What I Learned About Life From Being Homeless

by Niki on July 4, 2011

It’s safe to say the past month has been one of the most tumultuous months of my life.  I could never have imagined or predicted the turmoil I’ve had to go through.  While I was by no means forced to find a homeless shelter, I was suddenly and abruptly displaced from my home under very unpleasant circumstances.  Before I jump into the life lessons I learned from being homeless, let me summarize how I came to be homeless.

During the last week in May, my boyfriend/partner/spouse of two years told me he was breaking up with me.  A few days later he informed me he was seeing someone else.  A few days after that he kicked me out of our home, and a few days after that the new girlfriend started staying over at our house.  Since I sold my own house in 2010 after moving into my boyfriend’s house, I quickly found a rental house I could move to.  The only problem – I couldn’t move in until July 2.  So for the past 3 weeks all my possessions and belongings were still in his house.  I lived out of a suitcase at a friend’s house, while his new girlfriend stayed at our house, surrounded by all my stuff. Before you point out the two obvious points that many other people have pointed out to me already, let me clarify:

1.  Yes, I now realize he was seeing the new girlfriend before he broke up with me.  I may be blonde, but I’m not dumb.

2.   Yes, I realize he couldn’t actually legally kick me out of our home.  I left when I did because it was in my own best interest to not be around the drama that was going on there.

So for the past three weeks I have been dependent on the kindness and generosity of friends. In all honesty, I had dreaded the inconvenience of living somewhere other than my home, but the actual experience was much better than I anticipated. Here’s what I learned about life while being temporarily homeless.

1.  People matter more than stuff.  I know this is just so trite and people always say this after catastrophic fires, earthquakes, and tornados – after they’ve lost all their stuff.  In my case I discovered that during a traumatic experience, being around other people is a source of comfort and healing.  The friends I stayed with provided an excellent balance of independence and companionship.  We could hang out together or we could do our own thing.  If I needed to talk they were there to listen, and if I needed to cry, they passed me the kleenex.  And if I just needed to be left alone, they left me alone. Sometimes comfort and healing comes from simply knowing other people sincerely care about your well being. THANK YOU SO MUCH TO MY FOSTER FAMILY – you are all so awesome and your generosity is so very much appreciated.

2.  Home is where your dog is. When I first moved in with friends, I was really worried about Charly and how he would adapt.  The first couple days he was anxious and out of sorts and did a lot of pacing, but then he quickly adapted.  He managed to make himself right at home and got used to sleeping on the couch after his afternoon swim.  Coming home to him after work made our temporary living arrangement feel like home.  Dogs have the miraculous ability to make anyplace feel like home. Don’t underestimate the healing power of a wagging tail.

3.  The stuff that really matters is what keeps me connected to others. You know what I would rescue in a fire?  My blackberry and my laptop.  These two items are instrumental for connecting me to all the other people in my life, and those other people in my life are what connect me to my sanity.  Without my phone or email, I’d have to go back to snail mail and smoke signals and those are just SOOO inefficient during times of trauma.  Even though I wasn’t living in my home, my friends could stay connected to me because they knew where to text me.  And that matters a lot these days.

4.  We can make a home anywhere.  The longer you live anywhere, the most settled you become and the more attached you become to your daily habits and material things.  But when something disrupts your sense of home, and you HAVE to flee suddenly, it turns out that you really can adapt to living most anyplace else.  I know I cannot compare my comfortable guest bedroom and bathroom to a refuge camp, but the principle is the same.  If forced to, we could all give up our daily comforts in order to survive.

5.  The number one priority when being homeless is physical and emotional safety.  I left the house when I did because I had to take care of myself.  I hadn’t been able to sleep very much, my stomach was in knots, and I was having violent nightmares every night.  I was in physical and emotional distress and my ex has a pretty intense temper.  I didn’t realize how much that stress was impacting me until I was sleeping somewhere else.  When you are no longer afraid, then you can deal better with everything else in your life.  My advice to anyone going through a life transition:  the very first thing you must do is go find a place where you feel safe and can sleep in peace and without fear.

6.  No matter how small your house is, be grateful for a roof over your head.  I’ve said it before but I have such a sense of gratitude for the people who offered to share their home with me.  Many people have asked me if I’m going to buy a new home right now, but I’ve decided to wait on that.  I need to get my head sorted out from this trauma before I make any big decisions.  I’ve decided not to go out searching for the “perfect next home” but just to live in a house that is good enough and make it my home for a year or two.  In other words, I don’t need perfect when I can get by with good enough.

As I said in the beginning of this post, my homelessness was temporary and was not a significant physical hardship.  My hardship these days is all emotional.  Nevertheless, this sudden sense of displacement – like all difficult ordeals in life – can provide us wisdom if we pay attention.  I didn’t ask for this trauma, but if I have to go through it I might as well learn something along the way.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Holly July 4, 2011 at 12:12 pm

You’re being so smart about all of this, Niki. I wish it didn’t have to happen to you, but good lord you’ve made the best lemonade out of this.

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Niki July 4, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Thanks Holly for your comment. Yeah I wish I had seen this coming and I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone. Thanks again for your support. == niki

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LisaAnne July 6, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Niki, I found your blog recently via Facebook. I’ve followed your story with (until now) unspoken empathy. Holly said it: you seem to be dealing with this with incredible strength. If there’s anything I can do to help you out, let me know — and come join us for some crossfit sometime! Nothing like working yourself into exhaustion to forget your troubles for a while.

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Niki July 6, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Thanks LisaAnne,
I would love to join you for CrossFit one of these days. It’s been about 8 weeks since I’ve had a good workout and I miss it – I’m afraid I’ve lost my pullups :-(
Thanks for reaching out and sharing your feedback – I will be in touch soon. And thanks for being a great role model of strength – you rock!

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