Why living alone was the best self-care investment I ever made

Living alone wasn’t always easy, but it gave me the chance to get to know myself and become more independent

illustration of a woman in an outline of a house
(Image credit: Getty/Future)

Living alone was a goal of mine for my entire adult life. Although I have always had good luck with roommates (in fact, some of my former roommates are still my close friends), I always dreamed about the day I would have my own place. 

I couldn’t wait to decorate it exactly how I wanted it. I was excited to leave it as clean or as messy as I wanted without feeling either annoyed at someone else’s mess, or guilty about my own... I wanted to be able to laze around all weekend if I felt like it, without feeling like anyone was judging me for it. I needed a space where I could really decompress and where I didn’t have to be social if I didn’t want to. 

I found that corner of the world in New York City, thanks to a studio apartment that became available at a discount during the COVID-19 pandemic. It wasn’t perfect, but it was mine.

A beige sofa in living room with round small wooden dining table and gallery with framed wall art decor

(Image credit: Desenio)

I decorated the walls with art I’d collected over the last few years. I cleaned (and sometimes didn’t clean). I lazed. It was incredible. But even beyond those seemingly surface-level perks, there were some especially profound benefits to living alone. 

If you’re not sure whether you’re ready to live alone, here are a few reasons living by myself was the best investment I ever made. 

1. You get to know yourself on a deeper level

'When possible, living alone is one of the greatest exercises in self-expression a person can have,' says therapist Jeanae M. Hopgood, LMFT, M.Ed, PMH-C. 'Everything from decor to budgeting becomes an unencumbered opportunity to step into the fullness of yourself. For most of our lives, we are existing within someone else's design for us.'

When you’re the only one making decisions, you quickly learn what’s important to you and on the other side of the coin, things that you don’t really care about. For instance, I really hate dried-up spills or grime on kitchen surfaces, but I am not especially bothered if the recycling piles up for a few weeks. 

But even beyond household habits, living alone also gives you the chance to understand your social needs.

'It naturally structures in alone-time, which is beneficial to understanding yourself,' notes Hopgood. 'It can help you better listen to your body -- Does it feel like laying down, staying in, having company, going out? -- and what you need to feel peaceful rather than busy.'

In case you haven’t caught on, I really love alone time. Although this was something I knew about myself, living alone did help me make peace with this aspect of my personality. I’d always lived with social, busy people and when comparing myself to them, I often felt awkward and self-conscious about my choice to stay in eating chips and rewatching Gossip Girl, even when that’s what my body and mind needed. Living alone alleviated that feeling of “do my roommates think I’m weird for not going out tonight?” and allowed me to fully take the time and space I needed to recharge without beating myself up about it. 

2. You become more intentional about seeing friends and family

Perhaps counterintuitively, living alone also made me a little more social. Since I didn’t have built-in friendly interactions at home, I found that I was more likely to go out in my neighborhood for a walk or make plans with friends. 

'Living alone does not mean that you’ll be lonely,' explained therapist Amanda Levison, M.S., LMHC, LPC, CCBT. 'You can enjoy your alone time at home and reach out to friends and family when you want to have company over or go out on the town - all on your terms.'

Knowing that I would always have the alone time I needed made it easier for me to make plans without worrying my social battery would be totally drained. I also never had to run it by anyone if I wanted to have people over to my place, which was nice. 

A bright studio apartment with a stencilled wall

(Image credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/ Getty)

3. You become more independent

Hopgood points out that when you live alone, you’re the head of household, which is a new experience for many. 'Your decisions literally are the end-all-be-all, which is a great reminder of our own agency and autonomy,' she says. 

I had always been lucky enough to live with women who are good problem-solvers. That basically meant someone else was always there to fix the garbage disposal or troubleshoot our WiFi. But living alone obviously meant that I was the only person in charge of everything, from paying bills on time to unclogging the shower drain to trapping the mice that briefly invaded my apartment. I won’t lie, it was sometimes unpleasant, but it taught me a lot of useful skills. 

'It’s all about perspective - this situation could be overwhelming, or you could see it as an opportunity to learn a new skill,' says Levinson. 'Many DIY skills can be learned online with a bit of research, or reach out to a friend who can help to teach you some common repairs so next time you’ll know exactly what to do.'

It bolstered my confidence to realize that I actually could manage it all -- and when I couldn’t, there was always the option of phoning my parents for advice. 

fall scents on display next to window

(Image credit: Getty Images)

4. It can help you reclaim emotional space

Therapist Blessing Uchendu, LCSW, shared an insight she’s gained from working with clients who are living alone for the first time. 

'There is a way that living alone and having their own space allows for my clients to metaphorically spread out as they move on from relationships and situations where they felt emotionally constricted. For women and femmes who are unaccustomed to having their needs and choices centered, living alone can feel like a revolutionary experience,' she explained. 

Although I wasn’t leaving an emotionally constricting relationship, living alone still felt revolutionary to me. I am all too aware that women often don’t have the opportunity to center their needs, as Uchendu points out. This is especially true at this point in time, when living alone is less and less feasible for many people. As my life continues, I’ll always be grateful that I gave myself this experience.

Make you balcony patio cozy with soft furnishings

(Image credit: Wayfair)

All of that said, there were some downsides to living alone. I occasionally felt lonely. Obviously, it was far more expensive to live alone than to live with roommates, so I had to budget more carefully. I recognize that I was incredibly lucky to be able to afford to live alone, and that’s a privilege not everyone has. And while I’m glad to have some basic pest control and maintenance experience under my belt, there were a few nights I burst into tears because I was overwhelmed by these things. But still, I believe living alone was the best thing I could have done for myself at that point in time. 

5. It makes sure you are ready to live with someone out of want rather than need

One more thing I did in that sunny NYC studio was fall in love. In fact, I love him so much that I recently left that studio I’d dreamed of for so long, and we moved into a new apartment together.

It’s a big apartment with plenty of natural light. The neighborhood is lively, but our street is quiet. We have a big balcony overlooking the neighbor’s garden. But the primary selling point for me was that this apartment had enough room for both of us to have our own private space. My room/home office is decorated with plants, postcards from my travels, and pictures of my favorite people. It’s entirely mine. Because of this room, I still have the space and privacy that I value so much, and our relationship is stronger for it. 

I would not have been ready to take this step if I hadn’t spent that time living alone. I got to know myself on a deeper level, from my cleaning preferences to what I do when I’m not worrying about the perception of others. I managed my household, which gave me a renewed sense of practical and financial confidence. I love living with him, but I’m also so grateful that I had the chance to live out my dreams of solo living before we got here.

Jamie Ballard
Freelance Contributor

Jamie Ballard is lifestyle writer based in New York city. She covers everything from shopping to relationships and her work has been featured on top publications including Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan and the YouGov America site where she contributes as a data journalist. She also writes on personal finances and health and when she isn't working she can be found running or traveling.