How to Live Alone Without Losing Your Mind

It’s Wellness Vibes Week! We’re taking some time at the start of this brand new year to explore wellness culture/wElLnEsS cUlTuRe through a queer lens, specifically the kind of queer lens that you can only find at your local Autostraddle. No celery juice or vagina steaming, just some chill tips for making your spiritual, physical and mental health a little better in 2020.


In June of last year, I moved into my very own studio apartment for the first time. I, an only child, a fiercely independent Aries, an artist living on a patchwork income who had trudged through years of roommates leaving their dildos on the dish rack, was finally living alone. I hated it, and I didn’t know why.

Surely my humble studio was better than that time I shared a two-bedroom with four bike messenger bros, an arrangement that quickly morphed into five bike messenger bros and one of their girlfriends. Surely it was better than that time I lived with a partner and a whole lot of mice or that other time when I lived with a partner, an old lady ghost and the ghost of a mid-sized dog (that’s another story for another time).

My studio lacked the hum of other humans, and I wasn’t exactly doing my part to make my apartment a home. I’d briefly lived alone once after a breakup in which I lost a partner, a dog and every single piece of furniture. I lived in that empty apartment for two months, sleeping on a pile of blankets and eating peanut butter out of a jar, until a dear friend came over and said, “Good god, at least hang up a picture.”

I was just as lost when I moved into into this studio, but I’ve since learned how to luxuriate in having my own space. I took practical steps to make my apartment functional, livable and mine, and I implemented routines that make me take care of myself when there’s no one around to turn off Grey’s Anatomy.

If you’re living solo for the first time or for the first time in a while, here are some ways to thrive:

1. Make your place yours

This is your opportunity to do whatever the hell you want with your living space. Did your former roommate hate how you piled up your shoes next to the door? Did you ex despise your collection of ceramic ducklings? Build a mountain of shoes and break out the ducklings. It’s your place and your rules now! Have you always wanted a race car bed frame or a giant cardboard cutout of Dana Scully? No one is going to stop you.

2. Give your home a name

Call your home something that reflects its personality. My apartment is small and dark with a window that looks out at a brick wall, so I leaned into the cave-like feeling, bought some fuzzy pillows and a very butch “whiskey tobacco” candle, and named my abode The Wolf Den. Say, “Hello, Wolf Den,” when you come home. Yep, you live alone now. Talking to yourself is part of the deal.

3. Cook actual food

No one is there to stop from surviving off peanut butter Pop Tart sandwiches. It’s on you to cook yourself a nutritious meal every now and then. Light a candle. Make it fancy just for you. Then give Future You the gift of having done all of the dishes. Thank yourself out loud. Yep, this tip also involves talking to yourself. I do it all the time and I’m clearly flourishing.

4. Pump up the NPR

For me, one of the hardest parts of living alone has been the silence. The sound of someone else’s hair dryer suddenly seemed so soothing. Now I throw on some music as soon as I get home. On particularly lonely days, I’ll indulge in my podcast addiction (are y’all caught up on To L And Back?).

5. Get a pet or a plant

An animal will greet you when you come home with more enthusiasm than any human could conjure. If you have the space and the budget, take yourself on a date to the local animal shelter and scoop up the one-eyed Pomeranian of your dreams. My current building doesn’t allow pets, but I used to have a cactus named Fran (R.I.P.) who patiently listened to all my writing ideas until she died a terrible death. This week I’m getting two plants.

6. If you work from home, for the love of god, don’t actually work from home

Get out of your house! If you don’t get out of your house, you will get weird! You will try to buy toilet paper at CVS after not speaking to a human for 72 hours and when the cashier says, “How are you?” you will respond with, “You, too!” Go to a library or a coffee shop. Join a co-working space. Turn your home into a place you can look forward to seeing at the end of the day. Your “Bed Office” will destroy you.

7. Find your home away from home

When you’re getting a little too weird, it’s nice to have a nearby spot where you can unwind and interact with human beings. Try joining a nearby yoga studio or become a regular at the 24 hour diner down the block. When I was deciding where to live, I moved a few blocks away from my rock climbing gym. Now I have no excuses when I need to leave the house, move my body, engage in a group activity and work on my finger strength (you know, for rock climbing).

8. Prepare for emergencies

You don’t have a roommate to let you in when you lock yourself out, so give a trusted neighbor or nearby friend a spare key to your place. Make sure there’s enough money in your bank account for any bills you have on autopay. Watch a Midwestern dad on YouTube teach you how to unclog your sink. Being 100% responsible for yourself doesn’t have to be stressful — it can feel empowering.

9. Tidy up

No one is going to get on your case to scrub the bathtub. It’s ok to enjoy the anarchy of solo living for a while, but after a while, living in your self-made chaos can get overwhelming. If you loath cleaning and organizing, set aside one day a week to gussy up your apartment the way you would for a hot date. In this case, the hot date is you, and you deserve a freshly made bed just as much as the hot barista with the undercut who’s coming over for a “tarot reading” tonight.

10. Do embarrassing stuff

Break out your fleece Toy Story pajamas, teach yourself how to play the ukulele, eat salad with your hands, sing bad karaoke or talk to yourself (yep, I’m still advocating for that). You might not live alone forever, so seize every opportunity to practice being fully you.

Malic White is a Chicago-based writer, comedian and actor. Follow Malic on Twitter and find upcoming shows on Malic's website.

Malic has written 21 articles for us.

20 Comments

  1. Thank yourself out loud!!! Yes!! This is key. Seriously. I started verbally thanking myself after doing dishes and stuff and it makes a real difference even if it feels silly at first! But no one is going to appreciate done dishes better than you so a simple “thank you baby” to yourself is 10/10 a solid reward.

    (also smoking a little weed before you gotta tidy/clean can also make it less of a nightmare)

  2. This is a fantastic list of reminders I needed, thank you! I’d also add to #9: if you hate cleaning and can afford it, pay for someone to come in once a month or so to do a deeper cleaning! Obviously pay them well and respect them and their skills, hopefully that goes without saying.

    As someone who struggles with depression and the messiness that often accompanies mental health issues, paying someone is a serious help to my mental health (now that I’m in a position to afford it). Otherwise it gets to an overwhelming dirty mess and then I get caught in an unhelpful cycle of self-loathing.

  3. talking to yourself!!! best part about living alone. I have been struggling to keep my apartment clean and do other not fun selfcare things (helloooo seasonal depression!) but I recently had one (1) glass of wine and cleaned my place for the first time since November. I usually try not to drink alone but I’m going to make wine and cleaning nights a regular thing now.

  4. I freakin’ love living alone. Can’t wait to do it again sometime. I feel much more motivated to get out and do stuff when I don’t have a sense of lingering responsibility for someone else.

  5. I found it stressful living with roommates, but lonely when I lived solo for a while in an apartment building where I didn’t know anyone. Now I have the best of both worlds – my own entire suite in a shared house, with my wife beside me in a separate suite on one side, and good friends on the other side. So it’s like a little mini-community, but I still get my space. I know that’s rare to find though, and these are all really good suggestions for those who don’t have that support nearby.

  6. I don’t live alone but sometimes it feels like it..I’m home alone all day while my spouse is at work and then I go teach music lessons or play gigs on the evenings and weekends. This advice all feels super relevant! Especially the reminder that since I work from home I should NEVER work *from home*

  7. “You will try to buy toilet paper at CVS after not speaking to a human for 72 hours and when the cashier says, ‘How are you?’ you will respond with, ‘You, too!'”

    Omg lolol as a homebound autistic person, this happens to me regularly (or as regularly as I leave the house, which is…not regularly). I’m like, I’m supposed to Do A Small Talk when I haven’t even been practicing?!

  8. “that other time when I lived with a partner, an old lady ghost and the ghost of a mid-sized dog (that’s another story for another time).”

    I think someone on the team is going to be VERY interested in this story, can’t remember who…

    As they say, I may have Alzheimer’s but at least I don’t have Alzheimer’s

  9. On topic, YES! This is quite timely because I’ll be moving into my own place soon.
    I won’t be getting a pet but I’ll try to automate the heck out of my living space so when I say “I did the dishes!” I can get Alexa/Siri/Dolores to say “That’s wonderful Deli, I’m so proud of you.”

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