Tips For Living Alone For The First Time

naty michele wearing a blue coat on a new york city rooftopIn a few months, I will be celebrating my 3rd anniversary of living alone in New York City. Where has the time gone?! I still remember the day that I found out I was officially getting this apartment. It’s something that I wasn’t sure would ever happen. There I was at 34 ready to move out of my mom’s house for the first time in my life. I had to pack up all of my belongings into a bunch of boxes and say goodbye to my childhood bedroom that had comforted me well into my adult years. It was a bittersweet moment that will stay with me always.

Moving into an apartment on my own was a huge adjustment and transition. My entire lifestyle changed quickly and I had to learn to adapt. Over these last couple of years, I have gotten questions about what it’s really like to live by myself. I’ve answered those here and there but thought it was time to dedicate an entire post to this topic. I wanted to share some tips that have helped me during this chapter of my life.

Regardless of what some might think, living alone doesn’t always feel lonely. (I’ll touch on that in this post) It’s honestly been one of the most rewarding and empowering experiences. While it does have its challenges, I still love it so much. It has given me the opportunity to learn and grow in ways I never imagined. Whether you are currently living alone or considering it, I hope you find this post helpful! Keep in mind I can only share my own experience.

Saving Pre-Move

Since I lived at home for so many years, I had the ability to save as much as I could before getting my own place. I know that is not always the case for everyone else and saving can be more difficult. I definitely had to make some social life sacrifices and be more frugal with my spending for awhile. It’s hard to give an exact amount of what you should save up before moving. A lot of this depends on your own situation: how much your rent/utilities will be, where you’re moving, the cost of living, moving expenses, etc. You need to come up with an amount that you will feel comfortable with. I’d say a great safety net is 6 months of rent and at the very least, 3 months.

I have worked for myself for almost 10 years and each month can change drastically from either having a ton of work and consistent income to periods of time without anything. 2020 was a perfect example of this. I personally saved up a lot more before moving because I knew that I would need that extra financial security. It took a long time, but I waited until I hit the amount that made me feel comfortable. Then, I knew that I was ready to take the leap.

Budget Yourself

This is something you should do regardless of whether you live alone or not, but it’s especially important when you’re on your own. A huge source of my anxiety has been due to the financial burden placed solely on my shoulders while living here. It’s no surprise that NYC is extremely expensive and not working for the majority of last year forced me to live off of my savings. I’m eternally grateful I even had the opportunity to do that, although using a savings account for rent and bills is not the most ideal situation. It also dwindles down very quickly when you don’t have consistent paychecks coming in.

Once I moved, I quickly learned that I needed a budget and had to cut out a ton of extra expenses, like those $6 weekly lattes or $25 Seamless orders on the weekends. When things were open pre-COVID, I either walked or took the train everywhere and saved taxis/ubers for late nights home. I had to cut back on dinners with friends because those expensive meals and $18 glasses of wine were too much to indulge in all the time. Instead of going to the local grocery store, I make the trek down to Trader Joe’s and get way more food for my money. I know people who skip cable and only pay for streaming services instead. There are definitely ways to get creative with saving your money and budgeting, even in NYC.

My father would always tell me to save as much as I could and to live within my means. Those words echo in my mind constantly. He used to say, “You have champagne taste on a beer budget.” I have never forgotten that. It’s something that helped me change my perspective from my 20s to my 30s.

Get To Know Your Neighbors 

I had always heard that most people in NYC weren’t very friendly with their neighbors, so I honestly had no idea what to expect when moving into this building. It’s very small, with only 5 floors and 20 units, which has made it easier for me to get to know everyone who lives here.

I became close with a 70-year-old woman who lives by herself on the first floor and we check in on one another often. Last year, someone broke into our building a few times and stole packages from the lobby, including one of mine. I was headed out and didn’t want to come back upstairs, so I thought I would just grab it when I got home. Well, during that time it got taken. My neighbor gave me a copy of her key after that happened. She wanted me to be able to leave any packages inside her apartment if I needed to instead of having to go back upstairs to mine.

One day I locked myself out with Kiko and had to wait outside for over an hour for my friend’s mom to bring me a spare. After that I made an extra key copy and gave it to my neighbor. She’s also picked up mail and packages for me whenever I have traveled or stayed by my mom’s house for more than a few days. She’s someone that I trust and have gotten to know more over the entire time I have lived here. I think it’s important to have that type of relationship with at least one of your neighbors, especially when you live by yourself.

The guy who lives across the hall from me has also said if I ever feel uncomfortable walking Kiko alone at night that he would come join me. It definitely makes you feel safer to know that there are people in your building who look out for you. Of course, trust your instincts on this.

Create A Cozy & Comforting Space 

My favorite part about having my own place has been decorating it exactly how I wanted to. I envisioned my “dream” home for such a long time and it was the best feeling to finally bring that to life. Creating a cozy space was a top priority for me. I needed to make sure my studio made me feel comforted and safe. I wanted it to truly feel like home.

You should create an environment that brings you joy. That might mean choosing specific colors or artwork. It’s a huge reason why I decided to get a pink sofa and redecorated my bed nook. Adding in some plants can make a difference too. They have a way of making your place seem more inviting and calm. My plants are my roommates, ha! I also try to stay on top of cleaning and organizing often. I’ve found that a messy apartment can quickly change my energy and mood.

naty michele in a blue coat on a new york city rooftop

Allow Yourself To Feel Lonely 

Loneliness is a natural feeling that will creep up on you from time to time. While I do enjoy my solitude, there are also moments when I have felt very lonely too. Even before COVID, I spent many nights and weekends at home by myself. When you’re in your late 30s, most or all of your close friends are married or might not live nearby. It’s something I had to learn to accept and be ok with early on. And to be very honest, I have gotten really good at being alone.

I think it’s important to allow yourself to feel that loneliness instead of trying to ignore it. Not in a way that consumes you, but in a way that forces you to sit with it and process it. This has actually helped me to dig a bit deeper within myself. I think it’s about a shift in mindset. That discomfort is only going to help push you through it in time. It’s most definitely a process and it does not happen overnight, but living on your own really gives you the opportunity to uncover more about yourself.

In those moments of loneliness, I remind myself that I have my own apartment. I worked so hard for it. This is such a huge accomplishment to be proud of and I try to cherish every bit of it. Not everyone has the opportunity to live on their own. Some choose to have a roommate while others have moved in with a significant other. Take advantage of this time that you have while you have it because you might never get it again.

A few things that comfort me at home: Watching a movie or favorite TV show, reading a book, journaling, calling a loved one, any type of movement (workout, dancing, etc.) cooking, a good cry, allowing myself to feel whatever I have to and sometimes doing absolutely nothing.

Get Out At Least Once Every Day 

This has become part of my daily routine even more so during these times that we are living in right now. Being outside and getting fresh air has done wonders for me. Whether it’s a morning run, afternoon walk or a quick trip to the local store, getting out of the apartment for a little bit each day has made me feel less isolated. While I do love my alone time, it’s also a great feeling to be outside around other people, even from a distance.

Safety Measures

Before moving, it’s always best to do some research on the safety in that neighborhood first and make sure it’s the right fit for you. What do you need to look out for? Are there certain areas to avoid? It’s pretty much what I do before booking any solo trip.

Let me preface this all by saying that I have always felt very safe in my actual apartment. My unit faces the back of the building and I am on a higher floor, so I think this has provided me with a bit more comfort. I haven’t ever felt afraid to be here on my own, but I am always aware that anything can happen at any time. I felt very safe in my neighborhood when I first moved here, but it has gotten a little sketchy in the past year or so. I still do feel safe when I am out and about, but I try to be extra cautious and aware of my surroundings just in case.

In addition to getting to know my neighbors, which I mentioned above, I make sure to keep my door and windows locked at all times. I don’t walk around alone late at night or at least I didn’t used to when I would go out frequently. I  typically let my mom and sister know of my whereabouts and check-in when I get home. Since I live in a walk-up, whoever doesn’t live here has to be buzzed up. My intercom system has a video camera so I can see who’s at the outside door. This definitely helps me feel safer as well. If by chance someone does knock on my door unexpectedly, which has rarely ever happened, I use my peephole to see who’s there.

You can get pepper spray or some sort of self-defense device if that makes you feel more protected. There are home security options and security apps that you can look into. It’s also good to create a plan in case there is ever an emergency. You can even allow a family member or friend to keep track of your location on your iPhone. Do whatever makes you the most comfortable with being on your own. That might look different for everyone.

A Few Other Things…

Make sure to get a tool kit, step stool and a little emergency kit to have on hand at home in case you ever need them.

From clogging my shower drain multiple times, to having a leaky kitchen sink faucet, to changing my ceiling lightbulbs, to a mouse in my coat closet and so many other little obstacles along the way, I have learned to rely on myself more and let me tell you – it’s a wonderful feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed though. I have definitely had to call professionals on several occasions and have asked a few of my neighbors for assistance too.

Get out of your head. I know this is easier said than done, but most times we can easily talk ourselves out of something before ever giving it a chance. You’re either going to live alone and absolutely love it or you’ll realize that it’s not for you. Until you try it out, you’ll never know. Will it break you down at times? Yes. Will it test you and challenge you? Absolutely. I honestly don’t think I’d be who I am right now if I hadn’t lived on my own. It’s helped me cultivate more independence and self-reliance. If you’re in a position to do it, I highly recommend. Watch how it changes your life.

These are the top tips that stood out in my mind when writing this post. If there’s anything you want to add, feel free to do so in the comments! If you have any questions that I didn’t cover, let me know as well and I’d be happy to answer. Thanks so much for reading! ❤️

  1. Arely

    Learn how to cook! (Something) When I first moved out on my own I spent a lot of money eating out and ordering food because I had never cooked for myself, I didn’t know how to! I let it become this big ‘thing’ that I couldn’t cook. When really all I needed to do was to TRY. So if you’re like me take baby steps learn how to make one meal that you can make really well and go from there, it’s only for you so there is no pressure! I’m still not the greatest cook but learning how to make a couple of dishes improved my budgeting, my eating habits and it even gave me a self esteem boost 🙂

    • Naty

      Oh yes, I love this! Such a great tip to include. I’ve definitely grown to love cooking more since living alone. Initially, it seemed like it would be daunting to cook for only me, but I’ve found it to be therapeutic and trying out new recipes is fun! And as you said, it definitely helps with budgeting! Thanks for adding this one! xo

  2. Liz

    How do you feel safe on your own?

    I recently moved states and I’m noticing that no matter what I do, I can’t grasp the feeling of safety when I’m alone. I used to live with roommates & house sit… the places were safe in themselves (safe neighborhood, safe security system) but for some reason I always needed another person to really help me feel safe. How do I change this perspective & feeling now that I live alone?

    • Naty

      Such a great question and I think it’s really different for everyone. I honestly never felt unsafe living alone here until this past year as things in the neighborhood have gotten more shady. One thing that’s great about my building is it’s small and we all help one another and I trust everyone who lives here so that definitely helps. I have pepper gel. There’s things that you can get for your door and window I’ve seen on amazon if that makes you feel a bit more safe. I know some people get ring cameras for their front doors. I think it takes time to feel ok by yourself. It’s an adjustment for sure. It’s good to always be alert and aware but you don’t want to live life every day being paranoid either. I know how anxiety can be though and it’s hard to fight those feelings sometimes! Living alone isn’t for everyone. As much as I love it, I do also sometimes wish I had someone here with me too. It’s hard. Just keep pushing through and do whatever you need to do in order to help you feel more safe. Have patience with yourself. Not sure if this helps at all. I’m sorry I don’t have a better answer.

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