Living Alone: A Question of Choice?

Is living alone always a choice? Does it always feel like one? What are the alternatives for those who find themselves living alone, and decide it’s not for them?

When I moved in to my own place in 2016, I was clear I was making a choice to live by myself (see here for more on my living alone story). I’d been in house shares for years, however I was getting older, wanted my own space, and was – thankfully – in the financial position to be able to afford to make the move.

It felt like I had choice because I understood what the alternatives looked like, and because I was clear that these were open to me if I wanted them – I could have gone into another house share. I was also renting, which created a sense of ‘choice’ because I could choose from lots of potential properties, and because I knew I could move on after a few months if I needed to.

Does living alone always feel like a choice?

Would someone grappling with a bereavement – the death of a partner or a parent, for example – and left alone in a property, feel that they had a choice about where to live? How about if they owned the property and had never lived anywhere else, had lived there for a long time, or had limited mobility? If the only option seemed to be a hugely stressful house move, would living alone really feel like a choice at that point in time?

Would someone newly separated or going through divorce feel comfortable looking at house share options if they were older than the average house sharer, and used to sharing with just one other close partner?

And would a single parent assume that they must live as the only adult in a household, because having a child means there are so few other options?

It seems that often, living alone may not feel like a choice at all.

Why choice matters

Yet feeling as though we have exercised choice over our circumstances is an important factor in mental health and wellbeing. See articles like this one for information on why it’s so important. And if you really want to get into the specifics, the original article goes into more detail.

Drawing on their own experience, people participating in the Living Well Alone survey have said:

  • Make sure you want to live alone
  • It definitely suits some people more than others
  • It may not be for everyone

For anyone new to living alone, it seems that taking time to reflect on whether this is really the way you want to live – and making a conscious choice to do so – is an important first step in approaching living alone in the healthiest way possible. (I’ll write another time about how participants have said they make this decision, however it’s interesting that several people have reflected on whether being naturally more extroverted or introverted may make a difference – you can find out more about personality profiling here).

What if you don’t want to live alone?

Imagine you have found yourself living alone, and realised that this is absolutely not something you want to do. What other options exist? Do you really have a choice?

The answer seems to be that for some people, there may well be other options – even if these don’t seem immediately obvious. Across the UK, households are springing up of all shapes and sizes that look very different to traditional models.

House shares are still the go-to for many. Websites like OpenRent, Rightmove and SpareRoom make it easy to find a room to rent, or to rent out a spare room (or indeed a whole property!) If you’re the person renting, there are hundreds of different types of household to choose from – or you can start your own. And one silver lining of the ‘Generation Rent’ era is that it’s easier than ever to find housemates of similar ages, with similar tastes and interests.

If you’re the person renting out a room, taking in a lodger can have the joint benefit of providing company, and an income boost. Under the UK Government’s Rent a Room Scheme, you don’t have to pay any tax on income generated in this way until you reach £7,500 (more information on taking in a lodger here).

For those who have a room to spare, but don’t want someone living with them full time, there are other commerical options. AirBnB is probably the most well known of these, where individual rooms can be rented out for as short a period as one night.

Still others use their spare rooms to provide a helping hand to others – schemes such as Nightstop and Room for Refugees aren’t income generating, but offer a warm bed to someone who needs it, and create opportunities for genuine connection with others, often from very different backgrounds.

Single parents are increasingly finding that sharing with other single parents can mean both company and welcome support – two stories here and here of where this has worked well (more from Gingerbread and SingleParents on housing options for single parents).

Where company and help around the home are the main priority, homesharing can offer a practical solution. Homesharing schemes pair people with a spare room with people who needs affordable housing – in return for living in the room rent-free, the homesharer lends a hand around the house. This lovely report shows how homesharing can work in action, and we’ve also heard of informal home sharing arrangements where younger friends or relatives move in with an older person for a period of time.

Finally, co-housing communities blend the privacy of your own front door with communal socialising and eating spaces.

It’s clear that human innovation knows no bounds – I heard a story recently about a lady, widowed in her eighties, who is letting a charity move into the office in her garden. She’ll have company during the day, and her own space the rest of the time – a perfect win all around.

Final thoughts

We would say – living alone takes time to get used to, and is easier if you feel you have made a conscious choice to do it. We know that not everyone will be in a position to explore other ways of living, or will want to. However while other options may not be immediately obvious, they certainly do exist and may provide a way to reach the balance of personal space and day-to-day interaction that is most right for you.

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