It's an embarrassing adult truth that if you always lock your doors and you must use keys to reenter your house, then at some point, you will probably lock yourself out. It's not a pleasant feeling, being outside your home looking in, wondering if your appliances have come alive behind your back and are having a space adventure a la The Brave Little Toaster, but there's really no need to panic. Everyone's been there. You've got this. You're goddamn Lady MacGyver.
This unfortunate turn of events actually happened to me last night. I had family in town this weekend, and we'd been running into and out of my apartment like a bunch of unfocused hamsters fattening up for winter. At some point, the house keys were removed from the giant janitor key chain that I normally carry in my purse, and they stayed in the apartment as we all left to go gallivanting somewhere. When I came back several hours later toting a box of a dozen assorted macarons for them, proud of myself for being such a brilliant, thoughtful hostess, I reached for my keys only to discover that they were in and I was out and oh shit. By the time I was back in my apartment three hours later, I'd eaten four of the macarons myself and my family had given up and just booked a hotel room because I'm such a dumbass. Then they all went to a bar without me.
Here's what you can do to keep this from happening to you.
First, if you use keys to get into your apartment, always make sure someone who will never get mad enough at you to break in and pee in your shampoo or spray bleach all over your curtains has another set. Someone you'd consider using as a reference on a job application. Someone reliable. So no not-so-serious boyfriends, no slightly unstable jobless party friends who know all of the bartenders at the places that keep cocaine under the counters, no cousin who always needs money. The person with your extra set of keys should live fairly close to you, so that you can go to their house at a moment's notice if necessary. Put a distinctive key ring on your extra set of keys, so if your friend just throws them in a drawer, s/he'll be able to retrieve them after hearing a short description. Do this even if you have a roommate. That way, if you're locked out, you can call the key holder first. Or you can call them the "keymaster" and make the whole friendship Ghostbusters themed. Whatever unlatches your door.
If you live in a suburban or rural area, you can hide an extra key someplace findable to you, but not findable to villains like the guys in stocking masks who wander around neighborhoods in Brinks Home Security commercials looking for women running on treadmills in front of bay windows after dark. And don't forget where the secret key hiding place is located; having a spare key in a secret location isn't helping anyone if the secret location is also secret to you.
But let's say you're locked out and you roommate's not around and whoever has spare keys is MIA or never existed in the first place. Now what?
If you're locked out during normal business hours, just call your landlord. If they don't live onsite but they're nice, they might be able to swing by and let you in. If they're not in the building when you call and can't let you in themselves, they'll be able to refer you to a locksmith. If your problem happens outside of normal business hours, though, (like it's 3 am and you're getting home from a bar) don't call them, especially if you have your landlord's cell phone number. Your dumbassery is not their emergency. You may want to try to find alternate lodging for the time being and try calling when they're available to let you in.
Let's say it's outside of normal business hours and you've absolutely, positively got to get into your apartment so you can make sure your dog didn't eat all the garbage and then barf it back up and then eat the barf. A locksmith is usually an option, but waiting around for him or her to arrive will waste time and paying for him to let you into your own house will cost money. Plus, some locksmiths refuse to service shared entrances, so if you live in a building without a doorman and you've locked yourself out of the building, they may not be able to let you in. You may incur additional costs with your landlord if the locksmith you call ends up damaging the door or lock, too.
As a last resort, you can get sloppy and break into your own house.
Let me preface this by saying that I'd never recommend anyone break into someone else's house; for the sake of this advice, you should assume that ever single house that is not yours contains a battle ready ninja instructed to kill intruders hiding between couch cushions.
Think of your house or apartment's weaknesses. If you're on the first floor (or a boost-able second floor), you may be able to open an unlocked window and climb in. If it's summer and you've got a window unit air conditioner, that may be a weak point in your place that can be exploited. Try the fire escape. Think of how Benson and Stabler guess that intruders break into people's apartments on Law & Order, and consider if your place contains similar weaknesses. Think: How would someone who wants to rob me get in? And then do that.
Another way to get into a place in an emergency is flat out destroying the doorknob like some sort of maniac. If your doors are older and they're not deadbolted shut, you can take a hammer and deliver a firm downward blow to the knob, and then remove the rest of the mechanism, freeing the door to swing open unimpeded. Opening a door this way will necessitate replacement of the door knob, and if you remove the knob you won't be able to close the door again unless you dead bolt it from the inside, so this is something that should only be done in emergencies. Plus, if you do this, everyone will think that you are robbing someone and they may call the police. It looks suspicious as hell. Finally, if you're terribly desperate, you can try removing the door by the hinges but only do this if there's a baby in there or something.
Locking yourself out is a huge pain in the ass, but it doesn't need to be the end of the world. All it takes to undo the damage from a moment of fleeting forgetfulness is a friendly phone call. Or some property damage!
Image copyright Tepic/Stockfresh.com.