I’d never really considered any option other than living with housemates, until suddenly a couple of years ago the concept of having my own space became all I could think about. I started fantasising about smoking in my living room with a bottle of Merlot on long winter evenings, playing jazz records into the night with no one to disturb, and buying one-off hand-painted bowls and not worrying they’d get broken by a housemate drunkenly trying to fill them with pasta at 2am.
When I found my flat it felt like fate. It was the perfect size for me, in the perfect location, and I reckoned if I spent a little less on vintage dresses I could probably just about afford the rent. Every young woman should consider living on her own - there are endless ways in which it’ll enrich your life and help you learn more about yourself, but there are also things no one tells you. Beyond the obvious clichés about having to kill your own spiders, here are a few things I wish I’d been prepared for before I moved in on my own…
1. The world will suddenly feel a lot scarier
The difference between living in a room in a shared house, and in my own flat in a converted house is one Chubb lock, yet somehow it feels so much more vulnerable. There are nights when I speed-walk down my well-lit residential road, keys in hand, fists clenched and heart pounding, glancing over my shoulder every few feet. I get home, slam the door behind me and check under the bed, behind the sofa and in the shower to make sure there isn’t a crazed maniac waiting to hack me into little pieces and shove me in a pizza box. Knowing you’re coming home to nothing but your own company can make you more hyper aware of the dangers of the world you didn’t give that much thought to before.
2. Your neighbours will not become your new best friends
This may be a by-product of coming of age with Friends reruns constantly on in the background, but I think I believed that my neighbours would become sort of surrogate housemates. Unfortunately, in the same way as you probably don’t know your neighbours’ names when you share a house, it’s unlikely you will if you live alone either. There’s no one to ask if you realise you’ve run out of flour or whose window to clamber over if you lock yourself out. You’re on your own, despite being in close proximity to other people.
3. Having people over is less appealing than it seems
One of the things that excited me the most about having my own space was the opportunity to be hospitable. I wanted to have friends over for dinner without worrying about disrupting housemates’ evenings, and offer up my sofa to visiting family members or friends who live on the other side of the city. But in the same way as the bigger a handbag is the more “essentials” you seem to fill it with, once you’ve got used to your own space, sharing it can be tough, and you may find yourself wishing for housemates as an excuse to say no.
4. It’ll never be as pretty as you envision
Unless you have unlimited time, space and money, you probably won’t get round to realising your dream of finding the perfect mahogany dining table at a flea market or upcycling an Ikea wardrobe to turn it into a Pinterest-worthy masterpiece. In reality your flat will be a mishmash of odd bits of furniture you’ve picked up over the years to fit into other spaces, and whatever the previous tenants couldn’t be bothered to take with them. You may stamp your personal style on it, but it’ll never be “just right”, and you’ll need to come to terms with that.
5. The financial burden is probably heavier than you realise
Living alone is a lot more expensive than sharing. In a big city, your rent - and your commute - could double, meaning you’re forking out more money on travel, bills and council tax. I convinced myself that this could be offset by how much more time I was going to be spending at home rather than drinking £12 margaritas in faux-speakeasies or hanging out with my boyfriend in mediocre restaurants just because eating without other people around felt like a novelty.
The pressure of having almost 70% of my monthly income go on rent and bills meant I couldn’t enjoy splurging on holidays, luxuries or evenings out in the same way, and it makes it easy to resent your house for it. I eventually found myself choosing between leaving a job I hated and staying in a flat I loved and it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. You need to be ready to make sacrifices to live alone, and be happy despite them.
6. Any other arrangement will make you feel slightly panicky
Once you’ve lived alone, all those other options which used to seem perfectly reasonable will be out of the question. The idea of moving back into a house full of strangers from the internet makes me want to run a mile, staying with my parents, even just for a couple of weeks over Christmas is like a slow form of torture and moving in with my boyfriend no longer conjures up images of romanticised domesticity. Like many amazing things in life, living alone spoiled me, and I may be able to get over it but I wish I’d been able to anticipate it.
7. It’s not a magic shortcut to the dream life
In between putting down my deposit and actually getting the keys to my own flat, I used to daydream about my new life so often that I’d wake up sometimes shocked I wasn’t already living it. Without the distractions of housemates, surely I would finally have the space to write my novel, to eat better, to drink less, exercise regularly and read more. In reality, having no one around to judge me justified those lazy Sundays without leaving the house or drinking the better part of a bottle of wine alone on a Monday evening watching 80s teen movies and eating a whole camembert. While some environments may be more conducive to productivity than others, you’ll improve your habits when you really want to, not when your surroundings change. I wish I’d realised this before my flat disappointingly failed to give me my dream life.
WATCH: Your 30s - Why They're The Best Years Of Your Life