I’m such an advocate for solo living that I don’t like admitting it can have its downsides! Let’s be honest though – as with any way of life, living alone has good points and not-so-good. To get better at solo living, we need to get honest about the problems you face only when you live alone.
When I started living alone, I assumed it would be easy. Only a few weeks in, I realised that practically and emotionally , it was a lot harder than I’d anticipated! With very little advice available at the time, it was a case of trial and error to find ways of doing things that worked for me. We don’t get ‘taught’ how to live alone – we have to work it out. And there are a few challenges which are absolutely unique to solo living.
1. It costs more
Problem: Living alone costs more than living with someone else. That’s for two reasons. Firstly, we’re responsible for all the household costs, including the mortgage or rent, insurance, bills and so on. All on one income, and we can’t split the cost! Secondly, it generally gets cheaper to buy goods and services as you buy more of them – which means buying in smaller quantities works out to be more expensive. All of this leaves us with less disposable cash than others on similar incomes. Any changes in income or circumstances also have a disproportionate impact on our household finances.
What to do about it: buy in bulk / family packs where you can, and store anything you’re not using. You could also split the costs of larger items with a friend or neighbour. For food, start batch cooking and freezing so that you keep costs down and don’t waste fresh food. I’ve written before about how important it is to develop a healthy relationship with money when you live alone. Whatever your circumstances, get honest about your income and expenditure, and keep records of what you’re spending. If you’re in debt, or otherwise struggling to manage your money effectively, then don’t be afraid to get help from an organisation like the Money Advice Service.
2. Repairs & DIY
Problem: When you live alone, you’re 100% responsible for doing things around the house. Home maintenance takes time, skill and sometimes you just need a second pair of hands! In terms of problems you face only when you live alone, this is near the top of the list.
What to do about it: Invest in a basic toolkit (with a screwdriver). You might also want a drill. Then, buy some books and / or get yourself onto YouTube. It’s a great resource, and you can find step-by-step videos for different countries, showing step by step instructions on how to complete simple DIY tasks – from changing lightbulbs to hanging pictures, rewiring, descaling, and painting / decorating entire rooms. It pays to have a ‘give it a go’ attitude when you live alone – be proud of yourself for trying, even if it doesn’t work the first time around! If you need help, ask around for recommendations to find a tradesperson you trust. You can always asked them to complete a few tasks at the same time. You could also try a skills swap – thinking about what skills you have to offer in exchange for some help around the house.
3. Heavy objects
Problem: Whether its deliveries, boxes, furniture, or garden pots, there will always be things you want to lift or move which are just too much for one person.
Solution: It’s frustrating when you can’t move or lift something by yourself, but it’s important not to hurt yourself in trying. If you’re able to lift the item enough to slide a sheet under it, then you may be able to drag it rather than lifting it. Shuffle boxes across the room one edge at a time. Put your shoulder behind heavy objects where you can, keeping your centre of gravity low. Make sure you’ve removed anything you can to make it lighter – legs, drawers and so on. And if you’re still getting nowhere, ask a friend or a neighbour to come and help you out!
4. Alone-ness and boredom
Problem: It’s really easy to assume that people living alone struggle with loneliness – and sometimes that’s true. More often though, it’s a more general feeling of ‘alone-ness’ that’s the problem. We can live comfortably alone, with a circle of friends, relatives, even a partner who doesn’t live with us. But when we’re home alone, we sometimes just miss having someone else around. That could be practical – opening stuck jam jar lids, knowing someone is getting the dinner on while we’re finishing up some work, or doing up dresses and items of jewellery which need two pairs of hands. More often, it’s emotional – hearing the reassuring sound of someone else in the house, chatting about a TV show, spontaneous hugs, or having someone on hand to talk through a problem.
What to do about it: preparation and self-care are key when you live alone. Make sure you plan in enough time and contact with loved ones so that you don’t have long stretches of time when you are by yourself. Having activities to look forward to during the evenings can also help – exercise, choir, a reading group etc. Know who your ‘go to’ people are to call when you need a chat, and make a point of treating yourself!
Running yourself a bath, making yourself a beautiful meal or a mug of coffee and taking time to enjoy these properly are lovely ways of looking after yourself. It also pays to make a few meals in advance and freeze or refrigerate them, so that you’ve always got a way to make a quick, easy dinner. All of this won’t replace having someone else around – particularly if you are grieving the loss of someone close to you. But it will help.
5. Safety & sickness
Problem: Being sick, having an accident, or dealing with a break in when you’re alone can be really scary. In terms of problems you face only when you live alone, this is one that people talk about most. In reality, it’s very rare for anything serious to happen without someone being able to get help. But it’s a completely valid thing to be worried about.
What to do about it: if you feel like you’re getting sick and have time to prepare, make sure you have food and medication in the house. Let someone know that you’re unwell, and ask them to check up on you regularly. You should never worry about calling for medical help if you need it. These sorts of arrangements can work even if you aren’t sick. Someone I know has an agreement with her neighbours – if her curtains aren’t open by a certain time in the morning, then they know to knock on the door. She does the same for them too. Perhaps there’s someone you could send a message to each morning at the same time – if they don’t hear from you then they know to give you a call.
If you’re worried about falling, there are apps and emergency alarms which can be set up. You can use them to contact someone if there’s a problem – or they will contact someone for you if you don’t check in after a certain amount of time. For older people, it’s worth contacting social services to see whether there’s any support you might be entitled to. Finally, it’s worth spending a bit of time making sure you feel completely secure in your home. That will look different for each of us, but could include replacing old windows with double glazing, improving door locks / bolts, installing CCTV or a security alarm, and securing any outside gates or fences. Anything that helps you sleep peacefully, knowing that you are safe! Don’t forget to keep fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in good working order as well.
Like any other way of life, living alone has its ups and downs. The good news is that more and more of us are starting to understand what it means to live alone well – and it’s definitely possible to learn simple strategies to overcome some of the most common problems you face only when you live alone.
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