The 6 Lessons I Learned While Living Alone

The media represents the quintessential millennial experience as living in a shared house or apartment with at least one, if not several, other roommates. While this is a reality for many millennials—either because of the cost of housing or because of a preference for living with friends/significant other(s)—some of us still find ourselves living alone. Adulting is an entirely different experience when you’re the only one paying the bills. But it can also be a very rewarding one.

Two years ago I took a job over two hours away from my closest friends and family. I knew I wanted to live on my own. However, having never done that before, the future was suddenly an uncharted abyss. What would I do with my free time without any friends or family members to distract me? Would I be eating dinner alone every night? What happens if the garbage disposal breaks or the toilet leaks and no one else is there to fix it?

Having just renewed the lease on my studio apartment for the second time, I won’t pretend that I have the answers to all of life’s questions. However, the things that scared me two years ago don’t seem so significant any more. And while my living arrangement and job status haven’t changed during that time, I look back and realize I’ve learned quite a lot while living on my own as a single (and empowered!) lady.

1. Socializing 101

Most people who’ve never tried it associate living alone with being lonely. Each person requires a different amount of social interaction to reach fulfillment. I personally have no regrets about not searching for roommates. I won’t claim that I never want company, but living alone doesn’t have to turn you into a hermit. Nor does channeling your inner hermit have to mean you’re lonely.

I’ve found making plans with friends 1-2 times a week is enough to keep me from feeling completely anti-social. If it’s consistently not working to make plans with those in my immediate social circle, I will look for a class to take or do volunteer work to fill the void. As long as I’m getting out of the house on a regular basis for something besides work, I don’t mind spending the rest of my time alone. Everyone is different in this respect, so it’s important to figure out the amount of “social time” vs. “me time” you need.

2. The How-To(s) of Feeling Accomplished

The main reason I don’t mind spending time by myself is probably because I have a never-ending list of goals and personal projects to work on. It turns out being an adult takes up a lot of time.

When I first got my own apartment, I had a list of self-care goals I wanted to ensure I was incorporating into my regular routine. Some of these were as simple as making sure I did the laundry every week without fail. Others, like teaching myself to make healthy meals and establishing a regular fitness plan, took up more time and energy. Yet, I feel much better about myself after spending my evening going on a run or doing meal prep than I do after ordering take-out and watching Netflix.

It’s easy to let household chores pile up when there’s no one else around to comment on the dirty dishes in the sink. But doing these things anyway is an important step toward feeling like a happy and functional adult.

3. Purposeful Time (Mis)management

That being said, one of the wonderful things about being an adult without roommates or a significant other is doing what I like whenever I feel like it. If I suddenly decide that a random Tuesday is a special occasion, I can treat myself to dinner and a movie. Or, I can curl up in bed with a pint of ice cream and read until 2 AM without anyone interrupting me.

Outside of my day job, my schedule doesn’t revolve around anyone else. Which means I get to choose when it’s time for work and when it’s time for play. Between writing, cooking, exercising, and my TBR list, there are never enough hours in the day. But when you live by yourself you get to prioritize what will make you feel the most happy and healthy at any given moment.

4. Adult Is a Five-Letter Verb

Sometimes things will come up that can’t be put off any longer. And it doesn’t matter how unhappy it makes you to do them. However, these accomplishments are often the most rewarding. I might be showcasing how young and inexperienced I am, but I still derive satisfaction from doing my own taxes, getting my car inspected, and purchasing insurance without any help from my parents. The first year I did all of these things on my own, I finally felt like I’d made it.

Comparing car insurance plans isn’t glamorous. But having both the salary and the knowledge to complete this basic “adulting” task made me realize that no matter what else happens, I can provide for myself. The daily grind isn’t all rainbows and iced lattes. That being said, as long as I can take charge of the things I need to live my life, everything will be okay.

5. Rejecting Society’s Expectations

Even in 2017, there’s a stigma surrounding women who live alone. I’ve seen it in the self-depreciating shoulder shrugs of other women as they explain their living situations. I’ve heard it in the pitying inquiries of relatives who “just want to know if I’m ok.” I’ve sensed it a coworker’s awkward chuckle after I complained about having no one to blame for my favorite Tupperware going missing, because there’s no one in my life who could’ve taken it (or maybe SHE took it?…hmmmm).

Living by myself doesn’t mean that I don’t have friends, that I can’t land a man, or that I’m a crazy cat lady (although I might secretly aspire to be the last one). What it does mean is that I’m capable of paying my own bills. I’m able to do  things on my own terms. And there’s no one in my life to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do. I not only bring home the bacon, I cook it, chop it into little bits, and then use it as a garnish on a fancy Pinterest recipe that I made just for me. Why the heck not?

I don’t apologize or explain my desire to live on my own. In a world where the default setting is still for women to marry and have children by a certain age, I’m proud and empowered to be doing life by myself. It takes courage to live on your own as a woman. The rest of society can take their expectations and shove ‘em.

6. Embracing My Own Expectations

It’s human nature to allow people to shape us: family, friends, significant others. As cliché as it sounds, being on my own has  allowed me the time to figure out who I am without anyone else’s judgment or influence.

We tend to measure the success of our lives in major accomplishments: earning a degree, advancing at work, moving to a new city, or changing our relationship status. After two years of living on my own, none of these things have happened for me. Yet, I still feel accomplished, because of how I’ve changed as a person.

Mental and emotional growth can’t be measured in the kinds of changes you make to your Facebook profile. I could get married, earn a PhD, and move to Bora Bora. However, that wouldn’t guarantee that I’ve learned anything new from life. Maybe I’ll do some of those things. Maybe I won’t. No matter where life takes me, I know I will always be grateful for this time I spent living on my own. It has taught me to take pride in who I am, and in the things I can do for myself. And that’s worth way more than the money I’d save sharing the utility bill.

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