Last year, when I thought about not living in a tiny dorm room with a window that wouldn’t open, I imagined trees all around, a bathroom with one shower instead of six, a wind chime outside my window like the one at home and a kitchen where’d I’d make fancy soups and vegetables and noodles.

Now that I am here, moved into a sterile, exposed, cold apartment far from campus and with three last-minute strangers for roommates, I haven’t opened my window and the only noodles I make are ramen. This is because I try to hardly be there.

I’ll disclaim with saying I’m gracious for what I have and who I am and what I’m doing, but all of those things are also way up in the air (i.e. what is permanent/temporary, who am I really, what the heck am I doing here!?, etc.).

The room I sleep in still smells how it did when I moved in: like some other person living there who isn’t me, like the place is not mine at all.

I go to school during the day, and when I’m home it isn’t quite that bad in the daylight. The sunshine through the back door makes the white walls look less like I’m in Pixie, Inc. from The Fairly Odd Parents. I can see the small group of pine trees outside my window, and they remind me of where I’m from. This apartment is not home, but it’s where I am right now. I can put up with how mundane it gets.

But when the sun goes down, the story is different. The place is too large, has too many shadowy corners and awkward halls where creepy things could go unseen by me. All of my roommates are on the second floor; I’m downstairs with the two doors with questionable locks, all the windows where all I can see is my reflection, and the appliances that creak and groan and pound around in the wee hours of the morning. My roommate’s bed creaks all night above me. The room I sleep in still smells how it did when I moved in: like some other person living there who isn’t me, like the place is not mine at all. My roommates make dinner together, they do homework at the kitchen table right outside my bedroom door, whispering and laughing into the night, the horrible overhead kitchen light climbing through the too-big slit under my door as I bury my head in the blanket my mom knitted for me, some semblance of home.

I am trying to make the place smell like me, like security, like normalcy. It’s slowly working.

I try to stay out of the apartment after nightfall. I drive to the craft store. I sit in my car outside the Starbucks and read. I lay on my boyfriend’s bed until he needs to go to sleep and I’m cast out. I beg some greater power that he’ll ask me to spend the night with him instead. I don’t want to go back.

But I’m here until July-something. I can’t do anything about that. So, to any others out there struggling to find warmth and security in an unfamiliar place, here are the things I’ve learned in the first three months of getting used to it:

1. Make it smell right. My biggest problem is that when I leave my apartment, I smell like it, and it doesn’t smell like me. It’s gotten to the point that I’d rather smell like someone else’s house or the coffee shop I’ve been in—something besides a blatant reminder that I’m not settled in yet. Solution: I bought incense. My mom and I picked out candles that smell right. I brew my coffee and toast my bagels and relish in smells that are normal. I put on my favorite lotion from my Aunt and sit on the floor and my stool and my bed. I am trying to make the place smell like me, like security, like normalcy. It’s slowly working.

2. Invite people over. Tell your one friend, “let’s make dinner at my place.” Ask your SO if they could sleep at your place every once in a while when they invite you to stay at theirs. At the end of the day, it’s not my dad humming on the patio or my mom cooking in the kitchen, but it’s other people you know, and they’re in your space. Ask them to be.

3. Take a walk. So maybe this isn’t exactly giving in to being inside of your scary apartment. BUT, it is a good way nonetheless to familiarize yourself with your neighborhood. No place is home at the beginning; that’s hard to remember. You make it home. “Making” it home is seeing it in enough lights that you can start to appreciate it. Taking a walk when I can’t sleep has helped me to do that.

4. Plants! My dad and I went to the nursery last time I was home and bought a spearmint plant my brother promptly named Ty. We potted him, and now he’s out back on the patio. Things get better when I look out the screen door and see him basking in the sun.

5. Buy more lamps. One of the first things you learn living with me is that I friggin’ hate (!) overhead lights and lights tinted blue. I swear I’m not too picky about anything else. A big problem I faced when I first moved in was how much larger my room is than I expected it to be, and thus how hard it is to get the lighting just comfy and right enough. So I bought another lamp. I grabbed two more from home. It’s starting to look smaller and cozier. It’s starting to help me stay inside more, bringing me to my next point…

6. It’s fine to just sit outside. So your roommates won’t shut up. So your room feels wrong. So the ceiling is creaking or the fridge keeps making dumb popping noises. Sometimes I get home at night and head straight for the cement slab out back, just because I know I won’t be able to handle my room at that moment. I bring a quilt and my incense, my book and a flashlight. I make a bowl of cereal or some tea, fill a cup of water. Maybe I read, maybe I stare face-up at the pine trees and call my mom. I can listen to music, too. When I’m tired enough, I go back inside and fall asleep.

Okay! Gosh, that was so long. But okay. Are you okay? I think I’m getting okay. I know some of these tips are limited by exactly where you live, but take them generally, yeah? And above all else, know that things are constantly changing, and while that sucks x1000, it also is what allows your situation to get better. Hang in there, we’ll all be living in our dreamy homes someday. For now, it’s spooky-apartment time, and we’re all quite brave!