Emily Henderson

Little Words of Wisdom (according to me)

Live Broke In A Big City


My 20’s were a really good decade. My priorities were as follows: 1.) Hustle everyday to figure out my career, and 2.) Have A LOT of fun. We (Brian and I) moved to New York from Oregon in 2001, when we were 22, with absolutely no plan and barely any money saved (well, Brian got into NYU grad school so HE had a plan, but not me). The decision to do that, informed my whole life. Obviously, and yet in a lot of ways it was totally irresponsible – which is exactly what you are supposed to do in your 20’s. Not be irresponsible, but take risks and be adventuresome even if your bank account tells a different story.


Here we were; the day we left to drive cross country to New York. I wish I could say it was also Halloween or perhaps some sort of local “dress like a weirdo” holiday, but it wasn’t. It was 2001, and that is just what we chose to adorn our bodies in.

We were so up for adventure and didn’t care that we didn’t have an apartment lined up, jobs in place, or any friends there to meet us. There was a spirit and fire in us that I can only hope my kids have at that age.

I think back and wonder HOW we had so much fun when we had no money. We are conditioned in society to correlate the two – and obviously in a lot of ways it is true, but man did we make some insanely fun memories without spending a dollar. I was bartending at night, and walking dogs during the day, then later worked retail. Our rent was $1200 for a tiny 400square foot studio apartment. And then after we broke up, I moved to Spanish Harlem by myself and paid $1100 on my own (this was in 2002, that same apartment would be $2k now at least). I remember often having under $100 in my bank account and I wasn’t in a ‘borrow money from my parents’ situation.

But the thing is, when you are 25, and have just a couple hundred bucks in your bank account you make your own fun. You live with too many roommates, you seek out the hole in the wall indian joints and eat a lot of rice to fill up, you sneak into Broadway theaters at intermission. You might even make a table out of a stop sign and a saarinen base.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 11.05.38 AM

In case you are wondering what the heck is that, don’t worry, I’ve got a closer photo:


Our standards and expectations on what qualified as a good time were lower, so the fun we had was so high. The city had so much to offer as the fun just existed in the city naturally. Sure, we saved to go see a show, and once a year got super dressed up to go to a really expensive dinner, but other than that we hung out, and made ourselves freeloading tourists – waiting in lines for cheaper tickets to things, walking around for hours, hanging out on stoops and people watching. We even had our engagement party at a 6th street Indian restaurant that was BYOB, and we told all our friends to do just that. Nobody cared and it was a total blast.


So whats the point? The point is that if you have an inkling to live in a big city, but have very little money JUST DO IT. This is the only time in your life that you will be able to do something like that. I’m not saying that I’m old and lame, but basically now I’m old and lame. When you are 22 you don’t know that living in 400 square feet with another person is uncivilized, or maybe you do, but you don’t care. The older you get, the more comfort and space you want and need. You have your things, your king bed, your huge squishy sofa. Now that we’ve lived in a house in LA I honestly don’t know how I would go back to small city living, but I’m INSANELY glad we did it when we did.


Living in a tiny apartment forced us to always be out, and being out forced us to have fun and see the city and world. We would bring food/drink to central park and literally hang out all day with friends. We would camp out next to the outdoor concerts that cost money and drink and listen to the music for free. We would bar hop and try out like 13 different bars a night – although this was before drinks cost $17 each. We would go to the cheap off broadway shows that were either amazing or terrible. We went to The Moth every week, bad improv all the time, and when we were invited anywhere that seemed to have a cool art scene, we felt like we had made it. And we had. We were cool.


And we travelled. You’d think that not having any money meant that you can’t leave the country but we did. We went on an all-inclusive resort-y vacation to the Dominican Republic that cost $500 for flight/hotel/food/booze for a week, and then later to Vietnam and Laos where we lived on $15 a day (including lodging). Now we labor over every hotel and restaurant choice, but back then we didn’t care, we were psyched to be anywhere different. But looking back we should have travelled more and done even weirder sh*t.


While I don’t want to go back to wearing say, cotton chaps and a vintage teenage mutant ninja t-shirt, there was a freedom and liberty in being 26 that is harder to access when you are 36.


I know a lot of people who say “I would have loved to have lived in New York” but they didn’t, and now, after having a proper house, kids, etc. It’s probably not going to happen. So if you want to do it, or if you don’t, just be sure to get outside, travel, do weird stuff, live broke, work your ass off creating some career (even if it means dog walking during the day) and have a hell of a lot of fun, you will never get this time or age back again in your life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

  1. This is so true. I wish I would have lived abroad. I never left my large city. I always thought I would, but now with kids and a mortgage it seems so much less likely. My husband and I often wonder why we didn’t leave when we were young. We thought it was because we had “jobs” but those were terrible and were definitely no reason to stay.

    There are still ways to do it of course, but it is so much harder now.

  2. I’m 27 now, and I moved to NYC about 4 years ago: I drove across the country with a friend and didn’t have a job or apartment lined up. I figured I’d see if I could make it, and if I could, great! If not, I’d move back to California. Before that, I lived and traveled through France and Australia. Suffice to say that I’ve “made” it here now–enough that I have a nicer apartment and a better job and a great boyfriend. I’m always just so grateful that I took the risk to live abroad and travel a bunch and move to NYC when I was younger–because although I still dream of doing more of it, it just gets harder and harder and I find more and more things that I love about my life right here!

  3. gosh I thought I was a brave one for coming from ohio to hoboken WITH a job, but left my boyfriend and anyone I knew behind, getting a random craigslist roommate (who “happened” to lose her job right before I moved in), and little money in the bank. ohio is VERY different, and new jersey is sort of like a big slap in the face, until you learn to give and take. doing laundry at the Laundromat sucks, but at least I didn’t have to walk blocks. I had one of those awful plastic hanging accordion doors with a magnetic latch and my closet was in the hallway, but I had my own room. I had to walk up 2 scary flights of stairs, but at least it wasn’t a 6th floor walk up. sometimes I spent an hour to find a parking spot, but at least I had a car. I could also stay out in NYC til the sun came up and get home for only $2 on the PATH train. I could spend the day relaxing in Central Park for free. I could make friends that were twice or triple my age and it was totally cool. I could get 5-for-1 dumplings at that sketchy place on mosco street in Chinatown with the mean old lady cooks…. that was 6 years ago and I’m still here (well, now Jersey City), now married, now in a 2-bedroom (SUCH a luxury!) and still loving the bustling city life. I’m not leaving anytime soon, because once I get a whiff of that suburban lifestyle and suburban-sized home there’s no turning back…

  4. I completely agree…
    I’m a fellow driver to NYC (and Miami) in my 20s with no planner.
    I don’t have a career tho. I’m sahm. But the “I can do anything” spirit affects every part of your outlook on life.

    1. Emily, Life is too short to live with regret. Not all of us are meant to be adventurers, at least not when were young. I went through a spell when I wished I had explored more, been more courageous when I was younger. But you know what, I wasn’t ready, I was more interested in being secure and that’s okay, (And I may have found myself in a big heap of trouble instead of the big city experiences of Emily H .) Fear is gift sometimes. It keeps us safe. Now that I’m older, I may not be able to leave everything behind to move to New York, but I can push myself to live fully where I am. No matter where you are there are always new things to try, hidden jems to discover, and different people to embrace in your community. And when the time is right, set out on your own “big adventure”, even if it looks completely different than someone elses.

      1. Leslie, I have to come out of lurking to give you a virtual high five. It’s never too late to live the life you want. I always think of Julia Child, learning to cook at 37.

      2. Thank you for your kind and wise words. Of course you’re right. I have had a rudimentary plan to right the wrongs I did to my soul once my son is grown. I’ll be in my early 40’s then so plenty of time will be left. One crucial detail that is vital to those seeking a fearless life living outside one’s comfort zone is to chose a partner very wisely. If you seek both adventure and love make sure the person you chose has the same goals and wants the same life you do.

        1. And you know what? Some of the biggest adventurers I know are older women. Adventure doesn’t need to stop just bc your youth is over. I mean, sure, adventure might feel or look different with kids or career, but not less than. I, too, wish I’d lived more adventurously and fully in my 20s, so hopefully that can inform my 30s and beyond!

      3. YESSSS to this!

        Spot on, Leslie.

        My heart was breaking right along with Emily K. Same regrets, same “If I had only . . .”, but you reminded me WHY I didn’t do those things, and it’s OK. I have big plans in my suburbia, the first of which is to inspire my two beautiful children to have no fear and go for it, no matter what “it” is.

    2. Also keep in mind that just because it sounds fun and amazing to move to a big city to live, it just might not be. I moved to Brooklyn to work with inner city youth which had been a huge dream of mine. I had it in my head that when my internship ended I would stay on permanently. By the time my 4 months were up I was ready to go home (Seattle). Sometimes we can romanticize things in our head when in fact it’s not as glamorous and fun as we thought it might be. I’m glad I did the internship and had that experience but don’t discount the adventure and fun you can have right where you are now. :)

  5. This is a fantastic blog! Love that you did it together. Your kids are going to love hearing these stories as they grow up.

  6. So fun getting this peek into your past, and such wonderful advice. At 22 I moved to Columbus, OH from rural Vermont to be with my then-boyfriend/now-husband when he got into grad school. I had never seen this city and I certainly didn’t have any intention of living in Ohio previously, but I’m so proud of that brave move. People thought I was crazy, both for “following a boy” (uh, making the adult decision to be with someone I had been in a committed relationship with for years…) and moving to *Ohio* (which gets a bad rap). But Columbus (though it’s no NYC) is a seriously underrated city with awesome people, a growing fashion/arts/food scene, and it’s been an invaluable experience sharing the journey together.
    Now we’re 28 and looking to move back to the East Coast to be closer to our families, planning on popping out a lil one in the next couple years, and itching to own a home—I’m just so grateful that I was able to be young and broke and somewhat adventurous.

  7. I live in New York & I’m turning 26 this year and I struggle with this so so much. It’s sometimes hard for me to make myself do things just for fun, or just for the hell of it – to have adventures, to take risks. I go back and forth between hating the city & loving it, wishing I were a “better” “New Yorker” (one who goes out to brunch more, one who goes to parties and galleries and museums, one who experiences new things all the time) and wanting to run away and live in the countryside and not deal with the same kind of uncertainty or risk. How do you push yourself out of your comfort zone??! I find it so difficult.

    1. Just do one thing. Don’t think about all the things you want to do just find one thing and show up. You’ll be amazed at what you find out about yourself just by showing up. And by “showing up” I mean being true to your intention of doing something new.
      It could be as simple as walking a new way to work or trying a different grocery store. Sometimes we get so set in our routines, we don’t see the opportunities right under our noses.

      Today, I tried a new coffee shop that has a great collection of greeting cards and international news. Will I go there for coffee every day? Probably not but now I know where to go if I want to switch things up or read a foreign publication.

      Good luck with your micro adventures, Tiffany! I know you can do it!

      1. Urghhhh you’re so right. I need to start small & just COMMIT instead of expecting to do a complete life 180. I guess there’s something to be said for cultivating the habit of trying new things right?! Thank you so much for your words of encouragement, Jessica! xoxox

    2. Tiffany, I am 25, live in SF and also totally understand this “guilt” of not doing more (fun things) in such a great city. But then I realize that’s my choice, and that’s OK! It can get overwhelming sometimes, and sometimes to live in such a city and be surrounded by it is enough. I love Jessica’s post on looking at things a different way – when I walk through a part of a neighborhood that is brand new to me, it makes me happy to know I live here. To have the access when I do want it (which may be just once in a blue moon). But I have other goals for myself, like saving to buy a (ridiculously priced and altogether too small) home in SF, and then I feel more OK about maybe not taking advantage of city life now as it is.

  8. When I was 21, I moved from Memphis to Nashville, which while only 3 hours away, was more than enough to freak people out. I didn’t move for school, or a guy, or a job, but just to MOVE, and it was one of the best things I ever did. Wound up meeting my now husband there, and about a two years after we got married, after some seriously scary medical emergencies on my part, we decided that we had both always wanted to live in New York, so we should do it. My husband interviewed for a new position with his company, got the job, and we had to move two weeks later. No apartment, no job for me, but some good friends and a burning desire to just do it. We wound up living there for a year before he got a job at his company’s corporate office in Cincinnati, and now we live in Ohio, which is a shock to us both, but we like it. We have never regretted our year in New York, and both so glad to check that off the bucket list. Plus, now we’re totally open to moving abroad, even with any future children. I think taking that first step, making that first move, is everything. You can handle anything, you can figure it all out, as long as you’re willing to take a risk (hopefully with a great partner!). Life is short, and there are no guarantees. Make it an adventure.

  9. I’m really loving the broadening out of subject matter on your blog as of late! My husband and I have two teens so I always tell them to travel lots when they are on their own, because it is most definitely a regret I harbor. But, it’s never too late to start no matter what your age! It def is more challenging, but we attempt to go abroad with our kids and see the US as much, and when, possible! In three years (when the kids’ graduate HS- bittersweet stuff), we’re downsizing/moving to a bigger city/traveling more. Some people think we’re crazy and it will be a switch of lifestyle, but we’re excited to start a new chapter.

  10. Yes! In 2000, I was 21 and wanted to move to NYC (also from Oregon). But I didn’t, and I always regret it. I did, however, move then to Boston, then DC, and even did a stint in Texas. All that moving was good for my career, and I picked up a husband and had a baby along the way. I just moved back to Oregon (and it’s so good to be home). We now have a roomier home, and I’m not giving that up at age 37. BUT, my husband and I have a new plan: that day we are empty-nesters and retired, we are going to make that NYC adventure happen. It will be great.

  11. What a lovely post! I moved to London at 21 (in 1998), lived in a squat, worked as a dishwasher and ate really bad vegan food, aka chips and pita and mock duck (don’t ask)!

    Totally on the “no regrets” bandwagon…

    1. Brilliant and SO touching, fun and relatable to read. Oh! How can we pump a little bit of that spirit, fun into our present day lives ?!?

  12. So, I just happened to be sitting here listening to my “Pride & Prejudice Film Score” Pandora station while reading your post. Think: melodic violin and piano. The combo made your words in my head totally sound like the thoughtful monologue is a really, really good Nancy Meyers movie. Just thought you should know! :)

  13. What a wonderful post! And what great and wise advice to the 20-somethings to take risks, go out in the world and broaden their horizons.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story…

  14. OH I just adore this! So many recent graduats need to read this -and the resume post ;)
    With rising rents from SF to NYC its easy for your parents and friends to say “oh its too expensive, why would you move there”…well I say, “WHY NOT” you make it work!
    I moved to NYC August of 04′ with no clue what I was getting into, I had a job, an apartment through a friend and just made it work. Here I am 11 years later and still here (and still love it) and happy to look back on those days where I’m like…how on earth did I do it?! But you find ways to have a blast, be with your friends and live your life and build a fabulous career. I am a little bit proud now to look back and say…I friggin did that! Kind of amazing…this city is amazing.

  15. Oh I love this so much. I hope your young readers take your advice to heart b/c every word is so true. I left the suburbs of Chicago post-graduate school for Bakersfield California, sight unseen. It was touted in the interview as half-way between LA and SF so what’s not to like? My boyfriend came with and luckily I was able to follow him to Berkeley two years later as he finished up his schooling. I still remember all the thrilling cheap dates…browsing used book stores for hours and then getting a coffee…walking for miles and fantasizing about living in the various fabulous houses and then getting a fro-yo. We had a used flowered couch with a peculiar smell for years. The ants were so bad in our teeny kitchen and one year I awoke to see they were devouring my birthday cake. Insert decades of rising careers, moving to Seattle, raising two fine sons, and living the dream in a beautiful home and garden. Kids, yes, you will get softer and come to love your creature comforts, but the fun never ends. We took our boys to places all over Europe during their high school/college Xmas breaks and they too had 20s that were full of adventure. Now we have five grandchildren, age 5 and under! Our life is overflowing with love and fun.

  16. I also grew up in Oregon and graduated from the U of O in 2001 and immediately moved to Pasadena to follow my college boyfriend. I didn’t have a job or any idea what I wanted to do. Luckily he did and could pay the rent. Eventually I got a job and soon after we broke up and I moved into a $550 a month studio apartment in Long Beach. It probably wasn’t the smartest move to move down here, but I stayed in LA and if I hadn’t I would never have met my husband and I don’t know where I would have ended up.

  17. My husband and I are both 47 and just undertook our largest/riskiest adventure to date: we gave up our jobs in the Bay Area and moved with our two 8-year-olds to Portland where we are working for ourselves. We thought about leaving the Bay Area in our 30s, before we had kids, and it seemed hard to leave our jobs etc. Now I laugh at how easy that would have been. THIS was hard but the reward is huge.

  18. Oh, and thank you President Obama for the Affordable Care Act, which made it possible to leave both our jobs. I would not call our new healthcare affordable exactly, but we are managing it and the freedom is worth it!

    1. I was thinking the same thing! The Affordable Care Act means that my sweet babysitter can be on her parent’s health care while she nannies / plays music / takes grad school courses. Adventure is a lot riskier without that safety net for young and older adventurers.

  19. Yes, to EVERYTHING on this post. I’m 25, and have been living in NYC for the past 4 years. It’s absolutely everything that your 20’s should be and I can’t imagine a better place to be than right here. Absolutely love this post!

  20. Love your story! I also experienced the tiny apartment and loved every minute I lived there. Didn’t drive cross country but left my country for a better life. I found it in NY :)

  21. You probably know by now that I am one of your senior readers. I lived on the Gold Coast in Chicago in my 20s (no need to talk about the year here but hint – the dance craze was called disco). All my money went to clothes and rent and travel. I’m so glad at one time I lived like that.

  22. Love this post. I remember when I decided to move to Montana on a whim – I had been a city girl my entire life and decided I wanted to try something new. It was terrifying – I had no idea where I was – people did not know what to make of me – and that experience shaped who I am today. Reading this post brought back so many memories of my personal experience and now I have all the feels :)

  23. Yes!!!! I like my little comfort zone, but in college my friend and I did a study abroad program in Barcelona, and it changed my life. First time living on my own, exploring a city whose language I barely spoke, I came back infinitely more confident. Travel is glorious.

  24. This is SUCH great advice! And so spot-on! I moved to Washington DC with my then-boyfriend when we were 23, no jobs, no apt, etc. Did temp work, catering work, etc. while he worked various low-paying jobs on Capitol Hill. We stayed for two years and ate at amazing cheap restaurants (Ethiopian food – yum!) and went to all the museums and the zoo for entertainment (Smithsonian – yay!). I learned so much about myself during that time and grew up a lot. Moved back to the Midwest afterward, which is where I personally feel the most at home. But I wouldn’t have known this had I not tried out life in a big, crazy, crowded city.

  25. THANK YOU for being so open and honest about this. I feel that a lot of people looked at me sideways when I left a full-time job to try my hand at blogging full-time, and it was hard – there were definitely times when I had close to nothing in my bank account, but here I am a few years later happier than ever.

    My goal for the last few years of my 20s is to focus more on experiences and less on having a large bank account balance.

    Josh | The Kentucky Gent

  26. After college I went to work in London. They only let me stay 6 months and I lived in a hostel the entire time, but it was the best thing I ever did :)

  27. Great advice for people in their 20s and they should take it!
    I myself grew up in Europe, traveled there extensively – mostly in groups and we always had a blast. When I was in my early 20s I moved to NYC to be with my boyfriend. This was in the mid 80s when NYC was still a scary place to be, but we didn’t care. A year later, after we spent our honeymoon in California, we decided to move there, packed up a big U-Haul and drove cross country. We’ve great memories of that road trip, not that I would do it again, but everyone should at least drive it once!! I taught my kid that traveling is fun and we spent every year in Europe exploring a different city and she’s now in her 20s and at least made it to Colorado on her own. I do hope she’ll continue exploring the world and not get stuck someplace. You are right: the things you do in your 20s would give you nightmares in your 30s and 40s :-)) Once you’re my age (50s) you only regret that you weren’t more daring and adventurous. Don’t let 2 kids stop you – get out there and show them the world!

  28. I just loved this post! There is so much great insight in here! I grew up in a super small town in upstate NY and just left one day with a one way ticket to Salt Lake with $1000 to my name and I wound up living in a house with 9 other girls (talk about crammed and uncivilized) but those are some of the best memories of my 20s and it’s something that I’m so grateful for doing now!


  29. Absolutely LOVE this post. It is so grounding. I consistently struggle with the worry of making the right choices to “set my life up for the future” that I often miss the wonderful moments of the present. This post was a wonderful reminder that we need to live in and enjoy the present, and the future will be that much better because we did. I so respect the designer/career woman/mother/wife you are, and love hearing about your journey- gives me hope for mine!

  30. I did went the other way! Bought a one way ticket from NY to the Bay Area with no money and no job. I only had a place to live, which was with 4 roommates back then ! it’s been 20 years and i never looked back!

    1. Me too! Drove with my brand new hubby across the country from NY to Washington State in 2002! He was in the Navy and we were SO broke! I remember buying groceries for an entire month with $80. When we splurged on dinner, it was a frozen box of Banquet chicken that cost $4. It was SO GOOD. Now we live in PDX and have a house and ‘real’ jobs – our place still feels so big (1800 sq ft) and I can’t believe there are rooms I don’t even step foot in every day! 14 years….wow. So glad we did this, the PNW is the home we chose together. Sometimes the impulsive choices you make when you’re young show you who you really are deep down.

  31. LOVE this, and it seems timed perfectly — my husband and I are considering moving back to DC from the Midwest, even though we are late 20s and will likely have kids in the next 3-4 years. Such a tough call when we’ve transitioned past “young 20s.”

    1. It’s never too late! My hubby and I (both 27) are moving to Denver on a whim in a few weeks from our home city of Chicago. We’ve always wanted to live in the mountains and we pulled the trigger! Feels so incredibly great.

      We also want kids in 3-5 years but we figure, we’ll worry about that when the time comes. :)

  32. I’m really glad you posted this and, it’s awkwardly worded, but that it came from this blog. I’ve read your blog daily for about 4 years now and sometimes I see the beautiful rooms you design, adorable family (OMG your babies are cute), and successful career, and I can’t wait to get to that point in my life. I’m 25 now and just starting to make ends meet. I’m moving this weekend and this is the first time I’ve been able to afford a NEW piece of furniture instead of craigslist/goodwill/family castoffs. I was just thinking yesterday that I can’t wait to be at a point when $500 for a dresser is no big deal. It’s good to be reminded not to rush through my 20s to be more like the idyllic lives I see in style blogs.

    1. I’m 26 (closer to 27—ugh!) and not yet making ends meet yet… Your comment resonates with me. While I am so thankful to have grown up in this information age, I can’t help but feel like the carefree nature of Emily’s 20s doesn’t exist in the same way because whether we try to avoid it or not—there is so much information out there that makes us feel like we’re not “keeping up with the Joneses,” even in our 20s (and younger!). Comparison is the thief of joy and all that, but I think these messages about having it all or having what other people have are so much sneakier now. With Instagram, blogs and the like—we are literally being sold “lifestyles” that don’t really exist—at least not in the way we see them. Unlike magazines, which are easier to treat as aspirational or “curated,” I think there is something about lifestyle brands that can definitely hit a nerve or spark insecurity where none existed previously.

      That said, my own Instagram feed features regular travel, and someone else looking at it might think that I am just the most #blessed (and in many ways, I am! I am so thankful to be able to travel as much as I have).

      I hate to admit it but I do feel like my love of design and pretty things, tied into the nonstop connectedness of social media/blog world (and add in online shopping) has at times brought out my shallower, materialistic tendencies. All that is to say—I feel like my twenties so far have been a lot about travel, friends, living in the moment, but also maybe too focused about making my home/closet/life feel “perfect” by buying into things I probably shouldn’t have been buying into. It’s a lesson learned, for sure. Definitely something I am still working on.

      Anyway, I digress a bit. I just wanted to comment on some of the struggles of a modern day twenty-something! It’s certainly comforting and inspiring to see that it took Emily time to develop her career and her style.

      Also… Brian’s red shirt is just too funny. Very Chanandler Bong.

      1. Joanna – it’s natural to feel the conflict of consumption as it’s jammed down our throats daily. At least you’re aware of it and can sometimes view it from above. On days when I feel the pull to purchase, I can often scratch that itch at the thrift store and escape for under $20. Other days i don’t get away so easy and end up with yet another throw pillow, etc. And make friends with people other than the Jones’s!

        1. Thanks for the suggestion, Kristen!

          I’m using the “Joneses” in a broader social media sense—the Instagrammers we drool over, etc… Thankfully, the people I surround myself in real life are awesome and only ever make me feel loved. Of course, the healthy thing would probably be to “unfollow” the accounts that sometimes make me question myself, but as an aspiring interior designer, I’m also torn between wanting to be ‘in the know’ and just “wanting.”

      2. Shan & Joanna – I so relate to both your comments. There’s this weird culture/need to create & live an aspirational lifestyle that influences so many of our decisions nowadays… and maybe prevents us from doing things “just because”? Like, not only do we “need” to have certain material possessions to make our lives look a certain way, our experiences have to be documented and Instagram-worthy, which pulls us out of the moment & refocuses our attention back on how our lives look to other people, and maybe makes it harder to enjoy & really be present in where we’re at.

  33. This is so true! I moved to California at 20, all by myself, and I wouldn’t give up the time I spent there for anything in the world. It was one of the best adventures of my life!

  34. This gives me so much confidence and happiness! I’m 25, not loving my job even though I know design is the line of work for me. I gave my two weeks notice yesterday and booked a one way ticket to Sydney Australia. Everyone keeps asking have I been saving for this? NOPE. I currently live in SF, where saving in your twenties isn’t even an option. But you know what?! I have VERY little tying me down and very little overhead costs. So I thought, if not now, when?! Wish me luck…!!!

    1. I lived in Sydney in my 20’s and made many lifelong friends and literally had the time of my life (I was there 3 years) it is a great city, and I wish you luck on your adventures – you’ll love it! (I’m from NZ)

    2. I wish you LUCK! It will be wonderful, just you wait and see. And don’t forget: some of the biggest missteps make the best stories later on! Have fun!

  35. Loved this Emily! Related so much to this post. I’ll be 26 next month and we just moved to downtown Houston! Adventure time!

  36. I had no idea that we had this in common. My husband and I also lived in NYC in our early twenties and were broke. We had a great time! We had a great apartment where we could see the Roosevelt Island Tram from our bedroom window. It was a pre-war building with an elevator and door man. There is NO WAY we could afford that place today. I still long for it and our time spent there now that we live in Maryland with 3 kids and 2 dogs. I’m such a city girl.

  37. I didn’t move away largely because of a boyfriend. LAME. I will never let me daughter do the same. Now I am just waiting for the day my kids pick somewhere cool to live so I can vicariously enjoy it through them! IF I let them move that is :)

  38. Like others, love this post. Like you, moved to NYC in my 20s, with not much money, splitting a 1 BR apt. with a roommate and then a tiny studio by myself, etc. And, yes, 2nd & 6th Indian restaurants were the thing and about all I could afford (and, yet, somehow I still spent vast $$$ at clubs.). In any event, no desire to move back, really, but it’s definitely a rite of passage — and I’ve told my daughter when she is older, she probably should spend a year or 2 in NYC. Just to do it. (And then leave.)

  39. I think this post is a great example of why I love reading your blog! It’s real–not overly curated (and don’t get me wrong, I love all things design, but its personal–your voice).

    And I believe its great advice, being in the 2 kids / mortgage stage–my adventures are much different now. ;)

  40. My husband and I moved to NYC in September. I’m 26. We moved up here with no furniture, no apartment, and only he had a job. I feel like this post was the EXACT thing I needed to read at this point. Sometimes I miss the quiet comfort of our small town back in Georgia, but we’re in the greatest city in the world. It’s okay that we don’t own a coffee table or a dresser, and that we only have one closet in our entire, tiny apartment. Thank you for providing some small comfort that we are exactly where we need to be.

  41. Yes! I moved to NYC at 29, fresh out of grad school, no job, but thinking “now or never”. It took 10 months (and a stint in retail where I was sooo sad walking to the train at sunrise to a t-shirt folding job) and 100 applications (6 interviews) before I got a job where I could breath with relief. I don’t regret a second of it and I’m glad it took me that long to find a job. (Which, by the way, is the best job I’ve ever had and has completely changed my life.) Also…I validate anyone who doesn’t have NYC or something like that as their personal dream…do what YOU want to do, even if it’s “quieter” – just don’t NOT do it because of fear.

  42. I’m 38 and I just moved to NYC to live exactly like this. You’re as young as you feel! I think it helps I’m not married and don’t have (or want) kids and LOVE small living.

    In fact, I think I did all this in reverse. I used to have the big house (lived in Texas, enough said) and proper relationships. Now I just have fun (outside of work). I say, if you want to move to New York, do it! Like any place you move to, there will be compromises (money and space) but it can totally be worth it.

  43. Did 36 with no kids or house.
    Now 39, still no kids or house and contemplating a move to nyc (independent of this fun post). :-)

  44. This post brings back great memories! I also moved from Oregon to New York City at age 22, without a job, and shared a one-bedroom apartment in the East Village with my best friend. I moved in 2000, so I remember exactly what the city was like at that time. I couldn’t imagine a better place to spend my 20’s. Reading this post was a great start to my day!

  45. Yes, yes, yes. I moved to NYC for a year when I was 18 and after a few years back home moved to DC when I was 23. Best two things I’ve ever done for myself. Now I’m 25 and broke and loving every second of living in this beautiful, wonderful, crazy city. Except for the 30 inches of snow surrounding it right now, not loving that so much.

  46. love it. I did tucson to boston in 2002 in a ’67 VW bug that broke down every day, clearly with no money, job or place to live…kinda miss it…

  47. Just had to chime in with everyone else to say how much I loved this post. My life at 22 looked completely different than yours – already married and nearly had my 1st kid (the week after I turned 23) but the idealistic, adventure spirit was still there. We moved out of our home country and then across country and it all seemed so easy and something that I laugh at now because we didn’t even give it much thought.

  48. I did this too, 1996-1999. My apt in park slope was 950 bucks a month, 2 bedrooms/1 bath and a washer dryer, fire escape and same gate on the window, plus an amazing 82 year old landlady. waiting tables and working for a prop stylist. broke and it was a dream….! All young ones should do it…

  49. I moved a lot in my twenties. When I look back at it, it was freeing to move with all of my belongings fitting in my car. Great post!

  50. Great piece. I just forward this to my 29 year old sister (the baby of 8) who has been in LA almost 6 years. She’s feeling drained by the city and deciding on her next move. She has done a million jobs, even dog walking and has traveled the U.S. And internationlly to many countries on a dime. She is worried she isn’t settled or established. I assured her she’s living! It might be time to move back to Detroit but I’m proud of her. This will be a great read!

  51. I am 29 this year and married for 5 years with this amazing guy that let me basically sit at home whole day while he’s working and supporting us. Every time I think about it I think I strike lottery. I’m currently working on launching my own business and my very book-smart MBA husband says he wants to work for me. How sweet.

    Oh, BTW, I didn’t even go to high school and no diploma, everything in life I self taught myself. What keeps me going is a childhood with an abusive father (which me, my sis and Mum made it out alive). And I’m also rebuilding relationship within my family and my husband family. All is good, my first home coming in a few months (a new build) and I wish a few more years I can write a post like this when I have successfully launched my business, a letter to my younger self. :)

  52. I moved to New York from the other side of the world at 25. I had emptied my bank account to go to grad school, so I got really good at having fun on the cheap. New York has a ton of free things to do all year round but especially in the summer. I saw so many bands/ artists that I now would have to pay hundreds of dollars to see. I volunteered for cooking and mixology classes, and got to learn new skills and walk away with the extra ingredients and bottles of booze. My roommates and I experienced the “pivot!” moment in Friends that Ross did when we got over enthusiastic about upgrading our ratty couch to a linen tufted one from an estate sale. (It eventually got into our apartment with some help.) I attended all kinds of public events that served amazing wine and hor d’oeuvres and made that my meal. My time there was way too short (only 3 years), but I’d recommend it to anyone. You just have to hustle, get a great community around you, and have fun! (and a lot of hutzpah!)

  53. This really hit home. I’m 29 now and have always wanted to go out and explore the world. I know I’d find work one way or another – either online or offline but I don’t want to mess up my spouse’s career aspirations. Gosh I feel like packing up and catching the next flight to Fiji or something!

  54. What a lovely post. To add my two cents, I finally moved to the city of my dreams, Paris, in my thirties. It’s never too late to make your dreams come true. And as I’ve learned, 11 years later, once you make one dream come true, the others come easier. Go for it, whatever it is that makes your soul sing!

  55. One of my favorite memories, especially to tell college-aged people, is how I moved across the country to Oregon with my first husband one week after we were married, at 22, and packed our belongings in a tiny little trailer we pulled behind the car, and lived at a Budget Inn for 3 days while we looked at apartments. We had almost nothing planned, and it was so exciting and fun! We were broke, but that just seemed to make it more exciting. I couldn’t go back to that now, but am glad I did it back then!

  56. Great advice! I am from the big city- Miami – and had a blast there in the late 80’s, early 90’s, best time of my life. And then, I was just done. I wanted the opposite so I moved to a sleepy beach town. You would think the adventure was over but no, that was a real growth period for me and included backpacking through Europe for 6 months, traveling to Africa and many other places. Now I am a SAHM and feel so fulfilled and happy that I gave myself lots of me time so now I can stay at home with no regrets. I can travel again later. Hopefully my daughter will want me to go with her once in a while!

  57. Is that a Coach purse you are carrying in the pic in front of the car? If so, do you still have it and are you willing to part with it?

  58. I love this! When I graduated college, I moved to Chicago and was totally broke and living with a few roommates in an apartment that was meant for college kids. I was starting my teaching career, making no money and had the best time just enjoying life and making my own fun with my friends. All of us were broke, living in the city and didn’t have a care in the world!

  59. What a great post and perfect advice! I was lucky enough to have adventures in my 20’s: I studied in Paris my senior year of college; I hitchhiked across Ireland by myself and celebrated my 22nd birthday with strangers in a Dublin bar. At 23 I took off to Europe with a one way plane ticket, a 3 month Eurail pass, $600 and absolutely no plan. I’d show up at train station, take the next train to wherever it went and always seemed to met amazing people along the way. I slept in the streets of Pamplona during the Running of the Bulls and dove from a tower into the crowded square below (ok, I do regret that decision and that emergency room visit!). My 5th date with my husband was a month traveling around Europe together. Two years later we hiked & camped for almost a month in the Canadian Rockies running into bears, mountain lions and buffalo along the way. Later we biked the west coast of Ireland and the year after that I ran the Dublin Marathon. Oh, and I also walked many, many dogs for money.

    After my 20s the adventures changed – I moved around the country. I lived abroad again but with more money. I became an egg donor and later went through years of infertility and IVF myself. I got halfway through a dissertation and realized that wasn’t the right direction for me. I started, ran and sold a business. I put on a conference in Greece. I saw people in need, started fundraisers & brought in amounts I never thought possible. I welcomed foreign exchange students into our home.

    Maybe those are all tame compared to my earlier escapades but I’d like to think they’re still adventures – just ones that fit with where I currently am in life. To me leading an adventurous life is about embracing experiences that are new and outside your norm not necessarily doing the insane. I miss all the wild fun I had in my 20s but I love all the things I’ve taken on in my 30’s and 40’s.

    One day when the kids are grown I’ll do the crazy again. I’ll be in a new season of my life – one in which I can again be open to the bigger adventures and I’ll be ready for it. After all it’s never too late!

  60. I lived in NYC in my twenties and early 30’s and would not trade that time for anything in the world. I too was broke, but drinks were always free because everyone I knew worked in a restaurant. We have raised our kids in a small college town surrounded by mountains and beauty and nature and peace but they have been told their whole lives that the day the last one leaves for college, Mommy is moving to Brooklyn. I can think of no better place to spend the other end of my life – public transportation, restaurants and coffee shops, frequent company, museums and she and so many of my old friends.

  61. I love this! Yes, I spent a bit in NYC and I’m so glad I did. Living conditions were terrible and I had no money, but the experiences and memories made are once in a lifetime! I’m back in the midwest with a family and so glad I took the leap. Love seeing this pictures!

  62. Hi Emily,
    I loved reading your story. ( as always :) )
    You said you left your home town without having any plan.
    When did you know you were attracted to the interior design world?
    How did it all start ?

  63. I agree with you %100.

    My live broke in a big city was in San Francisco during the mid 2000’s. Wish it could have been NY but SF didn’t disappoint.

    All of you in your 20’s right now please listen to Emily. I am 35 years old now with a child and living that NYC life for me was a dream that is just going to be that, a dream. Make it your reality!


  64. Thanks for this, Emily.
    I’m 27, turning 28 this year, and have lived in LA for the past 9 1/2 years having moved here from Oregon for college. Living in a big, expensive city can make it hard to feel like you “have your life together.” Although I have a good, steady job and a decent apartment, sometimes it feels like I’m on a hamster wheel and will never “get ahead” here, move up in the world, have nicer things, a bigger savings cushion, a better place, etc. It’s just so darn expensive here and unless you have A) two incomes or B) a six-figure salary, things seem impossible. I find myself thinking how much cushier my life would be if I lived in Oregon. BUT I still find myself here, year after year, and I know in my heart there’s a reason I’m here and a reason that this place has been the setting for my 20’s. Late 20’s is a weird time in life where you can see 30 on the horizon and start thinking all these thoughts about responsibility and settling down and mortgages and retirement plans, etc. Truthfully I have always been a hair more “responsible” than my general age cohort but this post reminds me that at 27 I’m STILL IN MY 20’S. That this stretch of my life is supposed to include doing things for the experience and not because they’re going to advance my retirement plan. I’m younger than I think I am and I need to give myself space and freedom to be exactly where I’m at right now, not pressuring myself to be further down the road. I love the idea of “that’s what your 20’s are for,” and not having to justify or qualify that.
    So, thanks for the reminder. LA is an amazing place and knowing that I may not be here forever makes me appreciate every sunny winter day, emerging overpriced hipster restaurant, stroll downtown, ridiculously long (short distance) drive in traffic, and amusing cultural experience so much more.

  65. I’m dying to move to a larger city…cross country… and the whole idea has been incredibly exciting and totally freaking me out at the same time. I keep reading all of these blog posts that say exactly this, but as a person in my 20’s who did things a little “out of order”, I get to be old and lame and chase my now 7 year old kid around (which, don’t get me wrong, is lots of good fun!). I just wonder at times if I’ll ever take risks and do something like this or if everything will always be calculated to be sure that I’m not a shit parent. Anywho… I really love walking down your personal memory lane!