Thought Catalog
July 14, 2011

What I've Learned From Living Alone

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A day after I moved into my studio – as I whimpered on the floor amongst boxes, piles of clothes and what seemed like 6,000 clothes hangers – I had a momentary vision of myself in ten years: I was dressed in some sort of black smock… there was a collection of porcelain dolls organized neatly by the window… the sink was filled with empty tuna fish cans…  Shawn Colvin’s “Sunny Came Home” was playing on loop. I shuddered and then stood to examine what looked like a bug on the wall but was really just some sort of mysterious spot. Living without a roommate in New York City for the first time felt somewhat terrifying.

Now, some months later, I finally feel like I’ve started to adjust to solo living. And these are some of the things I’ve learned along the way:

1) Living alone makes you feel completely adult. I was concerned beforehand that my life might quickly resemble that of “Katherine Heigl in the first third of a romantic comedy” – eating cookies alone in my bathtub while crying blubbery tears, watching Hoarders reruns in a bathrobe surrounded by a family of squirrels, etc. But, as it’s turned out, living alone has generally made me feel like I’m one of those New York adults I envisioned when I was younger (who I always imagined from the thighs down, Nanny from “Muppet Babies”-style) who works hard and comes home at night and drops the mail on the countertop and pours a glass of wine before kicking off their shoes.

Similarly, I feel this whole different sense of ownership about my space and belongings now. Whereas before it would be like “What is the cheapest/ ugliest bathroom trash can I can find, considering there are four of us living in this 16-square foot apartment?” now it’s “This bathroom trash can is going to reflect my own tastes, and my own tastes alone, so I better find something so hip that Donald Glover would take pictures of it for his Tumblr were he ever in my bathroom.”

2) Living alone makes you feel completely childlike. The flip side of the previous bullet (which was really like seven bullets combined into one, now that I’m re-reading it) is that, with no roommates around to pester/ judge/ talk to you, you can do whatever you want and feel no shame or insecurity about it whatsoever. I’ll get up in the middle of the night and eat peanut butter with a spoon. I’ll say things like “a can opener for your troubles” out loud to myself (in a British accent, in that particular case). I’ll spend a morning wearing a bed sheet as a shirt. Sometimes I feel like a giant living in a playpen, which not only fulfills some sort of weird childhood Tommy Pickles fantasy but also serves as a wonderful contrast to the sobering “bills/ responsibilities/ loneliness” aspects of living by oneself.

3) Living alone makes you paranoid. Now, I think I was probably predisposed for this one considering my stage 76 neuroticism, but one thing I was anxious about before living by myself was that if something awful happened (falling in the shower, fainting during Pretty Little Liars, accidentally cutting off a finger while cooking, etc.), there might not be anyone there to respond appropriately; no roommate who would know that something was probably up if I hadn’t returned from dinner by like 1 a.m. So now I’ve taken to informing a friend or family member of basically everything I do, which is why in just the past few days I’ve sent my mom a blank e-mail with the subject line “hi mom about to take the subway home from brooklyn” and started strategically working all my plans for the rest of the afternoon into my Gchats with friends (“So i think i’m going to head to Duane Reade in a few, then Food Emporium?”) just so they would be ON THE RECORD.

I was on the phone with my brother the other day and my iPhone battery died. I Gchatted him to tell him what had happened but he wasn’t by his computer, so he kept calling my phone, which obviously wasn’t ringing. When he finally saw the Gchat, he wrote me, “lolol I’ve been freaking out / you stopped mid-story, went ‘ewww’ and then got cut off and weren’t picking up / i thought like you saw blood and passed out or something!” “yeah, that isn’t what happened,” I wrote back, “but I like the way you think.”

4) Living alone brings out your inner Martha Stewart. Living by myself has brought my latent obsessive-compulsiveness to the forefront in a major way. Whereas in the past I could write off anything gross/ weird (a sink full of dishes, unknown lavender substance on bathroom mirror, errant sock in crevice of couch) to roommates (whether or not I was the one behind it or not), now there is literally no one else I can blame! This shift has impelled me to clean like a maniac every morning (I purchased five different kinds of cleaning products, one of which is literally only meant for cleaning the front of my refrigerator), to take out the trash like twice a day, and to generally live like my studio is made of thousands of bubbles that could pop at any moment. I have a feeling this mentality will slowly dissipate but, for now, I’m really enjoying doing my best Gwyneth and saying things like “Oh, it’s so messy, I haven’t had a moment to tidy things up” when friends arrive, only to have them respond, “Are you joking? It’s so clean” when they enter. “Oh, it is?” I’ll say with a smirk, “Can I pour you a glass of wine?” TC mark

image – Olivia Guswiler

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