I’m told that from the day I was born, my favorite room in my parents’ house was mine. I thrived on playing alone. Whether that was in my ExerSaucer or lying in my crib, talking to my Pooh Bear mobile, I didn’t see the need for human companionship. According to my mother, when she would come into my room to try to play with me, I would glare at her and slowly shut the door. She called me the Greta Garbo baby.
As I aged, things… didn’t really get much different. I spent most of my time cross-legged on my bed, writing papers and annotating in ridiculously long novels. By the end of my undergraduate studies, my mother (still attempting to come into my room to play) would look at my books and say, “I don’t know how anyone I gave birth to could sit here and write about Dickens,” followed by a crude pun or two. My room was my sanctuary away from my father’s obsession with random Netflix documentaries and my sister’s never-ending drum solos. Sometimes, I was able to turn up the 60s bubblegum pop music loud enough so that it felt like I was truly alone.
But now, I am alone. Recently, I moved to an entirely different state, and I live in my own apartment. This is the first time in my life that I have lived without my parents (and the first time in eighteen years I’ve lived without my sister). I knew I would miss them, but I also knew that I would love being alone. For the most part, I really do. Still, there are a few things that nobody tells you about living alone… things I’m just now figuring out and want to share.
1. When You Live Alone, 9:00 PM Is Suddenly Very Late
I’m a notoriously terrible sleeper. Apparently, I didn’t even sleep as an infant. I used to stay up all night and recite every word I knew, which by the age of one or two, was enough to fill a couple of hours. I’m absolutely incapable of napping. I had intensive surgery this summer at 2:00 in the afternoon, and my parents joked that it took two anesthesiologists and a surgeon, but I was finally asleep in the middle of the day. Calling me a night owl isn’t even accurate because at some point during a 24-hour day, owls actually sleep.
9:00 PM used to be pretty early for me. During the school year, that was TV time. I’d turn to Netflix and play an episode of “The Office.” If it were a Tuesday night, I’d tune in to Fox and watch the new episode of “New Girl.” Of course, I’d have to watch with the TV volume on 10 (out of 100) because my sister’s problem with sleep is the exact opposite of mine.
But now, 9:00 feels like an obvious time for bed. Maybe it’s because there’s no one to talk to when you live alone. Maybe it’s because it’s the end of summer, and the weather is changing. Maybe it’s because it’s still summer, and the new TV schedule won’t premiere until at least the middle of September. Either way, my apartment is quiet at 9:00, but my house really isn’t. And it’s freaking me out.
2. It's So Much Easier to Keep the Place Clean
At my parents’ house, if my mother asked me to do the dishes, I recoiled and prayed for instant death. It’s not a pretty fact, but it’s true. I hated doing the dishes for four people. I hated scrubbing someone’s disgusting sour cream dollop off a plate after taco night. I hated cleaning thick soups out of bowls. I hated spending five minutes just on a spatula that had been used to cook scrambled eggs. We never had a dishwasher, either, so all of our dishes were clean thanks to my elbow grease.
When you only have to do the dishes for one person, it’s not so bad. In fact, I’ve even found that I want to do the dishes. If I just let them pile up for days at a time, I wouldn’t have anything to eat on, and I’d have to resort to eating on a Frisbee like April and Andy on “Parks and Recreation.” That would be awfully difficult, too, considering I do not own a Frisbee.
Similarly, I’m a lot more motivated to keep my room clean. My room at my parents’ house was less like a room and more like a cubicle. On the contrary, my room at my apartment feels huge. It also has a walk-in closet. At my parents’ house, my closet was so shallow that if you attempted to swan dive into it, you would have broken your neck. I think, even as an adult, I feared it. So, naturally, I scattered my entire wardrobe around my old room, only stopping to pick up (and brave that terrible, cramped closet) every month or something like that. Now that I live in my own apartment, I pick up my clothes and put them back in the closet every night.
Incidentally, my apartment has a dishwasher, but I haven’t used it. Once you get used to washing dishes by hand like a prisoner, I guess you can’t make yourself stop.
(This is not me, and I am SO glad.)
3. Headphones Are Superfluous
As a teenager especially, my headphones were everything to me. Not only did they give me the ability to drown out the voices I grew ill of, but also, they made it easy for me to slip into my own fantasy worlds. Without headphones, I was forced to have real conversations with the people who were really in the room. I couldn’t have effective fantasies about the cute teacher I had a crush on. Okay, maybe that last part was in college.
Another thing about my headphones is that they allowed me to keep my music taste a secret. Oh, eventually, the truth about my music would come out. Every summer, my mother would insist that we put together a massive summer driving playlist, and my sister and I were tasked with picking some songs that we liked. My selections were always overdramatic Broadway tunes or, of course, 60s bubblegum pop. I always felt really embarrassed by that, so I mostly kept those sounds directly in my ears.
In my own apartment, I don’t have to do that at all. When I feel like listening to a weird selection by The Monkees, I just do. There’s no one to ask me what I’m listening to, silently judging me for being into what was hip during my grandmother’s elementary school days. It’s this absolutely shameless freedom of expression. I love it.
Like anything, living alone has its ups and downs. It’s weird not to have constant conversations with people in the other rooms, but it’s awesome not to feel compelled to talk to anyone. I’m thrilled I get the chance to do this. I’m exploring a world outside the one where I grew up, and even though I loved that world, I’m not ready to accept the fact that life is Detroit flat. I know it. I know that this world has got to be rounder than that.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to a 50s crooner without headphones.