“Why did no one ever teach us this?” is a common question among young people experiencing the grown-up world for the first time.
Being out on your own for the first time can be tough. It comes with a whole suite of new responsibilities, and they all fall on you.
Once you move out of your childhood home and into your own place, there’s no one to pick up your slack. Even if you live with a roommate, you’re still responsible for keeping your space, your finances and yourself healthy and in order. Taking this all on at once can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re not quite sure how to handle a lot of this stuff.
If you’re living alone for the first time and aren’t sure how to cut a potato properly let alone create a budget that allows you to save for your 401(k), fear not. Everyone figures it out eventually, and we’ve got some tips that will help ease the transition.
What to Stock
First things first: there are some items you’ll need to keep on hand if you want to have a successfully-run home or apartment. You know the basics – chairs, tables, a place to sleep – but there are some odds and ends you might not realize are essential.
Because most people who are just starting out on their own usually don’t have a ton of money to furnish a perfectly-stocked apartment, we’ve broken down what you’ll need, organized by the room. Supplement this list with any items you know you can’t live without.
- Pots and pans: Get at least two of each, one large and one small
- Cooking tools: Some basics to get you started include a chef’s knife, a paring knife, spatulas (both a metal and rubber one), measuring utensils, a mixing bowl, a colander and a can opener.
- Spices: Start with salt and pepper. Add others to your collection as recipes call for them.
- Tableware and eating utensils: No paper plates and plastic cutlery! Get a dinnerware set that includes plates, bowls and cups. Or you can save money mixing and matching individual pieces from the thrift store. Just make sure they’re in good condition. You don’t need a huge set unless you plan on hosting large dinner parties. But get a few of each so you have some wiggle room when it comes to doing the dishes. Make sure you have a set of forks, knives and spoons as well.
Cookware can be expensive, and if you’re having trouble pulling together the cash for these items, let the people in your life know you’re moving into a new place and see if they’d be willing to donate any stuff they don’t use anymore.
- Two sets of sheets: One to go on your bed, one clean and ready to go for when the other set needs to be laundered.
- A bed: Not just a mattress on the floor. Not only can placing a mattress directly on the floor be bad for the mattress, it can expose you to dust and other allergens.
- Toilet paper: Buy it in bulk. It doesn’t expire and there’s no chance you’re not going to use all of it. In fact, pack it with your belongings and bring it with you on move-in day. You’ll probably need it before you get a chance to run to the store.
- Non-slip bath rug: Not only is a colorful bath rug a cheap and easy way to brighten up your bathroom, but if you get one with non-skid treads on the bottom you’ll give yourself a safe place to dry off your feet after a shower. You’ll prevent a slippery and potentially dangerous floor.
- Multipurpose cleaner: A spray bottle of cleaning product that works on almost any surface is a must-have for lazy and budget-conscious cleaners alike. Just don’t use it on any surfaces that need special treatment, like wood floors.
- Cleaning cloths: You can also use paper towels, but for an eco-friendlier route, buy a pack of reusable microfiber cloths to do your cleaning with.
- Basic tools: Having a few commonly-used tools on hand will be helpful for hanging pictures, fixing leaky faucets and the like. For basic projects, get yourself a few different sizes of both slotted and Phillips-head screwdrivers, a hammer, a tape measure, pliers, a utility knife and an adjustable wrench.
- Scissors: Easy to forget, but you’ll really feel it when you need a pair and don’t own one.
- A step ladder: Don’t climb on kitchen chairs (or worse, rolling desk chairs) and risk hurting yourself when you need to reach something that’s high up.
How to Budget
When you move out on your own for the first time, you’ll likely have to take on a lot of new costs that you aren’t used to having. Between rent, bills, groceries and all the annoying unexpected costs that inevitably come up, you’re going to need to have a plan for how you spend your money.
Thanks to the plethora of budgeting apps available, managing your money is easier than ever. However, you can download as many apps as you want or spend hours painstakingly crafting a personalized budget that accounts for all your expenses, but it won’t help if you don’t actually stick to the plan. That’s why it’s so important to find a budgeting method that works for you.
One popular method is the 50/20/30 rule, where you allocate 50% of your income to living expenses, 20% to savings and debt and 30% for the things you want but don’t necessarily need. You could also craft a budget that prioritizes paying off debt, or one that puts all your extra money toward investing.
If you’re new to budgeting and doubt your organization abilities, start small. Start tracking your spending and evaluate what types of things your income goes to. Learn about what it means to live within your means. Utilize money-saving tricks, like setting up a direct deposit into your savings account or cutting back on your electricity use. Avoid racking up credit card debt.
The most important thing is that you find a budget that fits your specific needs and goals and is realistic. Budgets are like diets: the best one is the one you can stick to.
Whatever your budget, the two most vital things you should prioritize (if you’re not deeply in high interest debt) are building an emergency savings fund and saving for retirement. For your emergency fund, the goal is to have three to six months of living expenses saved up, so if you run into a big life change such as losing your job, you have time to get yourself back on track without being in immediate financial danger. Retirement, though it may seem far off, is equally important. The earlier you start saving, the longer your money has to grow.
How to Keep Clean
When you live alone, there’s no one else to blame when things get messy. There’s also no one else to blame you, which is why so many people who are out on their own for the first time fall into the habit of letting their place get a little – or a lot – messy.
You shouldn’t let stuff build up just because you or your roommates don’t mind living in a messy space. It’s not super difficult to keep your place tidy if you stay on top of it. Plus, some of the things that come along with a poorly-cleaned house like mold and pests are health hazards that can be a serious pain to get rid of.
The best and easiest way to keep your space neat is to clean as you go. Don’t let stuff pile up for “later” (which we all know really means until I have guests coming over and it’s embarrassing). Wipe down the counter as soon as you’re done cooking. Break down pizza boxes for the recycling as soon as you’ve put away your leftovers. Do your dishes as soon as you finish dinner. Re-hang clothes you try on right away. When you let piles of mess build up, cleaning becomes an even more daunting task, making you want to do it even less.
You don’t have to be perfect. People have busy lives. Sometimes, your place will be messy. If you have trouble keeping tidy, here are our basic cleaning tips for the days (or weeks) where you can only do the bare minimum:
- Regularly wipe down the items and surfaces you use every day, disinfecting where necessary (this is where a good multipurpose cleaning spray will come in handy).
- Food products need to be stored properly or thrown out. Cooked food shouldn’t be left sitting out for more than two hours, as room temperature is the ideal temperature for bacterial growth (the USDA refers to a temperature range between 40 – 140 degrees as the danger zone for food). Leaving food out can also attract pests. Clean up spills and crumbs right away.
- Don’t allow dust to collect for too long, especially if you have a respiratory condition.
- At least once a week, set aside some time to put things away. Tackle the pile of outfit rejects in your room, sort the mail and return your shoes to their rack. Get rid of any clutter.
- If you don’t have time to do the dishes right away, rinse them off as soon as you go to put them in the sink. If you made something that has a tendency to crust, pour some dish soap on the dish and submerge it in water to soak. This will make doing the dishes a million times easier when you get to them.
- While you don’t have to do all the dishes right away, any utensils that were used to prep raw food such as meat should be cleaned as soon as you’re done with them.
How to Stay Safe
If you’re out on your own the first time, you’re likely renting your place, meaning that a lot of your security is left up to the rental community you live in. When you’re first searching for places to live, make sure to inquire about a place’s security features before you sign a lease. Are the areas surrounding the building well-lit? Can anyone enter buildings, or do doors require a key? Do they change the locks when a new renter moves in?
While it’s good to live in a place that provides security for its residents, there are ways you can secure your individual unit against intruders.
If your door has a peephole, use it. If it doesn’t, see about getting one installed. If your lease allows for it, install a deadbolt and chain lock if you don’t already have one. Make sure the locks on the windows are in good condition. Consider investing in renter’s insurance, and get to know your neighbors.
One great way to ensure your safety when you’re living on your own is to cultivate a local support system, especially if you don’t have a roommate and are living away from your family and friends. Making friends with a trustworthy neighbor can be invaluable. They can keep an extra set of your keys in case of an emergency and keep an eye out for any suspicious activity while you’re out of town.
When you live alone, it’s important that you keep the people in your life updated on what you’re up to so they know to check in when they haven’t heard from you. If you don’t have anyone in your life you care to share those details with, make friends with a local and make a deal to check in on each other regularly or to let each other know when you’re going somewhere outside of your usual routine.
Be sure you’re staying safe inside your home as well and watch out for common household hazards. Check regularly that your fire and carbon monoxide alarms are working, keep a first aid kit on hand and avoid creating tripping hazards.
Make sure you’re observing basic kitchen safety rules when cooking. Never leave cooking food unattended and know how to use a fire extinguisher. Also, use oven mitts and wash your hands frequently, especially after handling raw meat. Finally, double check that you turned off the burners or stove after you’ve finished cooking.
How to Stay Healthy
This may be one of the more difficult aspects of living alone for the first time, because the only person you’re accountable to on this is yourself. But just because you can get away with neglecting your health doesn’t mean you should.
Visit your doctor at least once a year for a physical. Visit the dentist twice a year. See the eye doctor every one or two years. If you’re at risk for any specific conditions, make sure you’re getting screened as often as is recommended.
At the very least, don’t put off calling and making an appointment when something is wrong. Waiting for an ailment to get better on its own can end badly. By being proactive, you could be saving yourself lengthy and costly treatment, or you could very well be saving your own life.
Educate yourself on how to eat a balanced diet – cooking healthy and affordable meals for one isn’t easy. While conventional wisdom states that it’s generally cheaper to cook your meals than get them at a restaurant, that truth is a little more complicated for single diners who face challenges shopping and cooking for one person when very little food is sold in single-servings. Making unique and healthy meals each day can actually become quite expensive.
To work around these challenges and save money, try cooking one big meal once a week and portioning it out into individual containers for a daily meal. If you need more variety, plan out your weekly meals using recipes with similar requirements. For example, one week you could plan to make mostly chicken-based dishes, using different spices, sauces and sides to have a different dish each night.
Another way to keep your food costs down while eating healthy is to stock your freezer with some basic meal components, like chicken and bagged vegetables, and thaw individual servings as needed. Always keep staples like pasta, beans and rice on hand.
Who to Call
Being the boss of your own household can be a great feeling, but it also means you’re the one who has to step up when everything hits the fan.
From pest infestations to burst pipes and life-threatening emergencies, adult life offers all kinds of unexpected and stressful situations that will pop up when you’re least expecting it. The key is to be prepared and know how to deal with it ahead of time. This is often a matter of having the right phone number.
If you live in an apartment, you already have a great resource when it comes to many of these situations: your landlord or management office. If you’re ever dealing with a non-emergency apartment issue, give them a call and they’ll likely send out their handyman to fix it. If it requires a service not provided for in your lease, they can still let you know who can help you with your issue, and might even be able to provide recommendations.
If you own your home or have a less-than-helpful landlord, you may be stuck dealing with problems on your own. If it’s a simple repair or issue, try using the internet to educate yourself on how to fix it. Or, get some recommendations for a repair professional who can help you (yet another reason to build a local support system – they can give you the lowdown on the best repairmen and mechanics in your area).
Keep any phone numbers you need close by. This includes any numbers you received upon move-in, which will likely tell you who to call if you have repair issues. Get a number for someone you can call for after-hour issues. You probably know to call 911 in an emergency, but find out your locality’s number for reporting non-emergencies, such as a burglary that has already happened, as well.
What to Do When You’re Scared/Lonely/Overwhelmed
When you move out on your own, you become responsible not just for your logistics of living, but for making yourself feel better when you’re not doing well emotionally.
Living on your own, especially if you don’t have a roommate, can feel really great and freeing, but it can also be overwhelming and lonely, particularly when you first move in.
Know that it’s OK to feel overwhelmed or even scared. You will adjust, even if it takes a little while. Eventually, you’ll get into a routine that works for you. You’ll get used to the strange noises your home occasionally makes. You’ll feel confident in caring for yourself.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Don’t let geographical distance get to you. Your friends and family, even those who live far away, are really never more than a phone call or video chat away.
Consider talking to a therapist. Moving out on your own is a big transition, and dealing with the emotions that come with that – both positive and negative – can be overwhelming. A mental health professional can help you sort out your feelings of fear, anxiety or loneliness.
Make sure you’re getting out of the house regularly. Even the most introverted homebodies can start to feel isolated if they only ever leave to go to work or the grocery store. Make sure you’re inviting others over every so often as well. It will feel good to host friends in your space, whether it’s for an elaborate dinner party or a chill movie night.
Most importantly, remember to relish in the freedom of living on your own. If you want to eat dessert for dinner occasionally, no one is there to judge you. If you want to throw a one-person dance party, dance away. Celebrate your independence.
What are your tips for living on your own? Share them in the comments!
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