Can a Commute Ever Be Too Short?

The year I lived across the street from work.

Eliminating My Commute

When I was in my early twenties, I had the longest commute of my life. I lived in an apartment on one side of Chicago and worked in a warehouse on the other side.

With a car, the drive probably would have only taken half an hour or so. Unfortunately, like many young Chicagoans, I didn’t have a vehicle of my own and relied on public transit instead.

Every morning I walked 15 minutes to the El, take a train ride into the center of the city, then transfer to a bus which I took the rest of the way to work.

The whole trip took up to an hour and a half, and I’d have to repeat the entire process in reverse to get home at the end of each day.

I hated the commute and vowed to never live so far from work again.

When my lease ended, I decided to go to the opposite extreme: I’d find an apartment as close to work as possible.

As luck would have it, there was an apartment for rent directly across the street from the warehouse.

This was so close that I could literally see the apartment’s front door from the loading dock at work.

It felt like winning the lottery. I jumped on the chance to rent it, and just like that, my commute was virtually eliminated.

My first morning in the new apartment, I slept in more than an hour later than I was used to, and then literally walked across the street to work.

At the end of the day, I was back home a minute after clocking out.

I felt like I had unlocked the ultimate hack to achieving a work-life balance.

The Ups and Downs of Living Next to Work

There were a lot of things that I loved about living so close to work.

Most importantly, I suddenly had two to three hours of extra free time every day. It was an incredibly freeing and stress-relieving experience.

My old commute was outrageously long, and I would never live that far from work again.

Another unforeseen bonus was that I could start going home for lunch each day.

I had always been the type to go out to eat for lunch, wasting money on crappy food each day. Once I started going home for lunch, I was eating both better and cheaper.

It was also very relaxing to be able to take half an hour to sit on my own couch and watch a little TV in the middle of the day.

Unfortunately, I also quickly realized that there were downsides to living directly across the street from work.

Very early on, I decided that I didn’t really want my boss and coworkers knowing how close I lived. I worried that people might invite themselves over, or start relying on me to come into work during my off-hours since I lived nearby.

This caused a lot of ridiculous worrying as I tried my best to avoid having coworkers spot me entering and leaving my apartment.

Sometimes I would stand by the window, peeking out the curtains to see if the coast was clear. Other times, I would exit through the alley in the back and walk around the block to disguise where I’d come from.

I only ever told a handful of coworkers that I lived so close.

Another problem with living near work was that it felt like my whole life was taking place on just one block. It made my home and work life seem blended together.

I realized that I needed some level of physical separation between home and work in order to feel a psychological separation between the two.

By the time that my year lease ended, I had come to regret living quit so close to work. It was better than living an hour and a half away, but it had plenty of its own problems.

I still think it’s great to live near work, but not to take it to quite the extreme that I did.

I left both that apartment and that job around the same time, right as I started law school. In my next apartment, I still lived within walking distance from school, but it was more of a fifteen-minute walk instead of a sprint across the street. It was a much happier middle-ground.

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more. Buy me a “coffee” at ko-fi.com/benyaclark.

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