Everything I’ve learned about living alone
For the majority of the last eight years, I have lived alone in a studio apartment. Being naturally shy as well as prone to depression and social anxiety, it has always been a priority for me to have a safe, controlled space. While living alone has always been costly for me, I’ve gladly forked over a big percentage of my income in order to live alone.
Even so, sometimes I’ve felt ambivalent about solo living — some days I love it, while other days, I wonder if I’ll ever have the energy to get out and see another living soul. Once I learned to use alone time as a tool, I started to make major breakthroughs in my work as a writer, learned how to care for myself emotionally and physically, and found new appreciation for my friendships.
Here are some insights and tips I’ve gained along the way.
Discover what makes you feel safe and happy in your place and maximize it.
For me, having a fridge with groceries in it makes me feel safe. Some weeks it’s full and other weeks not so much, but prioritizing groceries has become an integral part of my personal self-care. Another friend who lives alone loves to sweep, and a third told me setting her things on her new apartment’s bathroom sink felt incredibly good. These routines, however small or inconsequential, are all part of manifesting a space that supports you.
The greatest part of living alone is that you get to decorate and keep your apartment however you want! For me, I love having candles and flowers. Carnations from the grocery store, bodega, or local floral supply (pro tip) are the least expensive flowers, coming in around $5 a bouquet in California. A pack of white candles will set you back even less. Turning your house from a rented room to a personal sanctuary is as simple as picking out colors you like and it doesn’t have to be expensive. For example: everything in my house is from the thrift store, gifted, or borrowed from family.
Figure out what self-care means to you.
Learning to love myself has come to mean improving my notion of self-care and how I perform it; putting too much pressure on myself never works, but making small decisions throughout the day has helped me build a better foundation for what I want and need.
Virginia Woolf wrote in a Room of One’s Own that “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” I won’t lie to you, more often than not I have eaten chips and beer for dinner and while that’s a celebration of my perennial bachelorette lifestyle, I always feel much better when I cook myself a good meal. This is just one part of the equation and I know on more days than not I will order out — and that’s okay too. Find the small activities and tasks that help you feel good — finishing the dishes, taking a bath, putting clean sheets on your bed, calling a friend — and do them.
Don’t be afraid to go out wildly and alone.
As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, leaving the house can be difficult. Even when it’s the last thing I want to do, it is often the only reminder that other people exist and that the world is a big beautiful place. More and more people are opting to stay-in these days (myself included!) and while not doing things you want to go do because you are alone is totally natural, it shouldn’t be a reason to not do it! In Succulent Wild Woman, SARK writes that people tend to think women are lonely if they eat out alone, and it simply isn’t true! She goes on to write that she loves to do things alone because “the sense of adventure is always clear”, there’s “no destination but my own”, and “all my tastes and preferences are honored.” Amen.
It’s not for everyone, but I have found that the more I do things alone, the easier it becomes and as a result, I’ve become more comfortable with myself. I used to force myself to show up alone to group events and you know what? It got easier. I’ve not only increased my ability to go anywhere and be confident, I feel more powerful without needing anyone else to tell me I can do it — I already know I can. And if I want to leave, I can and I do and I head straight back to my house with my cat and my books.
If leaving the house isn’t on the agenda, try switching up your environment indoors. If you work from home, like I do, you may be pulling some long, lonely hours inside. Don’t let yourself stew. I make a habit of creating noticeable changes in my house when I’m sitting in one posture for too long. Change the music, stretch, make a snack, or try moving your workstation. I enjoy working from the bath on occasion and it feels very luxurious.
Find your support system.
Living alone also means that sometimes you may get lonely. Being sad or upset when I’m alone can feel like the end of the world, but in the past, it’s proven to be an opportunity to completely let all my feelings out and explore them. It’s also a chance to practice giving myself support when I need it the most. Still, it’s important to know who is going to pick up right away when you call or what brings you comfort. Making sure we get what we need when we need it whether it’s a phone call, our meds, or a nap with our pets — is a pivotal part in learning solitude.
Build rituals with yourself.
On a similar note, building trust with yourself is a crucial part of being independent, and a simple way to do this is by creating rituals with yourself as part of a routine. One of mine is to take the four walk block to my neighborhood coffee shop and get two macarons. Another was to get Korean BBQ with myself at the place around the block from my apartment on Tuesday nights after a late class. The consistency and actual enjoyment of these rituals fostered a kinship between me, myself and I and created a level of comfort I would have otherwise sought outside my own company. Ritual and routine are intertwined because they involve a type of repetition, and while it sounds esoteric, it’s important in building independence.
Let’s be honest — having roommates can be annoying, and living alone means you are the number one person calling all the shots: you decide how to decorate, you can play your music whenever and however you want, and you do the dishes (or don’t, like me). I grew up in a extra clean, deeply organized house and my greatest pleasure is kicking off my shoes when I get home and leaving them there. It’s the little things that make living alone so satisfying.
Susan Sontag wrote in her journals, “I want to be able to be alone, to find it nourishing — not just a waiting.” Learning how to do your own style of solitude and self-knowledge are lifelong practices and don’t always have to mean living alone! But if you find yourself doing so, I hope these help.