Late last year, for the first time in my 30-plus years of living indoors, I got my own place. No parents, no roommates, no girlfriend to share the space—just me, and the knowledge that when I come home every night, it'll be to an empty apartment. It has been wonderful, and freeing, but it can also be hard and lonely. It doesn't need to be.
Humans are social animals, a fact you never appreciate quite so acutely as when you're deprived of the sort of low-impact, unintentional socializing that cohabitation provides. Sorting out your mail, asking each other what your plans for the evening are, even listening to your housemate's crappy music bleed through the bedroom wall—all ambient reminders that you are not the only person left alive. With all that unavailable, though, there absolutely are things you can do to make sure you don't get lost in solipsistic reverie, and instead fully enjoy all the best parts of not having to put up with someone else's shit in your own home.
Figure out if you're the kind of person who can handle this.
This sounds dumb; it's probably the most important thing here. I'm an only child, and exceedingly well-suited to being by myself. I'm entirely happy getting home after work and curling up with a book until it's time to go to bed—and what's more, I know that. When I signed the lease on my studio, I had no fear I was doing the right thing.
But maybe you're different! Maybe you can't conceive of sitting down to watch a movie by yourself, or making dinner without keeping up a running commentary of things that happened that day, or checking your $30 moisturizing bar for strange hairs to make sure your roommate hasn't been using it. That's OK, but you need to be cognizant of whether hearing another human voice after your evening commute is going bring out your latent spree killer. People who need people should probably not wall themselves off.
Make your place interesting to look at.
You're going to be staring at the same four walls an awful lot, so you'd better liven things up to keep from resorting to tallying the passing days in chalk, prison-style. First off, this means owning things you actually like. I know, those $5 sludge-beige pillows from Target seem good enough, especially after the expenses of moving. But you have to live there now—it's worth taking the time to find something visually and tactilely appealing, and that won't have you sitting in your ascetic cell, silently resenting yourself for not making the effort to turn your home into a nice one.
Go above and beyond with decoration. Paint an accent wall. Mess around with lighting. Get art! If there's nothing pleasant for your eyes to fall upon, they're going to spin around wildly until they pop out of your skull and roll under your bed, and there won't be a roommate around to help you find them. And then who'll wish they had gone to that affordable art fair?
Once you've made things nice, change them up. Monotony is the scourge of the solo liver. Buy multiple sets of bedding, curtains, etc., and switch them when the seasons change. (Every time I change the sheets on my bed, I feel like I've moved into a swanky hotel.) For the ultimate life change, rearrange your furniture. Sightlines, man, sightlines.
Make your home welcoming to visitors.
Just because your house is empty right now does not mean it always has to be. You have lots of friends, I bet. No reason they can't come chill at your place, right? But it's on you to make them comfortable. Have places to sit. Spring for the larger sofa, so you and your buddy aren't sitting next to each other on the edge of your bed. Get a chair that you'll never use yourself. Get a good-sized dining table, even if you're a monster who sits in your recliner and eats Hot Pockets every night.
OK, now give them good reasons to come over. Do you cook? Offer to cook. Invite them over to watch sports or play video games. Even if you're in a studio, there are lots of hanging-out activities that don't require space. If they're actually your friends, they won't mind running the risk of your knees occasionally brushing against each other's.
Get out of the damn house.
Just because you live somewhere doesn't mean you have to be there all the time. Find a bar or coffee shop or bookstore in your neighborhood that can serve as a second living room—with the added bonus of coming fully furnished with potential new friends. If possible, make it one with free WiFi: Bam, you just found yourself an external home office.
Without the imagined opprobrium of a social-butterfly roommate, it might be harder to drag yourself out of the house once you've settled in for the evening. Force yourself to leave. Join a volunteer organization that you like, and make sure its activities have a set schedule so sitting on your ass that evening just isn't an option. Or join a gym—you'll feel guilty every day you don't go.
And this should go without saying, but go out and hang with your friends. You won't worry that your apartment is getting lonely.
Find something to talk to.
When I was a kid, I'd sometimes play hooky from school and stay home and watch The Price Is Right and play video games all afternoon. But I'd always end up busting myself: My parents invariably figured out that I hadn't had any human interaction because I couldn't stop talking when they got home. It's good and important to be able to speak aloud.
I've got a cat now, and I talk to my cat sometimes. Not (always) about cat stuff, but just banal observations about the real world. The cat doesn't care, obviously, but it's nice to not live solely in my own head. If you can't do a cat, get a fish. If not fish, buy a plant. And if you really don't want any other living thing under your roof, just vocalize your own thoughts. It's not crazy; think of it as a pressure valve that'll keep you from bursting.
Know your bad habits so you can address them.
You're going to become really familiar with yourself, and you might end up realizing you're a pretty terrible roommate. The best part of living alone is that there's no one to nag you. The worst part is also that there's no one to nag you. In the past, I've always had someone to remind me to pay the bills, or to stop leaving the air conditioner on, or to clean the bathtub, because my goodness, it's filthy. No more—I'm on my own, and if left to my own devices, things would go downhill. The thing to do was to become very conscious of exactly how and where I'm likely to let my living space go to shit, so I could nip it in the bud before it went beyond unshittable.
An example: I'm really bad with sweeping. I'd usually let it get to the point where an exasperated housemate would just do it. Since that's not an option, I've drilled myself into sweeping way more often than my place probably needs. Terror is my great motivator: I know that if I let things get too bad, I might just give up on sweeping altogether. The upshot is having a remarkably clean floor, which, as it turns out, is kind of nice.
As for the bills, I've just set myself recurring monthly reminders on my phone. It took two minutes, and it's saved me from living in a powerless hovel.
Be prepared to be lonely sometimes.
Living solo is going to aggravate your mood when life gets you get down. When you start to feel lonely—and worry whether living alone is the cause of it, and wonder if anyone would care if you never left your house or saw another human being again—deal with it the same way you would have when you got sad while living with other people. Whether that's going for a run or meeting a friend for a drink or seeking professional help, the key is not to automatically ascribe your sadness to your living situation. Everybody gets lonely. Even people who don't live alone.
Enjoy all the great things about this.
Congratulations! Living alone doesn't come cheap, and just being able to afford it means you've done all right for yourself. And, really, this is everything you've ever wanted: no authority figure or significant other telling you what to do, no inconsiderate roommate cramping your style or wrecking your stuff or keeping you up at night. You can literally eat ice cream for dinner. When you were a kid, this liberty was what you dreamed of as the best part of adulthood. Make it exactly that.
Live the way you want, buy all the things that you've always wanted but had to forego in compromises with your housemate's desires. For years, I've really truly only wanted only two material objects: a leather recliner, and a single-serve Keurig machine. After I got the keys to my studio, I bought both even before I bought a bed.
You are free now. You can come home after a shitty day and not have to make small talk with anyone. You can come home after a good date and jump up and down on your couch and scream. You can make your home the home you've always wanted, and there is no one you have to please but yourself. This is the best thing that's ever happened to you.
But let's hang out sometime.
Image by Tara Jacoby,
Adequate Man is Deadspin's new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.