Living on my own for the first time. Advice?
April 17, 2010 8:44 PM   Subscribe

Living on my own for the first time. Advice?
posted by fizzzzzzzzzzzy to Society & Culture (43 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
You may need to be a little more specific. What concerns do you have about living on your own? What kind of advice are you looking for?
posted by embrangled at 8:47 PM on April 17, 2010

You will manage.
posted by onepot at 8:53 PM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Good knives! And don't put them in the dishwasher.
posted by Some1 at 8:53 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Practical, socially appropriate advice: make a point of inviting a friend over every now and again for dinner. It will keep you honest about keeping things clean.

Practical, socially degenerate advice: there are things the single person living alone can do without. Bathroom doors, for instance. And plates and silverware. Many was the meal I ate straight out of the pot, over the stove, just with the wooden spoon I'd made it with.

For me, the key was learning how to balance the fun aspects of not being beholden to anybody else about the way you live with the fact that, at least for people of my proclivities, other people and their expectations of civility are all that separate me from the beasts.
posted by dr. boludo at 9:00 PM on April 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Putting whites in the laundry with darks won't kill you as long as you keep the red clothes out.
posted by thorny at 9:01 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Invite people over occasionally so you have a reason to clean.

Don't buy a zillion pairs of underwear or a whole bunch of dishes. Buy only a few days' worth, so you have reason/incentive to do laundry and dishes.

How's security where you are?
posted by olinerd at 9:02 PM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Make an effort to go out and socialize regularly. Otherwise you exist in your own little box, mistake I kind of made when I first moved out of home.

Keep extra blankets and sheets, and either buy a roll up mattress or a couch big enough for someone to sleep on.

Smoke alarms?

Seconding good knives, and sharpening tools.

Watch food quantities, many foods come packaged as 4 servings. Buy airtight containers for things like pasta, flour, sugar etc. Otherwise you open something that will perish unless consumed quickly and you end up eating the same meal for 4 days in a row. When buying large packs of meat, cut it into single serving portions and re-wrap before freezing (I just learned this lesson last week).
posted by chrisbucks at 9:02 PM on April 17, 2010

Budget, budget, budget.

This will be hard at first (trial & error + startup expenses), but will get easier as you fall into a routine. can help you, and is almost effortless to set up and use.

You'll, of course, need to make most of your purchases with a debit card for this to work, although this isn't a huge deal as long as you monitor your balances carefully (which Mint can also help you do).

If you can handle the responsibility of a credit card, and resist the urge to run up a balance, you can use your CC as a debit card with a free one month advance (carefully!). This also helps you build up a credit history, which may be important in the future.

Other things: Learn to cook. Don't buy too much food (it goes bad far faster than you can ever imagine). Make friends wherever you're going -- odds are, there are awesome people lurking about if you know where to find them.

Disclaimer: I'm still figuring this out myself.
posted by schmod at 9:05 PM on April 17, 2010

Keep extra blankets and sheets, and either buy a roll up mattress or a couch big enough for someone to sleep on.

Or buy a bed big enough for someone else to sleep in. ;-)
posted by schmod at 9:07 PM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Learn to cook. I haven't and I end up spending a lot of money on premade crap.
posted by asharchist at 9:10 PM on April 17, 2010 [7 favorites]

Sometimes it's nice when you're first starting out to buy one thing for your place that isn't strictly necessary. For me, it was dishes. It's a small thing, but everything tasted better off of plates of my own choosing than off of an inherited set of mismatched '70's Corningware and trade show mugs. (And my dishes were super cheap, too.)

Shop for things like paper towels and sponges at the dollar store, if you have one nearby.

Own more than one towel.

If you are living alone, do not buy a large trash can for the kitchen. One person doesn't usually generate a ton of trash, so by the time you take it out, it's smelly and rotting and attracting bugs.
posted by corey flood at 9:23 PM on April 17, 2010

Sleep naked.

Actually, that applies to almost everyone.
posted by McBearclaw at 9:27 PM on April 17, 2010

I'm still figuring this out, too, but some things I've found are:
- really make sure that you need something before you buy it. You need fewer things than you think. Someday you will want to move, and trying to decide what to do with three different sets of headphones will drive you crazy.
- if you do buy something, get good quality. Good knives, a cast-iron skillet, sheets, clothing, shoes... they'll all last longer than the cheapest stuff.
- you'll have to figure out a balance when cleaning the place. You want it to be presentable, and functional, but too much cleaning is counterproductive.
- you'll be healthier and spend less money if you plan meals a week at a time (as opposed to lurching out to the pizza parlour at midnight.)
- be honest. Keep some condoms, lube, and a small towel or two near the bed.

Mostly, though, relax. Enjoy yourself. You'll do fine!
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:01 PM on April 17, 2010

For reasons of sociability, disaster management and conflict avoidance: find and befriend your neighbours.
posted by rongorongo at 10:20 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you don't clean it before you leave, your entire house will smell when you get back. You will forget this. Always have industrial-strength deodorizers on hand.

Learn everything you can about fixing a toilet. If you don't fix it right now, you'll have to do it on the spot when it goes from bad to worse. Have the tools on hand.

If there's barely any toilet paper on the roll, check to see if you have a roll to replace it with. Same thing goes for the second-to-last garbage bag, light bulb, etc.

You'll probably end up taking someone home at an unexpected time. Keep dirty dishes in the sink and not in your room. Keep filth in a trash can and not on the floor.
posted by griphus at 10:26 PM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

This may be one of the few periods in your life where your pad, however modest it is, is totally, completely yours, from the front door to the bathroom. Don't be afraid to hang posters you like, paint in colors you like (if you're allowed by your lease) and buy/find furniture you admire.

Always, always keep a clean(ish) bathroom. Dust and small collections of books and bills people don't care too much about; if they go to use the loo and it looks like a truck stop in there, that's a mood killer.
posted by maxwelton at 10:31 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't buy stopgap furniture. Cheap crappy furniture will haunt you as it slowly falls apart before you can afford to replace it with something better. Be a minimalist and/or check out craigslist/freecycle etc. instead of buying particleboard crap.

Learn to cook at least one meal that you can whip up with confidence to impress someone you are interested in romantically.
posted by ambrosia at 10:48 PM on April 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Keep a fire extinguisher and a plunger handy. These are two things you may rarely need . . . but when you need them, you will REALLY need them.
posted by ainsley at 11:04 PM on April 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

Are you used to someone keeping your place clean for you up until now? If you don't have time to clean, and if you find yourself feeling unhappy due to messy surroundings, look into hiring a maid. Housecleaning services are surprisingly affordable and can make the difference between dreading coming home from work or looking forward to it.
posted by halogen at 11:21 PM on April 17, 2010

Are you living away from your parents for the first time, or without roommates for the first time?
posted by radioamy at 11:28 PM on April 17, 2010

Mark a calendar day each month for basic maintenance stuff that's on your shoulders; it's easier to do 'em all in one day and be done with them, than trying to remember them "whenever." I mean things like checking fire alarms' batteries and cleaning/replacing AC filter, if that's your responsibility. Reusable AC filters can save you money. Check fire alarm batteries upon moving in, as they're often dead or dying.
Always know where the fire extinguisher and a flashlight are. Couldn't hurt to have matches and a candle or two in a drawer somewhere, too.
When you move out on your own, your family may give you lots of plates and appliances and stuff you could live without. What you will need sooner or later are basic tools, screwdrivers and such.
Buy toilet paper slightly more often than you need to.
It's been said before, but it can't be said enough: shake hands with at least a couple of neighbours. You don't have to become best friends, but know their names. You'll know why when the time comes.
If you live alone, take home security seriously.
A wise Chinaman once said: vacuum cleaner bags never run out at a time when you don't most desperately need them.
Pick a box on a bookshelf or a cookie jar in a cabinet and put $40 in there. This isn't money you take out to buy groceries; you'll know why you set aside when the time comes.
And most importantly: don't just sign the lease - read it.
posted by Unhyper at 12:06 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get yourself into a routine of paying bills when they come in. Especially, do not ever leave bills lying around in envelopes because you are afraid to open them.
posted by biffa at 12:35 AM on April 18, 2010

Make your upkeep habits sustainable and joyous — minimizing entropy can be a wonderful part of having a home; sing, dance, meditate, listen to baroque music — enjoy solitude; now and then at least pretend you have no computer — you'll be surprised; find other places (public libraries, campus locales, cafés, spots of nature) to haunt — variation is health; keep your fridge well-stocked with an assortment of drinks — don't forget the motherfuckin' freeze pops; if you tend towards sloth, study how it arises and counter it; have books of poetry; wash your sheets; relax, home is peace.
posted by mbrock at 12:54 AM on April 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Get a set of basic hand tools so you can make repairs.

Follow this advice.
posted by scose at 1:27 AM on April 18, 2010

Get a rice cooker and a wok.
posted by gnutron at 3:03 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

The more places you have to put things, the cleaner your place will be.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:56 AM on April 18, 2010

Wash sheets and towels once a week. You may be able to get away with once every two weeks on the sheets, but not in the hot weather.

Buy a quality vacuum cleaner.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:06 AM on April 18, 2010

When going shopping stock up on items that are on sale. Keep a few Liters of Long life Milk in the pantry just incase because room mates seem think that stuff comes out of the tap.
posted by Julio34 at 5:13 AM on April 18, 2010

Nthing learning to cook. Learn to make a few dishes you already like that aren't too complicated, and require just a few easily obtainable ingredients. Stock your pantry/fridge with basics - garlic, onions, some herbs and spices, etc.

If you're still new at cooking or don't plan to do much of it, having decent quality frozen entrees, boxed soups, pasta sauce and the like on hand will be cheaper than falling into the take-out trap (which is an easy way to burn a lot of money fast, especially if your not-living-alone friends come over a lot). If you're buying prepackaged, try for stuff that's not too processed, with ingredients you can identify.

Get in the habit of doing the dishes and/or vacuuming. A reasonably clean sink/toilet are also a good idea if you don't want to gross out any unexpected guests.

Pay your rent on time. Late fees are not fun. Get it directly withdrawn from your account, if you can.

If you're in an apartment, respect your neighbours. Don't be super noisy at unreasonable hours, and give them a heads-up about parties if it's that kind of place. Noise complaints are also not fun, and neither is getting a bad tenant reputation.

Get out of the house/apartment. Make a point of it. It's really easy to spend all day online or in bed if nobody's there to tell you otherwise, and nobody will be there to tell you otherwise.

Sleep naked, sure, but also cook naked, hang around on the couch naked, etc. You live alone! Although blinds are probably a good idea, and a robe you can throw on for when guests show up unexpectedly.
posted by nicoleincanada at 6:44 AM on April 18, 2010

Sleep naked, sure, but also cook naked, hang around on the couch naked, etc.

Don't cook naked.
posted by kate blank at 7:36 AM on April 18, 2010

Don't cook bacon naked.
posted by kimota at 8:20 AM on April 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't put your computer and your bed in the same room.
posted by zjacreman at 9:03 AM on April 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

Remember to call your mother.
posted by schmod at 9:18 AM on April 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Craigslist is your friend when it comes to furniture. Target is a good place to shop for kitchenware.

Spend 10-20 minutes cleaning house every day, 1-2 hours once a week, and most of the day once every few months.

If you don't already have good excuses for socializing, find some. Don't sit around the house all the time by yourself.

You'll need some basic hand tools, extension cords, cleaning supplies, spare lightbulbs, that sort of thing.
posted by adamrice at 9:19 AM on April 18, 2010

n-thing make friendly with the neighbors. And not just the residential neighbors, but businesses too. Spend 5 minutes a day tidying up. I'm told it's a good practice to make sure your dishes are done before you go to bed, but I wouldn't know. Make sure somebody you trust and can easily contact has a spare key. This is not just good for when you lock yourself out at 3AM. If you find yourself 300 miles away and can't remember if you've left the oven on with nothing in it (hey, it happens), you would rather your best friend go check than your landlord think you're a careless idiot. Be good to your landlord. At some point, it's a good thing to think about stocking up on some emergency necessities: cleaning solutions for midnight spills & stains, pantry items for when you're desperate & tired, medications and toiletries like NyQuil that you won't want to go to the store for when you have the flu. Learn what freezes well for how long & have a good system. I use a sharpie on freezer bags to date & label what's what. Have a lot of tupperware-type storage containers. Find a pantry/fridge organization system that works for YOU. It doesn't have to make sense to anybody else. Decorate: hang framed photos (this is cheap & easy) or cool artwork in some scheme that's pleasing to you. Have non-wall decorative objects as well. Keep your eye out on places like Apartment Therapy and CasaSugar or even just Ikea for cool new ways to improve how your space looks and feels. Get renter's insurance. Get subscriptions to some magazines you like and coffee table books. Enjoy it. Don't spend all your time on the computer telling people on AskMeFi how to live. ;-)

I feel like I should end this with either "Choose life" or "Wear sunscreen". Instead, I'll end with a question for the OP, which is: Can you please give us more information about your living situation and experience?
posted by knile at 9:33 AM on April 18, 2010

Save your plastic shopping bags. Grab a corner, roll it around your index and middle finger. Twist the handle-end and tuck inside the middle. Throw ball into larger bag. You can do this with both the big plastic bags as well as the clear plastic bags that you put fresh produce in. I keep them in separate bags under the kitchen sink.

Those clear plastic produce bags are gold. Get a 1L bottle of bleach* (dump a bunch into toilet. Scrub toilet with toilet brush. While swirling brush, flush. Repeat swirl + flush. Doing this regularly = much less unpleasant task = glistening toilet = impressed guests**). Use bleach. Clean bottle, cut the top off.

Keep decapitated plastic container next to kitchen sink. Blow up a clear plastic produce bag, hold onto top, squeeze to make sure there aren't any holes in the bottom. Line decapitated container with bag. Put wet kitchen waste in said bag. At the end of the day, tie airtight bag filled with wet kitchen waste and deposit in general trash. You'll appreciate this all the more if your place gets warm during the summer.

You can use the bigger plastic shopping bags to line small trash cans, say, for the bathroom or as temporary storage for recyclables (either paper, or containers) before you blue-box them. They're also decent packaging material if you ever have to ship anything. If you have a lot of glassware, they're good insulation material for when you move, next.

If you have a shower with curtains, buy a cheap-assed one and a nice looking one. Double them up (one hook goes through the same hole in the cheap and nice curtain), have the nice looking one on the outside, with the tail hanging outside of the tub. Have the cheap one hang inside the tub. Change out the cheap-assed one when it starts getting crappy. Depending on how cheap, the inside one will tear. When it does, wait until its dry. Apply a couple of layers of clear packaging tape to fix the torn hole. Change frequency will depend on where you live and the kind of water you get. I changed mine out every 9 months or so. At $5 a pop, can't complain. Now I have a glass door.

*or whatever. The 1L bleach containers are just the right size for the standard clear plastic produce bag
**bleach wipes are awesome. As a guy, I don't have a BFF. If I did have one, though, bleach wipes would be my BFF. Stock up when they're on sale. For quick tasks, you can use bare hands, but its better if you put on a disposable plastic/latex glove. Also, scrubbing bubbles w/bleach is a quality product.
posted by porpoise at 10:37 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get a mesh strainer (not the metal w/ slots kind that probably came with it) for you kitchen sink. This will prevent plumbing problems later. Tap out the collected stuff into the PPB lined- DPC. When it gets crufty, leave in the kitchen sink-hole. Dump a bunch of bleach through strainer. Wait 5-10 minutes, run some water through it. If it gets really crufty, throw it into the de-lined DPC, pour in a generous slug of bleach. Add some water to cover (say, 10-20% bleach:water). let sit overnight. Rinse out in the morning. *Shiney!*

If you have long hair (or are starting to lose it), get a smaller mesh (grilled metal is probably better) strainer for your bathtub to prevent plumbing problems. Even if its yours, hair stuck in a drain ferments into something much much more horrible than hair collected immediately after a shower.
posted by porpoise at 10:44 AM on April 18, 2010

My biggest problem is that there's no one around to eat the other half the pizza. If you lack self control like I do, cook only a single portion or pack up the would-be leftovers before you start eating.

I still haven't gotten into this habit...
posted by natabat at 11:28 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

A place for everything and everything in it's place. Take the time to really think about it and assign a "home" for all your stuff. Have a home for things that don't have a home.

Also, unless you are a clean freak and love love love cleaning, get a housekeeper. A once a week overall cleanup that YOU don't do helps prevent things from getting out of hand, and you can do spot clean up during the week.

Make a basic list, go grocery shopping once a week, every week. For years I would go grocery shopping every two weeks, or I wouldn't really do it, I would just eat out, and I just spent a lot of money and I felt out of control. Now I go every Saturday and it's sooooooooo much better.

Also, you can buy bulk once every few months, if you have places to store stuff - get tons of toilet paper, extra cleaning stuff, shampoo and soap, etc. It's nice not to have to think about these things when you go grocery shopping.

Have an extra six-pack in the fridge at all times.
posted by Locochona at 1:08 PM on April 18, 2010

Buy household goods at thrift stores if you can. Cooking pots, drinking glasses, these things will be dirt cheap there.

I wouldn't buy sheets, shoes, or undergarments at a thrift store, but it's a great place to save money on a great number of things.
posted by bilabial at 1:34 PM on April 18, 2010

Buy fabric, machine washable shower curtain liners. They dry faster after you shower and you won't have to deal with the grime and mold that collects in the seams of the plastic ones. Also, I'd recommend spending more money to buy quality air filters and humidifiers (if those are items that you need.) I've wasted money on cheap versions of both and had to toss them out after less than a year.
Also, read the landlord/tenant laws in your state and let your landlord know immediately if you have leaks, bug infestations, etc.
posted by sophie at 4:29 PM on April 18, 2010

Never lend anyone anything you want to get back. I mean never lend ANYONE ANYTHING that you want to get back. No matter how much they ask, no matter how much they promise they'll pay you back or bring it back, no matter how much they try to guilt you into lending it to them, do not lend it to them. If you don't mind losing it, go ahead and give it to them. If they bring it back/pay it back - bonus - if not, you didn't expect it back anyway, so no hard feelings.

Seriously, I've seen too many friendships lost over "borrowed" stuff and money lost. It's better to give your friend an extra $50 you have lying around than to lend them $200 and then be evicted because you can't pay your rent.

On the flip side, never borrow anything that you cannot pay back or afford to replace - for the same reason - it's not worth losing your friendship over. People become attached to their things and accidents happen.
posted by patheral at 5:23 PM on April 18, 2010

Keep the curtains closed. No one needs to see that.

Watch the drinking. Every tedious lonely drunk used to be a casual but regular social drinker. Try to use intoxication for celebration, when you have given yourself a reason to toast the end of a hard work week or exam period, and not for daily sedation. Same goes for the weed. Just because mom isn't there to smell your clothes doesn't mean it's a good idea to smoke every day.

And you will have lots of extra money and be much healthier and sexier -- basically, you will be a strong sex god with money in your pocket -- if you cook your own meals. Don't buy food that is ready to eat straight out of a box.

Buy (or snatch from your parents) some pots and Tupperware-type airtight containers so you can cook a proper meal and keep the extra food fresh, so you can make lots of something at once and then not have to cook every day.
posted by pracowity at 11:55 PM on April 18, 2010

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