Everyone should live alone at least once

What better way to fight loneliness than to live independently and bond with yourself?

Woman dancing in kitchen wearing checked pajamas shorts throwing hair back.

Living alone means you can throw a dance party whenever you please. (Photo: Aila Images/Shutterstock)

I think living solo has gotten a bum rap. It may have something to do with the recent focus on loneliness, but there's a big difference. I've found that living alone can be a way to get in touch with yourself and to learn about what you really love (and don't) without others' opinions influencing you. It can be a way to be your true self without anyone around to judge you.

That's why everyone should live alone at least once.

I've lived alone twice in my life — right after I graduated college and then later when I was single for three years. Both in my early 20s and early 30s, I relished living on my own. I learned about myself and had enough quiet time so that when I did eventually live with someone again, I was a better roommate or partner because of it. The benefits I found from living on my own included:

Indulging

Living solo means keeping the place as messy (or in my case, clean) as you like. It means throwing impromptu dance parties, walking around naked, and taking all the bathroom time you please. It means eating watermelon or mangoes over the sink, or eating strange and possibly disgusting food combinations.

"I stand in my kitchen with an open container of Nutella and an open container of honey-roasted Skippy peanut butter, and I dip a butter knife first in one and then the other, then I try to lick it off in such a way that each glob is a 50-50 mixture of each. I can’t do that horrifying [stuff] if I live with some foxy dude," writes Samantha Irby in her essay "Why I'd Rather Live Alone."

It means always playing your favorite tunes, not having to compromise about what you'd like to watch, and staying up late or waking up early without worrying about bothering another sleeper. Living solo means taking over the living room floor for days with your weirdo craft project or decorating in maximalist style (or maybe minimalist, if that's your jam). It's all about living just exactly how you please.

No judgment

My partner and friends are pretty go-with-the-flow types, but they still have opinions and perspectives. That's why my very favorite part of living alone was not having to worry about what anyone else thought of my strange habits, times I ate, or when I got up. There was nobody influencing my life — positively or negatively — with their opinions. This meant I had to deal with the ramifications of my intense dislike for doing dishes (moldy water on several occasions, bugs once), but I also didn't have to worry about being sucked into someone else's documentary binge when I was on my way to the gym. I was wholly responsible for my successes and failures and less influenced by others' ideas of what my life should be like.

Solo problem-solving

Speaking of failures, dealing with a hopelessly clogged drain, a car that needs a jump, or any of the myriad problems that crop up in daily life can be extra-challenging when you are dealing with them on your own. But when you have tackled an issue without getting friends or family to help, it's incredibly empowering. I moved on my own, and while physically moving large pieces of furniture without help was daunting, when I had my new place set up — and could take all the credit — it felt great. I was reminded that I'm a strong, capable person, which gave me more confidence in other areas of my life.

It prepares you for the future

That confidence sticks with you. If you've lived on your own, and need to again at some point in your life, you'll be prepared.

I was always pretty independent, but living alone made me even stronger and at peace about the solo life, which had unexpected ramifications: It made me more open to solo travel, taking a fellowship, or doing independent creative and journalism projects, due to the confidence that comes with knowing oneself. Living alone helped me grow as a human being: Caitlin Moscatello had a similar experience:

"I was the queen of my own 400-square-foot-castle for three years, and looking back, I can see that that short stretch of time was crucially important to establishing my independence. It started with small things: I negotiated my rent on my own, created a household budget (for one!) on my own, hashed out a savings plan on my own. I signed up for half-marathons, and actually ran them. I tried hot yoga, and hated it, but whatever, I tried it. And then, the results had a bigger payoff: I put in late hours at work, because I didn't have anyone asking me 'Will you be home for dinner?' and got promoted. I met a guy on one of many fun, little dates, and he turned out to be the love of my life. I also got gutsier: I traveled abroad alone, several times, without thinking twice about it."

I also think my time alone makes me a better partner now that I share my life (and my space) with another person. The real secret of living alone? You're not living alone, you're living with yourself. And the better you know yourself — what truly makes you happy, melancholy, frustrated or bored — the better you can deal with it without depending on others. Which means you won't be putting pressure on other people in your life to do that work for you.

You appreciate your friends and family more

Living alone doesn't mean you become a hermit. In fact, you'll likely find yourself more excited to see people and go out when your home space is all your own. And studies have shown that single people get out more — to social gatherings, community events, volunteering, even the gym — than those who are coupled up. Or as Aletheia Luna writes, "It’s human nature to take our friends, family and loved ones for granted. Living alone, devoid of the presence of others, helps us to appreciate these people more when they are around."

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

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