, I lived in the same Brooklyn apartment. The first few months, I devoted weekends to buying furniture and accessories, turning it into a red-and-pink testament to my aesthetic. I loved the clothes hanging in the closet, the picture frames on the mantle, the flowers I bought every week to sit on the glass-topped coffee table. Everything was in its place, and everything was mine.

Sometimes, I’d find myself staring, transfixed, at the shelves in my bathroom. I loved the orderly line of perfumes, the glass containers filled with cotton balls and Q-tips, the knowledge that there was plenty of lotion and toothpaste and shampoo in the below-the-sink cupboards. When life seemed to be out of control, I felt comfort in knowing I would never run out of toothpaste.

And, then, when my mom died two years after I’d moved in, my apartment became my refuge. I become obsessed with buying stuff: Etsy prints, romantic-comedy DVDs I could display on my shelves, candles that smelled like Meyer lemons or fir trees or Cape Cod in the summer. I knew, psychologically, that it was part of the process of grieving: When you lose someone essential to your life, of course you’re going to try to compensate by trying to hold on to as much stuff as possible.

Although, to be honest, I didn’t even love the physical space of my apartment. It was drafty. The French doors that led to the bedroom didn’t close all the way. The landlady was nosy, coming into my home unannounced and snooping through my mail. The rent was expensive — plus, I had to pay it in cash, which meant that, each month, I had to walk from the bank to the apartment with way too much money in my purse. Still, it was a home.

But, then, I lost my job. Amid the confusion and fear, I also felt a tiny bit of elation. I could break the lease. I could leave. I could go wherever I wanted.
Sleeping_Around_3Designed by Ly Ngo.
Two months later — four and a half years after moving into the Brooklyn apartment and 10 years after moving to New York City — I did just that. I sold or gave away all of my furniture, put the majority of my stuff in storage, and drove down to Savannah, Georgia, a place I’d never visited, where I didn’t know anyone.

A piece of me hoped that Savannah would become my home. The sappy, romantic part of me hoped I’d meet my future husband while I was down there. But, that didn't happen. I made friends. I did a lot of yoga. I joined a hiking club and drank good coffee and went to the First Friday art marches around town. But, I also realized that, after 10 years of staying in one place, I wanted to explore.

So, I broke the lease on the Savannah apartment. I found a two-month sublet in New York, then found another short-term sublet when I wasn’t quite ready to leave once the lease was up. I spent a few weeks dog-sitting in L.A. I traveled around Europe on two different occasions. I said yes to spending a weekend in Vermont and a week in North Carolina. I crashed my brother’s business trip, hanging out with him at his hotel in Florida for a weekend. I’m always checking listings on Airbnb and cross-referencing them with airline prices. Even when I’m in a relatively long-term sublet, I keep most of my things packed — just in case.

I don’t want to travel forever. I’m living out of one oversized plastic container, and I’m literally wearing out my clothes — my black skinny jeans have a rip in the pocket, and there’s a hole in my favorite gray T-shirt. I lost my glasses somewhere in Europe. My makeup essentials live in a glitter-encrusted Ziploc bag, and my eyeliner is worn down to a nub. My connection to my stuff feels fragile, but, as cheesy as it sounds, my connection to myself feels stronger than ever.

Here’s why: I always wanted a home. But, the more I relocate, the more the concept of home transmutes, until it becomes a feeling instead of a geographic location. Home is singing Grateful Dead songs with hippies you just met at a Family- and Friendsgiving in Los Angeles. It’s drinking pints with Siobhan, the sweater-store manager, in Inis Mór, Ireland. It’s giddily saying, "Why not?!" to an impromptu trip to Bratislava with an Australian backpacker I’d only met hours ago in Austria. It’s letting someone else take responsibility for the toothpaste.

Above all, it’s realizing that home can be wherever you want it to be — even if you, like me, are sleeping around.