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Lessons I Learned From Living Alone
Have I mentioned that I adore alliteration? Work at a peppy teen magazine for longer than about eight seconds and you, too, will find yourself frantically Googling “Adjectives That Start With J” as a deadline looms and catchy headlines are needed.
Jovial. Jolly. Joyful. Jazzy.
Today I want to talk about living alone.
I’ve been in a permanent state of reflection lately. Since the whole “I’m sick, I’m injured, I’m sick again and I’m not running the marathon I have been dreaming about for months” saga began, I’ve found myself constantly analyzing my state of mind and making sure it’s a happy one.
The great news: It has been. A happy one, that is.
I truly feel that I’m in a solid, great place right now, doing exactly what I need to be doing — and that’s really how I’ve felt, more or less, for the entire past year.
It all began on April 2, 2011: the day I moved out of my ex-boyfriend’s apartment and into my very first place of my own.
The move was dramatic, to say the least. The stress of finding an apartment in the middle of a breakup, in the real estate Hell known as New York City, was more than I could handle at the time. I was running around like a crazy person, meeting with brokers, scouring Craigslist postings and making more than daily tearful phone calls to my poor parents, trying to decipher why, when I have a stable job and am in my mid-20s, I still could not seem to get approved for a 300-square foot apartment without a guarantor.
Do people in this city really, on their own, make 50x their rent? Maybe the ones who don’t work in publishing.
Eventually I found my little dream home — a shoebox-sized studio apartment on the Upper East Side right on the New York City Marathon route.
It was on a tree-lined block near Central Park, the East River and bars packed with adorably foreign bartenders who helped me forget about the whole “I can’t actually afford to pay for this drink” issue.
I woke up on moving day and went for an 8-mile run in Central Park. It was a beautiful day — perfect for making a fresh start in what I saw as a new life.
The movers arrived, they told me I “wasn’t good at packing,” and they moved my precious belongings — including my hula hoop — eight blocks north.
I remember the movers leaving. Suddenly I was alone in this space that was filled with possibilities. I got to decorate and set everything up however I wanted! I could put my bed up against the wall, or in the middle of the room, or I could just sleep on a pillow on the floor!
For the first time in my life, I felt truly independent. Sure, the apartment was slightly out of my price range and I’d have to make some lifestyle changes. But it was so worth it to me.
I had always wanted to live by myself, and when I moved in with my ex-boyfriend I thought I wouldn’t get the chance since I’d always had roommates. It was bittersweet. So when the breakup went down, even though it took me a little while to see it, I knew there was a huge opportunity ahead of me. An absolute blessing in disguise, if that phrase doesn’t make you want to smack yourself across the face. (I hate it, but it works.)
In the past year of living alone, I have learned so much and grown so much. I am so glad I got this chance, and as tough as it was at times — specifically rent-due times — it has been a perfect year.
Now, because you know I like to make lists and share them with you, here are a few of the important lessons I’ve learned in my year of solo-style living:
- It’s expensive as shit. Maybe if you’re in a cool suburban area you can find a decent place for cheap, but I was very adamant about being in a safe neighborhood near my friends in Manhattan. Could I have found a cheaper apartment in an outer borough? Absolutely. But when it came down to weighing my options, location was really important to me. So I took the smallest, cheapest place I could find and I knew that coughing up a bit more for rent each month was literally the price I had to pay. That was a choice I was OK with, even if it meant eating plain pasta with salt and pepper for the first three months of living there.
- When the bills come, you don’t get to split them. When you have a roommate, you get the Time Warner statement and it’s not so bad, because you’re really only looking at half that bill. Not the case when you’re on your own. As much as I enjoy the constant company of the little fly who has set up shop in my home, he isn’t exactly paying his way.
- If you buy food, it’s yours to eat. Nothing magically disappears. Except my Nutella. I swear, someone is breaking in and eating it, because there is no way I just went through a tub of that in a week. Right…? But really, I’m awful at sharing food, and I loved that for the past year, whatever I bought was mine and I never had to come home to hear, “Hey, I had the last of your Thin Mints, but don’t worry, I’ll totally replace them next year when Girl Scout Cookie season rolls around. Promise!”
- Oh, but that heaping pile of dirty dishes? Yeah, that pile of crap is yours, too, and those dishes don’t magically get cleaned. That sucks.
- I am OCD about a lot of things. Making sure the trash lands in the trash can is apparently not one of those things. Brian finds this baffling. It is not uncommon for the space underneath my desk, where I eat breakfast every day, to be littered with MultiGrain bar wrappers that just don’t find their way into the trash. It’s not my fault. Just kidding. It totally is. See? Nowhere else to place the blame.
- Living alone is not scary. There was one night when my smoke alarm wouldn’t stop going off, and I freaked out and was convinced it was my Carbon Monoxide detector meter thing, and I assumed I was about to die. But other than that, there was never a night where I feared a break-in or anything truly terrifying. Sometimes I’ll hear a little noise as I’m falling asleep, and I’ll turn the light on to check for monsters, but the monsters that usually hang out at my place are pretty cool and not worrisome.
- It’s incredibly liberating. The first day I commuted to work from my apartment and then came home to my own place was really cool. I was the only person with the keys — eventually I gave a spare set to my friend Lauren who lives down the street, conveniently — and I knew I was returning to the room exactly the way I had left it.
- You can, and should, be naked all the time. Confession: I unpacked my apartment on move-in day wearing just a bra and underwear, simply because I could. I put on some music and had a blast.
- You can, and should, buy curtains. Possibly before move-in day. That was maybe my first mistake. I have not yet received complaints from the neighbors, but I also haven’t moved out yet.
- There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. I loved being alone and truly never felt lonely. I relished all the “me time” I had, which I think means it was just something I really needed.
- If you want to eat Velveeta shells and cheese for dinner, no one ever has to know. Even if you write about it on your blog, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. Solo living = judgment-free zone.
- Dating someone when you don’t have a roommate is way easier and better, no matter how cool your roommate may be. The night I strategically lured Brian back to my apartment (to watch TV, Mom, not for kissing, obviously) was totally stress-free, because I knew there would be no awkward introduction to a roommate, no weird, “We’re going to hang out in my room now” and no awkward morning goodbye with a potential audience. As my relationship with Brian progressed, I loved having the option of having him over without having to clear it with someone else. It was just totally uncomplicated, and uncomplicated is exactly what I was going for over the course of the last year.
- You will learn to fix things, whether or not you want to. My toilet ran nonstop for a solid month before I sucked it up and did something about it. I will never forget the weekend Emily and Lauren were visiting and my toilet combusted in the night. I had guests — I couldn’t just let the problem go on. And so I opened up the back of the toilet, found the problem — that little chain is supposed to be attached to something! — and fixed it without a Google search or desperate text to my dad. There were times when I wanted to call my super or a plumber or a hitman, but I went with the whole pride and independence thing instead. It wasn’t always glamorous, but I got the job done with the help of a hammer. I own three hammers and I love each of them.
- Living alone is something I always wanted to do, and it was something I clearly needed to do. There were nights I spent alone in bed at 9 pm, and there were mornings when I scrambled home from a bar at 5 am. I have made some of my best memories in this apartment, and while I’m sad to leave it behind, I’m so excited for the next step in my little moving journey.
OK ready for the final wicked cheesy note?
I feel like I really came into my own in this past year. I had a ton of fun and, in the process, came to realize the things I truly value and that matter to me. Right now I feel constantly surrounded by people who love and support me, and who I really want in my life. Living alone, and spending many nights doing my own thing on my own time, have led me to this place, and I’m so grateful.
I’m also grateful that I get to start splitting my bills soon!
Living alone is hard and it’s not always an option strictly because it’s costly as heck. But if you can do it, I recommend it.
I don’t officially have to be out of my apartment until April 30, and you bet I’ll relish these final days. Let me know if you want to come over and I will send you home with party favors including but not limited to an array of Old Navy sweatshirts, an air conditioner, a desk, a couch and a very dull knife set (how those knives got dull, I will never know, since I have cooked twice ever).
And because I suppose this is a running blog, let me tell you a little something else: Today I ran eight amazing miles.
I did a Chisel class last night and my legs were so happy to be out running this morning. By “my legs” I mean “me,” but my legs really did feel refreshed and ready to run. I had some slight pain in the back of my knee when I got started, and I did have to make one bathroom stop around mile four, but overall this run was perfect. I planned to go slowly and just run by feel, and these are the splits I ended up with. I loved being in Central Park, running eight miles just like I did a year ago.
When I got back from my run, I iced my knee and took care of myself. I ate oatmeal, too, and by “ate oatmeal” I mean I cooked up some oats and them drowned them with chocolate chips. That’s just my style.
And no one was around to witness or judge.
Have a great day, everyone!
AND TALK TO ME ABOUT LIVING ALONE: Done it? Loved it? Hated it? Dying to try it? No desire to fly solo? Best advice for living alone? Go to town. Share your knowledge.