I’m writing this for everyone who has ever lived in a noisy apartment — and couldn’t afford to move. Or for whatever wishful-thinking strategy kept waiting for it to magically stop. But it doesn’t. And even a day feels like an eternity.
If you’ve never had the … uh … pleasure you cannot imagine how, after a while, even little noises can begin to feel like someone dancing on your head in cleats.
Types of noisy apartment sources
Our world is filled with unwanted noise, all seemingly hell-bent on driving you stark raving mad. Some come from outside your building — most of those out of your control. And some come from right inside from neighbors or hallway passers-by or building machinery that “conveniently” was turned off the very day you looked at your new apartment before signing.
Alas neighbor noise is often out of your control too. Even if it seems like an exchanged friendly word or two might help solve at least shared-wall or hallway issues, there can be potential pitfalls from that well-intended route.
Here’s my list of just some of those annoying noise sources. Please feel free to add your own experiences (and solutions) in a comment. I’m sure you have some great stories!
OUTSIDE APARTMENT NOISES
- You live on a major road and hear trucks, busses, ambulances, etc. going by even at night.
- There’s a restaurant, bar, or nightclub that’s active and at times loud into the night.
- You live on or near an airplane or helicopter route.
- With new development nearby you hear (and feel) loud machinery for months — and then yet another project starts!
- There’s a school near you with engines-running buses and noisy kids hanging around outside at least a few times a day. (Bus engines should not be running for air pollution reasons, btw.)
- Garbage trucks wake you every morning at some ridiculously early hour — and then return in the evening for another pickup.
INDOOR APARTMENT NOISES
- Upstairs neighbor who slams equipment on the floor, has a kid who runs & jumps, stamps on floor when their team scores, or just thinks walking in heels day & night is a fun past-time.
- Next-door neighbors who play their music LOUD, slam things against the wall, or slam their door many times a day.
- Neighbors with noisy equipment / machinery or noisy plumbing issues that need fixing.
- Frequently barking dogs you can hear even from down the hall.
- Neighbors upstairs, downstairs, or on your floor who throw noisy parties far into the night.
- Screaming neighbors who fight constantly. Or have loud sex. How do you even mention that?
- Musicians — even good ones — who practice day and night no matter what. Sometimes with other musicians.
These are just a few ways unwanted noise can invade our living spaces. Even though most leases / local laws guarantee the right to a peaceful place to live. And it doesn’t just happen in urban areas. Noisy living seems to be more and more part of our lives.
So what can you do about noisy apartments?
OK. So to review: (1) there are many ways that apartment noise can drive you crazy; (2) you can’t afford to just pack up and move (at least not yet); and (3) you need to do something — anything — to help.
THOSE OUTDOOR NOISES
If noisy restaurant or bar / nightclub, you might be able to talk to them. Though not always he case, I twice had the experience of having them lower their volume after I called — and politely asked. Or you can try working with local block association to try to find some solutions for other types of outside noise.
One neighborhood had a nearby building that whistled when the wind blew. It took over a year, but finally with pressure from the neighborhood association and local council members the other building found a way to fix things.
The thing is, for folks who have lived in cities for a while, many of the outdoor noises (especially traffic sounds) become background noises you almost don’t hear anymore. That was the way it was for me.
And one person I know decided to “make friends” with his noises — he learned to accept the music from a nearby restaurant as a plus. He actually enjoyed it. Not something I could do, but kudos to him.
AND NOW THOSE INDOOR NOISES
Indoor noises can be harder to make peace with. Sometimes it’s thoughtless neighbors. But sometimes it’s just the construction of the building. Especially an older building. Or one rushed to cost-cutting completion.
I lived in one building where one of my neighbors was getting noise complaints from the person downstairs. Despite being about 100 pounds and having carpeting and not walking very hard, the person downstairs said it sounded like elephants.
And it turned out that, although not quite elephants, it was loud. Extra thick padding / carpeting helped. But in this case, all parties were willing to work together. Unfortunately, not always the case.
Some things you might want to try:
- Talk to your neighbors. It might help. But do it gently and show respect for them, even if they’ve been absolute jerks. Their point of view is usually “We’re just living in our apartment. We have rights too.” (CAUTION: This can backfire.)
- Go to management or the Board if it’s a co-op / condo. Another word of caution: This too can cause long-lasting ruffled feathers. If it doesn’t work, you’re still at the mercy of those same noisy neighbors.
- Earplugs, headphones, noise-canceling headphones. While some find headphones to be the answer, earplugs have been my best source of relief. I’ve tried many and prefer Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone earplugs, but by all means give a bunch a try. Whichever method you choose, this may save your sanity.
- Soundproofing. If you have a noisy apartment, you can try soundproofing something (windows — walls — ceiling — floor), but it’s pricey and at best only helps about 70% without spending a fortune. I have found that soundproofed / noise-reduced windows can add welcome relief from outside noise, even if only in your bedroom if that’s all you can afford.
- Sound machines. Since I am especially noise sensitive, I use air filters, sound machines, and fans to help. Great for sleeping through at least some of the unwanted noises.
- Self talk. This is a method of slowly — repeatedly over time — explaining to yourself that all is ok. The noises you’re hearing are normal. Not in anyway threatening or purposefully invasive. You’re in a shared environment and merely hearing sounds of the world around you. For some people this helps.
- Replacement imagery. This one worked for me to some extent. When I heard the little girl above my head running (as she so often did), I remembered myself as a little girl running in the field behind our house. Seeing grass, trees, butterflies — and me oh so happy. It helped. I could actually smile when I heard her running noises.
- Humming or singing to yourself. I know this one is a little weird. But sometimes if I start to hear some noise — the kind I’ve come to know won’t last too long — I simply hum or sing to myself. It not only covers the sounds, but it is a way of stimulating your vagus nerve, which can lead to stress reduction.
- Turning down your mental volume. A noisy apartment presents lots of chances to feel the anger rise. There’s a theory of “lowering the volume” — meaning you still hear it and know you’re going to hear it. But the mental work you do is slowly decreasing how much each incident affects you since you’re decreasing the emotions fed into the sounds. Over time, it actually feels like the noise is less intense.
The Five Stages of Noisy Apartment Grief
In her well-known work on grief, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described the 5 stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. For me learning to live with apartment noise is a lot like that.
At first you want to deny that you just spent all that time, money and effort to move to a place causing you so much misery. Then the anger sets in. And maybe some bargaining with yourself. Or bargaining with others involved in possible remedies.
And then, especially if there appears to be nothing you can do to change the outside forces creating this noise, you may enter into depression. This can go on for a while. Even if you decide to take some action to help. there is still the difficult part of accepting that you even need to live this way at all.
Finally comes acceptance. You decide for whatever reason to stay in your apartment and can’t go on at full-tilt anger or grief over what life handed you. So you choose to accept whatever accommodations you come up with. This is your home and you’re going to make the best of it. Or add this experience to your eventual novel.
NOTE: As Ross explains, these steps can occur out of order or simultaneously, with no definite time limits for any stage. They can even skip a step.
Rethinking affordability of moving
Moving is expensive. And certainly not easy. Plus no apartment is perfect. Even private houses often come with noises from the outside world. Or they come with unexpected plumbing noises.
But maybe you just don’t want to live a life of accepting a noisy apartment anymore. Or you happen to be more noise sensitive (many people are) and this is just too much of a life compromise.
And so, after some thoughtful cost-benefit analysis, you make it your goal to find a quiet apartment. Or at least far quieter. Even if it means cutting back on expenses in other areas. Or possibly taking on some extra freelance work.
But another word of caution: it’s hard to guarantee the next place won’t have noise issues of its own — not revealed when looking. Many places have some issue that current residents / owners might not even notice anymore. That happened to me. And it was not a pleasant discovery after all the noise trauma I had experienced.
So if you’re currently living in a noisy apartment, I’d first do everything possible — including the mental acceptance work — to see if you can make peace with what you do have.
But if you decide the risk of moving is worth it … take time & ask questions. If possible, interview neighbors. And look for solid construction — walls, ceiling, floor — plus soundproofed / reduced noise windows. And then prepare yourself for surprises anyway.
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