bed-in-closetWhile attending NYU in the early 1980s, I quickly figured out that the dorms were the least cost-effective way for me to live. I spent half of my school week in classes midtown, off campus, and the expensive meal plan was mandatory if you were living in the dorms. The problem was that I wasn’t even around to use the meal plan—so I was stuck.

I was also stuck in one of those old small dorms that NYU had from way back—originally it had been the Judson Church dormitory where the church had lodged their priests. I shared my room with another girl and it was considered a “2 BR” since it was a large room with a walk-in closet. Guess where I slept? The closet was just big enough for a single bed and a dresser. My roommate had her boyfriend over a lot so when I came home I’d go into my little bedroom/closet feeling like a hostage in my own room.

I sucked it up the first year in the Judson dorm and then the following fall I answered an ad posted in the student commons for an apartment share. An older woman with a really nice apartment in a modern building was leasing out a room, for an incredibly reasonable amount. It was right on campus (Thompson St.) just down the block from my dorm.

Getting a roommate was a practical decision for my landlord—she no longer wanted to climb upstairs to her sleeping loft and also would vacate the place every weekend to go to her house in Connecticut. Why not make some money out of the unused space? (She slept downstairs on the couch.)

It was a perfect solution for me, too. I was new to NY and had no social life, so living with an elderly woman didn’t cramp my style. (By the way, in hindsight I realize the woman was in her sixties—hardly elderly!) Also, it was incredibly convenient since I worked as an aerobics instructor at the gym across the street and walked two blocks to my classes.

I had the whole upstairs sleeping loft, which had a proper staircase leading to two twin beds, a walk-in closet (with no one else sleeping inside it), and (bonus!) a sunny, walk-out deck. On the downside, there was no bathroom up there and I had to share her kitchen.

After a year, my roommate/landlord became ill and retired full-time to her Connecticut house. I lived in that apartment for the same $400 rent for another year. I even moved a friend in with me to split the stupidly cheap rent! Her adult children finally got wise and politely told me the party was over. It was all good though because now that the Super was familiar with me, he made sure that I got the next open lease on a studio. My rent went up substantially, but I eventually bought that studio at the insider price and sold it years later.

I always think of my first years in the city as being somewhat fraught—but looking back, I was pretty lucky!

Jen now lives in a nice rental apartment on the Upper West Side with her husband, daughter, and young dog. She owns a sustainable-living consulting business, at


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