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So, I have reached the end of my second year of university, summer has officially begun and I have a lot more time to focus on other parts of my life aside from education (cue fanfare). However, I’m a firm believer in the idea that learning can (and should) occur outside of the classroom, so whilst I am still living away from home, I thought I would share some of the lessons I have learned from my first real adventure in adulting: living alone away from home.
If your university doesn’t provide accommodation beyond the first year, the usual story is that in November/December of your first year, you form a group with your friends and go out into the world, searching for a decent place to live with all the experience that a bunch of late-teens and young adults are expected to have. This experience tends to range on a scale of very little to none.
Not everyone’s story follows this narrative though, and I fall into this category. I actually ended up finding a single bedroom flat before the end of first year. Before starting university, I never even imagined the possibility of me – Anoshamisa, a major child-at-heart – living alone for a month let alone a year. But last September, I found myself stocking my own fridge and cupboards, cleaning my clothes with my own washing machine and still preferring the shower over the bathtub in my own bathroom (I am a strong advocate for showers in the shower vs bathtub debate).
This year of living alone has taught me some important life lessons, beyond the fact that it is quite difficult to do grocery shopping for one and that there are only so many times you can order a personal pizza before it becomes sad.
In the words of one of the most profound influencers of our generation, Kylie Jenner, this year has been “the year of just realising stuff”.
There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely
The question I was asked most frequently this year was “Don’t you get lonely?” and whilst I generally answered with a lukewarm “Sometimes, but I’m more introverted anyway”, there were times when all I wanted was to be alone, and others when just the thought of another second of having only myself to converse with made me scream internally.
Loneliness is a feeling experienced by many, not only students at university but also people within the wider population. It’s fascinating and truly sad that in a time where we’re more connected than ever – through technology and social media, etc – the phenomenon of isolation or loneliness is described as an epidemic. But Mind points out that loneliness isn’t synonymous with being alone – from personal experience, it is true that you can be lonely in a crowd. It can be the feeling of being disconnected from other people and you don’t have to be cooped up in solitude to feel that no one understands or cares for you.
Whilst the physical state of being alone might not be the same as mental and emotional loneliness, it can often be a trigger for the feeling. So, for me, dealing with loneliness consisted of identifying the times when I didn’t feel comfortable being physically alone and then reminding myself of the people I am connected with, such as my friends and family.
I’m also beginning to engage in small talk with new people. I’ve never been a fan of small talk. I know the weather’s bad, you know the weather’s bad, can we please not talk about the bad weather? I want to talk about important things, like how the price of Freddos increased by 200% in 18 years. But if the weather is what will initiate some level of human interaction and possibly help someone who might be feeling any bit of loneliness, then yes, it has been quite hot recently but I always carry an umbrella with me just in case.
If you are dealing with loneliness, I’m not a counsellor or authority on this topic, so whilst I’ve found that opening myself up more to people I already know and making an effort to connect with new and different people is helping me, it is best to seek advice from someone who is qualified or organisations like Mind. There are always people who care about you.
Don’t wait for people to love you before you love them
This lesson follows from the one above and by love I mean generally showing care and appreciation.
Living alone can feel like you lead a self-contained life. Independence is a major part of the lifestyle as you become your own chef, cleaner, medical adviser, agony aunt, personal motivator – the list goes on.
But living in the bubble of ‘self’ week in and week out can develop self-centred thinking. In the early days, I would wonder why no one called me or texted me all weekend. “I’m literally by myself, who else do they think I’m talking to?”
Then I realised that if I wanted to talk to someone so much, there’s no rule against me contacting them first. However random it may seem, through whatever means of communication. I have WhatsApped, Snapchatted (Snapped? Snap’d?), Facebook messaged and Instagram DMed more in the past year than ever in my life.
If you’re more introverted like me, opening up to other people isn’t easy. From forming the words so that they’re kind but not cliche or cheesy, to debating whether or not to actually send the message – it all takes energy. But thinking of someone is very different from actually telling them you were thinking of them. And I think it is worth every bit of energy to burst the bubble of ‘self’ and show someone that you love them whilst you have the opportunity to do so.
It takes time to discover the ‘real you’
Living alone has given me a lot of freedom – of time and space. In this time and space, I have learned more about myself, such as my habits, the way I work and how I interact with others. There were some deep revelations and some that were not so deep. For instance, whilst I love cafes, it turns out that I don’t like coffee as much as I had convinced myself I did. I wanted to like espressos, americanos and cappuccinos, for the lifestyle and image. But honestly, if it’s not a mocha, frappe or some other type of blended coffee, I will kindly pass on the bitter beverage. I much prefer tea.
When I started living alone, I was happy thinking that I could “finally be myself” but I quickly realised I didn’t know who I was referring to as “myself”, and even now, I’m still finding out who that is and how she changes with time and space. I don’t think you can ever wake up and suddenly just be the version of yourself that you’ve always wanted to be or felt you were. I think you discover, create and become yourself through your daily thoughts, decisions and actions.
Seriously, you don’t need more stuff
The title speaks for itself. Living alone has been like one long year of discipline training.
Seeing as I didn’t have someone who could immediately question my choices, I had to be my own voice of reason to explain to my more impulsive side why I didn’t need more clothes, home decor or stationery. As much as I love new stationery, I really don’t need samples of the entire Paperchase stock. The same happened with regard to food and it is quite ironic because I was the one telling myself that “there’s food at home” when this phrase used to evoke immense disappointment whenever my parents said it to me and my sister as kids. (Looking back, we should have been much more grateful to hear that phrase.)
‘Having things’ can be nice on the surface, but in the words of my favourite band, Switchfoot, “you possess your possessions or they possess you”. And when a ‘treat yourself’ mentality is caused by wanting to escape problems, unhappiness or negative emotions, buying and consuming more is not likely to bring long-lasting peace or happiness. What may be needed instead is someone wise to talk to, to help you deal with the underlying problem(s).
Contentedness is a habit I’m still learning to develop, but I’m starting where I am, using what I have and doing what I can (quote from Arthur Ashe). One way I’ve done this is by using things I already own to decorate my flat, like these books. I’ve also reused the bottles of some of my favourite drinks as decoration in the kitchen.
It isn’t anything particularly revolutionary, but the flat has become a space that is truly reflective of me and I am content with that.
These are the lessons I consider to have been the most important, but there was so much more that I learned, I could run an entire blog just dedicated to the living-alone-lifestyle! Overall, this year has come with a whole mix of ups and downs, all the feelings and a lot of empowerment.
Do you or have you ever lived alone? If not, have you ever considered it?
Until the next adventure in adulting,
onwards and upwards,
Other articles on living alone:
On Living Alone – Caroline Donofrio for Cup of Jo
What I Learned After A Year of Living Alone – Fit With Flash
How To Live Alone Well – The Simply Luxurious Life