6 Lessons from Women Who Share What They Learned Living Alone for the First Time

published Mar 9, 2022
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Credit: Laura Hoerner

After years of living with roommates, I moved into my first solo apartment in 2014, a 1920s-era unit in Minneapolis. I was 27 years old and ready for my own space, and the three years I spent in that apartment were some of the most formative of my life. 

From decorating exactly how I liked and learning how to cook for one, to saving the pristine wood floors from a ceiling leak and enjoying long winter evenings in the tub with a glass of wine and a book, I thrived on my own — and learned so much about myself. It was enlightening to find I liked my own company and could get through the hard stuff solo, and I’m not alone: I talked to several other women who found purpose and pleasure living on their own about the advice they’d share with others curious about doing the same.

Enjoy your own company and celebrate the small things.

A huge part of living solo is, well, being by yourself! Learning how to do your own thing and spend free time independently can be difficult at first, but it’s worth it. “One major thing I learned when living alone was to enjoy my own company and take myself out weekly to events, restaurants, and museums,” says Sophia Manousos. “Living alone in New York can be challenging if your friends and family live far away. I don’t think I would be an artist now if I hadn’t learned to occupy my time in a fun way alone.”

“I find such independence and joy in doing things, even hard things, alone,” says Erin Tate, who lives in Massachusetts. “It makes me proud of my space and the life I’ve built.”

When your space is 100 percent yours, you can celebrate and unwind any way you like. “Do something you love every day,” advises Courtnei McWilliams in North Carolina. “If I’ve had a hard day, just turning on music and pouring a glass of wine while I put away the dishes makes me so grateful to be where I am.”

Credit: Martí Sans/Stocksy

Cooking for one can be fun.

You may need to get more creative in the kitchen or stock the freezer more often, but cooking for yourself can be pleasurable, not stressful. “[An important lesson I learned was] to cook for myself in a way that wasn’t wasteful or expensive,” Manousos shares. “Leftovers can be the base of a whole new meal and not something to be dreaded or tossed.” Manousos’ go-tos include turning roasted chicken into soup or tacos and making bolognese with leftover meatloaf.

Consider splitting meals with a neighbor, freezing leftovers for future needs, and learning to buy only what you know you’ll eat. At the end of the day, you can always fall back on takeout — and no one will eat your leftovers! 

Decorate your way.

When your space is just yours, there’s no limit to the cozy blankets, cute mugs, and fun art pieces you can decorate with. Relish the ability to style rooms however you like, with no input from partners or roommates. “Living alone means I can have as many throw pillows as I want. I have near a dozen on the bed and four or so on each sofa,” says Erica Francis in Alberta, Canada. 

You can also customize each room to suit yourself and your habits, regardless of what you “should” put where. “If you need a wastebasket in a place where other people may not have a wastebasket, put one there,” says Jeanie Bagwell. “Want a mini-fridge by the bed? Do it! It can double as a nightstand. Everything is a construct and rules don’t exist. Make your surroundings work for you.” 

Julia Sellers in South Carolina agrees. “I can sort my books by color and not worry about anyone f**king up my rainbow,” she says. “It’s made me more efficient in setting up routines that help with my ADHD.”

Get to know your neighbors.

Connect with the people in your building or next door for a support system — and for safety. “Everywhere I’ve been, [neighbors] have been a second set of eyes and ears to keep an eye on me, my daughter and later, my dogs,” says Jamie Witt in Michigan. “They’ve also helped shovel me out after snow storms and let me know if someone in the neighborhood saw something suspicious.” Invite your neighbors over for a cup of coffee on the weekend, have dinner together, or make time to chat when you’re grabbing the mail. These connections can make a big difference. 

“I’ve made friends with my neighbors and we share meals and goodies,” says Sellers. “They look out for me and I look out for them.” Your neighbors can take out your trash when you forget, look after your place when you’re out of town, feed your cat, or make you laugh at the end of a long day. Think of those doors next to yours as an opportunity, not a nuisance, and enjoy finding community with the people around you.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Learn how to DIY — and when to call in a pro.

Living on your own means you may need to pick up a power tool once in a while, or refresh your skills if you’ve gotten rusty. “I moved into a 1920s building without a closet after a breakup, and forced myself to learn how to use an electric drill so I could hang my clothes,” shares Alexia Lee in Washington. “I bought power tools off Amazon and installed Elfa shelving for a closet after watching YouTube videos.” Those videos opened up a whole new skill set for Lee. “It means a lot in retrospect that I learned how to use a stud finder, how it feels to drill into a stud versus drywall, and how to patch drywall when you mess up!”

Not every home project is DIY-ready, though. Sometimes you have to throw in the towel and ask for assistance, whether it’s from a neighbor, a friend, or the super of your building. “Living alone has made me learn how to ask for help. I always try to put shelves and furniture together by myself, but it works better if I have a second set of hands,” Sellers shares. 

If you’re not the handiest person in the world (guilty as charged), opt for a place where you can request help when needed. “Knowing yourself and your limits is important,” says Mackenzie Paull. “I make sure that wherever I’m renting has reliable maintenance because I’m not a very handy person and need someone to fix things ASAP.” 

Give yourself space and time to grow.

Living by yourself can be lonely and tough from time to time, but it can also help you connect with your truest self and find new dimensions you may not have discovered while living with family, roommates, or a partner. “I am such a saver and super careful with spending money, and I felt guilty at first about the additional cost of renting a studio apartment,” shares Kristin Morris in California. “I quickly discovered it was 100 percent worth it because my own space was what I sorely needed at that time. Similar to therapy, it taught me that investing in yourself is not wasteful. It pays you back and then some.”

Paull also relishes living solo and has grown from the experience. “Who knew I enjoyed video games and needlepoint? You have to explore and learn to do things on your own,” she says. “I find a lot of joy in doing it alone, even the hard things. I’m stronger, have gained a lot of independence, and am more resilient for it.”