The concept of living alone has mesmerized people for decades. It conjures up images for both kids and adults that, for the most part, are negative, sad, mysterious or a combination thereof. We all heard stories as children of the old woman who lived by herself at the end of a dark road who was rumored to be a witch or tales of the odd man who lived alone all his life in a log cabin by the lake. In more recent times, nothing paints a bleaker picture than a woman of any age who lives alone with her cats! And we mustn't overlook the lonely and intriguing widow or widower who's lived solo ever since the passing of their spouses.
In the past few decades, according to a CBS News report, "In its America's Families and Living Arrangements…, the Census Bureau found that the percentage of one-person households has grown over the last 40 years, from 17 percent of total households in 1970 to 27 percent in 2012." That percentage may seem high but the same report noted, "In Sweden, 47 percent of households are inhabited by one person. The share is around 32 percent in Japan. In Canada, it's around 28 percent."
People who live alone mainly fall into two categories: those who love it and those who hate it. And then there's that group that includes people who can't conceive of living alone; the mere prospect of it makes them sweat and raises their heart rate.
Living by yourself, like most housing options, has its pluses and minuses. Here are 15 interesting realities about truly independent living.
15 Cooking for One
Sure, you can buy tons of frozen meals in single portions but if you choose to eat healthy and have a palate that demands quality tastes and textures, you'll cook for yourself. It's harder than it seems, as most recipes are written for at least two servings. If you're used to cooking for three or four people, it'll probably take a while to change your habits but you can freeze leftovers or share the extra food with friends and neighbors. The big plus in cooking only for yourself is you can pig out on whatever you want without scrutiny from a roommate. Giant plates of pasta – just pasta – are at your fingertips or you want to be really hedonistic, you can eat it right out of the cooking pot! Abusive eating bouts normally subside when the novelty wears off and you'll soon be eating like the mature adult you're trying to be.
14 The Struggle Of Cleaning
Solo dwellers frequently cite the freedom to clean or not clean their homes as one of the best perks of living alone, especially if they've cohabitated with a clean freak in the past. You can let trash pile up, stash the vacuum cleaner in a closet, delay laundry until you're down to your last pair of underwear and skip to bed with a smile on your face as you leave your dirty breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes in the sink to be dealt with when you feel like it. But like barbaric eating, you'll probably find that a week or so of living in squalor is quite unpleasant visually and creates nasty smells in your home sweet home. But it's still nice to autonomously decide when to clean the bathtub, precisely how many socks on the bedroom floor is excessive, and if the screw top on the toothpaste is really necessary.
13 The Fear Of The Unknown
When you have a roommate and a big hairy spider is creeping down the wall, you can probably persuade them to get rid of it by whining, crying or offering money or favors in exchange for their help. But when it's only you and the arachnid on the scene, it's a veritable duel of wills. You can eradicate it with bug spray from across the room, try to hit it with a shoe, or kindly coax it into a receptacle and relocate it outside. For unknown or imaginary intruders you think you hear while you're in the shower or while you're dozing off to sleep, keep a baseball bat or golf club handy, think happy thoughts, and hope for the best. Or you can just lock yourself in the bathroom and wait until the threat goes away, which takes about the same amount of time whether it's real or imagined.
12 Shopping Habits
Adjusting shopping practices is one of the most difficult changes to make when you live on your own. Buying a 3- or 4-pound roast is not practical unless you're a savvy enough cook to know how to cut it up and multipurpose it for several preparation methods. Same with roasting a whole chicken; learn how to make homemade chicken noodle soup, chicken tacos, and chicken a la king with leftovers. Choose foods that are pre-portioned so cooking for one is easy. Don't overbuy fresh fruit and vegetables to avoid waste through spoilage. Only buy shelf-stable goods like canned goods, rice, beans and pasta in bulk. Don't forget you'll need less paper goods, dishwashing detergent, shampoo, and hand and body soap when you don't have to share. The upside of shopping single: you only have to consider your wants and needs, so feel free to indulge a little.
11 Talking To Yourself
No matter how good your life is in general, bad days sneak into the mix every now and then. You get a flat tire, you drop your phone into your hot latte grande, some jerk at work gets the raise you deserved, your BFF cancels the evening plans you'd made for a much-needed night on the town – one or more of these annoyances make you want to share the highlights of your crummy day when you finally make it home. But there's no one there. You could call someone and actually talk instead of texting but you don't want to be that friend. It's time to share your woeful tale with your cat, dog, goldfish or maybe just yourself. It's not crazy to review the day's shortcomings by talking to yourself. In fact, it can be quite therapeutic. Who can be more sympathetic of your woes than you?
10 Paying Bills
Even with a steady paycheck, unexpected events in life sometimes put a strain on your budget. A sick pet, an unforeseen trip to help out family or friends, major car repairs – all these surprise expenses occasionally cut into the rent funds. When you share a living space, one or more roommates can normally spot you some cash to carry you through for a couple of weeks but now there's no one to ask for a loan to help you through your financial crisis. The only way to avoid this high-level stress – painful as it may be – is to sock away some cash or set up an emergency bank account to feed money into on a regular basis so you always have a few hundred dollars on hand to bail yourself out and keep a roof over your head. It's difficult to save for most people but the effort is worth the peace of mind it will eventually yield.
9 Pet Relationships
Having a pet when you live alone is a lifesaver for many single dwellers. It doesn't have to be a high maintenance pet like a dog, just a living, breathing animal with eyes you can look into, which is why fish and reptiles are less satisfying house companions than dogs and cats. Dogs are the best pet choices if you have the time and energy to properly care for them and give them the attention they need to be healthy and happy because they are always absolutely overjoyed to see you, over and over and over. Cats are very low maintenance compared to dogs and don't seem to care when or if you come and go. But both dogs and cats will look you in the eye as you ramble on about your mother or your boss and with a bit of imagination, you can pretend they understand and truly have compassion for your life challenges.
8 Thinking Someone's Always Watching
You can never complain about lack of privacy when you live alone, unless you count the prying eyes of your pets or believe those stories about your TV and computer secretly peering at you 24/7. Leave the bathroom door as wide open as you please, stroll around your home in your skivvies (or less), dance like no one is watching (they're not!), have naughty phone conversations with your significant other without whispering or cowering in your bedroom, make wild and abandon love on the kitchen floor or counter (whichever is cleanest), rant and rave at the TV during political debates – you haven't had this much freedom since you were a baby! But don't forget to tone down your antics when you entertain or have an overnight houseguest. Your friends would much rather hear great stories about your newfound independence than actually see you demonstrate it.
7 Environmental Control
Whether you furnish and decorate your home through dumpster diving or hire an expensive froufrou interior designer to make your home the castle you desire, not having to consider the taste (or lack thereof) of roommates is a great joy. Couldn't ever convince past roomies that shag carpeting is back in style? Doesn't matter if you're right or wrong when only you have to look at it day in and day out. Tape posters to the wall, display your late grandmother's toothpick holder collection from every State in the Union in the hutch cupboard, install a shower curtain with a world map on it, construct a wall out of beer cans in the den. When you are in sole control of your environment, anything goes. But be prepared for the reactions of guests; a few glasses of wine or beer can make even your best friends brutally honest about your décor choices.
Part of sharing living space requires everyone in the house to accept each other's visiting friends. If you got along with your roommate, usually you could tolerate their acquaintances for short periods of time…but not always. There was usually a Wendy Whiner or Donald Downer in the mix that could deflate any event from a birthday celebration to a Super Bowl party. When you are the master or mistress of your domain, you control the guest list. Not only that, you don't have to even answer the door to the kid selling candy bars or the religious zealots bent on saving your soul, a real stress reliever if you ever cohabitated with a person who thought it was "rude" not to open the door to perfect strangers peddling goods. The easiest way to screen uninvited guests is a simple video security camera or an old-fashioned front door peephole you can tiptoe up to and discreetly see who's on the other side.
5 Hobbies & Pastimes
Coin and stamp collectors normally don't bother roommates with their hobbies. But if your passion is collecting Cheetos that look like rock singers and movie stars or growing Chia pets in cereal bowls, some people sharing your space may have objections. When you're flying solo, the whole place is open to your most bizarre diversions. Bake 50 pies to perfect the crust, hang Christmas lights to brighten the living room in July, dress your dog and cat as Presidential hopefuls – it's no holds barred. Certain cooking odors are also offensive to some people but since it's just you smelling them, feel free to braise corned beef and cabbage for hours, fry fish two or three times a week, sauté up a batch of liver and onions. Just be sure to air out the place for a few days before you invite friends over to visit.
4 Lonely Times
Living alone is not all fun, games, conversing with pets and celebrating your independence. You may well find yourself eating cold pasta in your underwear on some nights, eyes welling with tears, mumbling how you'd pay $20, maybe even $50, for a surprise visit from an old roommate you couldn't wait to get rid of. Loneliness can hit you out of the blue, perhaps sparked by an old song you hear, a tear jerking movie, a new story, a photo you run across, or maybe just a random memory that tugs at your heartstrings. Fight back by watching a favorite sitcom rerun, call your favorite aunt or uncle for a warm chat, bake cookies, start a new book. Everyone goes through lonely times, even those who live with many people. Don't forget, it's only a state of mind…and you know how quickly those can change.
3 Introspective Opportunities
Self-analysis, a popular trend in the 60s and 70s, appears to be a dying practice that many people could benefit from but with everyone telling themselves how "busy" they are, there's apparently no time for it in the 21st century. If you live alone, you have the luxury of solitude, the perfect atmosphere to examine your heart and soul and explore what needs to be tweaked. You can put on stretchy tight pants, strike your favorite yoga position and meditate on a mat or simply sit down in an overstuffed chair with a glass of wine in silence and gaze up into the sky while you take stock of your past, present and future. Introspection provides insight into your feelings, thoughts and motives that gives you peace of mind and the opportunity to make positive changes without the hassle and cost of a psychologist.
Although having roommates has its drawbacks, one positive aspect of the arrangement is the feedback you get, welcomed or not, on your appearance, attitude and habits. Once those spot checks disappear, you're left on your own to determine what is socially acceptable. It's up to you to wear pajama bottoms and mismatched socks behind closed doors but if you find yourself in line at the grocery store wearing that apparel, you're teetering on the brink of eccentricity, which is just a nice word for weirdness. You're also free to address your cat as My Guru in private but doing so in casual conversation may raise an eyebrow or two. It's fun to indulge in peculiar habits and dress like a toddler when no one's looking but displaying your quirky behavior in public could compromise your local image…or even cost you your job if you run into your boss somewhere.
1 Self-Discipline Challenges
One of the most common joys of living on your own for the first time is the freedom to do exactly what you want, with no nagging or commentary from roommates or parents. You can stay up all night, eat cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, let dirty dishes grow mold in the kitchen sink, or listen to the same CD over and over for days at a time, with no one complaining or remarking on your choices. Exercising your independence is pleasurable and can even be therapeutic but don't lose sight of the value of self-discipline. After all, there are valid reasons to get enough sleep (sanity), eat a balanced diet (health), wash dishes (health and clean smelling air) and listen to a variety of music (sanity again). Acting footloose and fancy-free on occasion is good for the soul but living life without any self-discipline generally leads to being outcast by friends, family and workplace acquaintances.