Moving into a house; how to not creep myself out whenever I'm alone?
July 1, 2015 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Are you a big scaredy cat? Do you live in a house with lots of vulnerabilities anyways, and manage to sleep at night? How did you do it? Please hope me.

My boyfriend and I are moving in together, yay! We are moving into a house. I have never lived in a house before, except my parents' house, where lots of other people also lived. I am SO SCARED to live in a house. I can't stop thinking of how vulnerable the house is! So many windows! Doors with useless, easily-breakable glass in them! Basement windows that someone could break into and we'd never know and then creep up the basement stairs at night and murder us in our sleep!

What are some emotional hacks that you have done that help you feel safer in your house? Logistical recommendations are great, too, but I can tell this is the kind of thing I will obsess about and end up turning our whole house into a panic room, so I'm mostly trying to change my mental outlook on it.

So far we are planning to install motion-activated lights and an IP camera, and of course practice good security hygiene re: locking doors, etc. We will likely not get a dog, at least for a few years, although I know that would probably be a big anxiety-reliever. We live in a ridiculously safe area, and have already introduced ourselves to our neighbors. I have also spoken extensively to my fantastic therapist about this, since I have two traumatic home invasion incidents in my past, but it hasn't helped much. I did see this question but was hoping for more practical & personal approaches.

Any personal advice, product recommendations, reading suggestions, or calming mantras I can use when I'm freaking myself out at home alone doing laundry welcome!
posted by stellaluna to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Most security systems come with a panic key that will activate the alarm remotely, it's basically a key fob like for your car alarm system. Keep it on your nightstand when you go to sleep, so you know that you can trip the alarm no matter what, even if your first warning were someone banging on your bedroom door.
posted by skewed at 3:38 PM on July 1, 2015

The fact that you will be in a ridiculously safe are and will be great about locking doors should really help in feeling safe. Many, many people who live in ridiculously safe areas do not lock their doors. They are easier targets to thieves... why break into a house when you can waltz right in to the one next door? I like to remind myself that my neighbors probably don't lock up as well as I do, so if anything were to happen, it probably wouldn't be to us. (Not quite a mantra, but it helps ease this scaredy cat's mind!)
posted by dayintoday at 3:38 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Total scaredy cat here. The presence of my husband and - er - our dog - is what reassures me. I think you should move up the timetable for getting the dog, myself.
posted by bearwife at 3:38 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I sleep upstairs and lock my bedroom door. Who cares if someone is in the rest of the house and stealing my stuff? I mean, I care. But if they're getting into my bedroom while I'm unconscious I'm going to hear them trying to get through my locked door and have time to react.
posted by slateyness at 3:42 PM on July 1, 2015

I live in an isolated house on four acres and my husband works nights. What worked for me is having a home security system. Mine can be activated or deactivated from either the wall panel or an app on my smartphone.
posted by amro at 3:43 PM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When you're decorating, think about making every space feel comfortable and cozy. Avoid leaving unfurnished or spooky-looking nooks, and think about scale and balance (e.g. a tiny sofa in a huge room with not much else in it is going to add to a feeling of wrongness) - fill your space (appropriately/proportionally) with cozy things. Lots of carefully thought out lighting can help create a sense of safety.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:43 PM on July 1, 2015 [7 favorites]

I am also easily spooked. I once lived in a place with multiple sliding doors, and for my peace of mind, I cut thick dowels to fit in the track of the door when closed. That way, even if someone smashed the glass enough to unlock the door, they wouldn't be able to slide it open. This works for windows, too.

Besides that, I would definitely get a security/alarm system and use it whenever you feel unsafe for any reason. If you're worried about your SO tripping it when he comes home, get one with an app that will allow him to deactivate it when he's almost home.
posted by delight at 4:31 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Are cats an easier ask than a dog? I like having a couple of cats in the house because then I tend to attribute any weird sounds I hear somewhere else in the house to the cat, not to something sinister.
posted by BrashTech at 4:42 PM on July 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

Ah, BrashTech just beat me to it! Cat's for creaky noise scape goats. Although seriously, a big dog is the best.
posted by pennypiper at 4:46 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Get to know your neighbours. This is a longterm approach but potentially very rewarding in terms of real security and feelings of security. An immediate gain is that you'll no doubt locate a few obviously good neighbours quickly, and know that they will have an eye out for crime in the area, which will calm your nerves. In the longer term, as you build up trust, you'll be able to share more of your habits and routine with your neighbours, which will mean that they'll be well placed to spot something out of the ordinary. In addition, you'll build up a network of people you can call for help as soon as you need it. It might well take years to get all of the benefit out of it, but I guess that's a big part of what making a home is about.
posted by howfar at 4:50 PM on July 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

I just moved into a townhouse and had a ton of anxiety about this for a few months. Specifically around making SURE the front door was locked. After a few terrifying nights I started taking Zzquil (benedryl) to knock myself out before my imagination got too far. I make sure to check the door ONCE before going to bed. And then I decide to trust myself that it's fine - it's been fine and it will continue to be fine and I don't have the energy or the attention span to keep up that level of anxiety anymore. After a few months I'm basically fine and I don't really need the Zzquil anymore. If I had more windows I would get that film you put over windows to make them stronger - I looked into it and my inertia and sloth won over my anxiety.
posted by bleep at 4:56 PM on July 1, 2015

A dog would be ideal. I know you say that might not happen for a few years, but if a dog helps you in some significant way, perhaps you could look into moving the schedule forward?

Simple and obvious, but: exterior lighting on timers to light up the area surrounding the house.

I'm more than a little OCD about some things. Like: before I retire in the evenings, I go around to every door and ensure that it is locked tight. This includes checking to make sure the garage doors are closed (suburban neighborhood w many radio-controlled garage doors). Making this a "ritual" that I *always* do has been a helpful thing.

Speaking of garage doors: one of the more effective things you can do is get to know your neighbors, and talk to them about looking out for each other. For instance: if I come home at 1am and notice my neighbor's garage door is open, I'll call him. At 1am. It's not rude - we have an agreement about this stuff.

Speaking of neighbors: my neighborhood has a listserv that most people subscribe to. It's useful for many things, including reporting suspicious door-to-door visitors, etc.

I'm not at all into guns, and I don't want any violence in my home. But I make it a point to keep something (a golf club, a crowbar, a heavy flashlight, or even a stun gun) near each door. I've never had to use them, and I hope I never do. But they're there if I need them.

All kinds of home automation things: cameras, camera/recorders, remote controls. I've never done this, but I suspect that having a "nervous button" (ie, not quite a panic button) that would turn on every light in the house might be a nice thing to have: if you're in the bedroom and you think you hear a noise, slap the button. If there's someone downstairs going through your silverware, they may well decide to vacate the premises.

Lastly - the chief of police here in Austin is on record advising that the best kind of gun you can get for home protection is a shotgun. I personally do not think having a gun for home protection is a good idea for most people (including me). But I mention this here because the reason he suggested a shotgun is because of the distinctive sound they make when you 'pump' them: nothing else sounds like that. Sure, if you've got Hannibal Lecter downstairs, it won't phase him. But your average burglar / person up to no good will drop everything and head for the door. Or window, etc.
posted by doctor tough love at 5:09 PM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yes (1000x)to howfar's advice above.
In my case, I'm the neighbour. Next door is a younger woman who lives alone, and has similar concerns.
For all intents and purposes, I'm her back-up alarm. There are currently 3 large dogs living with me, plus thefact that I'm up at weird hours through the night, means I've been able to spot issues before they become problems. I'm happy to keep an eye out, and random home-made cookies in return is awesome!
So while a dog isn't an option for you, you may have a close neighbour with one-and that's almost as good.
posted by whowearsthepants at 5:17 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

We live in a super-safe neighborhood, but we have a home security system and we use it. My husband travels a lot and I just like having the alarm on. That way if I hear a sound I don't get scared. I turn the alarm on when I leave the house and then I feel safer coming home. Whatever we pay in monitoring for the system is worth the peace of mind. I highly recommend an alarm system. I just don't want to be scared in my own home and this keeps me feeling secure and happy.
posted by Kangaroo at 5:40 PM on July 1, 2015

Best answer: I honestly can't tell if this is helpful or not.

So, my husband and I got divorced, and I moved into this farmhouse in a really small town without street lights (at least, where I was). In order to get to the bathroom at night, I had to run my hand against the wall until I found the frame to let me know I'd found the entrance to the hallway--so the darkest place I've ever lived.

At first, I lived alone. In a few weeks, I got the scardiest dog in all the land, and a cat.

I think something happened to my brain somewhere in there. I simply couldn't; I simply couldn't entertain the bullshit guy at my door stories, the what's that creaking sound stories, the what's going on in the woods stories. I couldn't. I would have gone batshit insane. I bought myself a white noise generator and the fear was like the moment when a garage door closes--do you know what I mean? It was not fucking allowed anymore.

It still isn't, even years later, my dog died, living in a bigger house by myself, with my daughter, my husband gone on a business trip--It never returned.

In a way, I feel a little sad about it--my monsters all gone--but I think there's a watershed moment for some fears where you're like, I just can't have this fear and live my life anymore.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:36 PM on July 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

since I have two traumatic home invasion incidents in my past, but it hasn't helped much

Shit, I'm sorry. I take back my entire answer. I'm sorry I didn't read closely enough. Your answer is technology. You need products, good products, solid products. Behind that might be, 'I can't allow this fear anymore' and that's all nice and everything but for what you are dealing with go for smart use of technology and I'm terribly sorry that happened to you.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:38 PM on July 1, 2015

When I moved into a house alone, I had a security system installed (I was purchasing the house, so no worries about getting permission, etc). It did require a land phone line for monitoring, and there was also a monthly fee to the company providing the service. It provided me immense peace of mind.

Somewhere over about 5 years, I needed the security system less and less. When I moved to a new house, I was no longer as concerned and now, years later, am okay in a large house with few neighbors in a remote area. But it took time, and the security system helped me feel confident and safe when I first lived by myself.

I especially liked coming home and knowing the house was secure. I could arm the basement separately, so if I was upstairs in the evening, I could arm the entire basement and not worry that any random house noises were from someone breaking in.

If you can swing it - I think this would provide you the greatest comfort. Having a panic button remote in hand if I went to investigate something that scared me made me feel not alone, and helped build my confidence.
posted by hilaryjade at 6:51 PM on July 1, 2015

This is likely not so popular around these parts, but once I got my handgun license, took training and got my gun, I have slept soundly.
posted by AugustWest at 6:56 PM on July 1, 2015

I like to leave the car in the driveway and not in the garage. To me, this tells a bad person that someone is home, don't bother peeking in windows to figure out if someone is home, go find another house with no car(s) in the driveway.
posted by rabidsegue at 7:33 PM on July 1, 2015

You are much more likely to be a victim of a violent crime from someone you know and are close to, than a total stranger. Just keep this in mind, and you'll have fewer things to worry about.

It's also good practice to keep your back to the wall when your boyfriend/friends/family are visiting.

And it may seem to contradict the above statements, watching the original Home Alone is good for peace of mind. The home-invasion-by-total-strangers part definitely lacks credulity, but it does a good job of highlighting how your seemingly easily-penetrable collection of windows and doors are actually an easily defensible fortress. Just keep a good supply of potable water on hand, and you should do well in any siege.
posted by Anoplura at 7:45 PM on July 1, 2015

In terms of peace of mind, you should really get a cat. Or have a family of wild birds move in to your vent duct, or a raccoon living under your porch. Basically, any known thing that is totally innocuous, and is likely to make random scratching noises at any hour of the day or night. Then, when a branch taps against a window or the house makes creaky settling noises (the way houses do, with basically no provocation), you do not say "wtf scary! there must be a man trying to get in through my basement window!" and you don't spend half an hour walking around the house nervously listening to see where the noise came from, you just say "stupid raccoons!" and go to bed.
posted by aimedwander at 8:52 PM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't live alone but I live in an enormous apartment in an old building that gets super creepy when my roommates aren't home and it's late at night. I use a white noise machine and light some lamps and candles instead of overhead light so it feels like my room is cozy and the whole world kind of recedes in.
posted by capricorn at 8:55 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

It may sound odd, but I keep a pair of shoes and a pair of pants by my bed. If I have to get up in the night or I hear a noise, I put on the pants and shoes because then I'm in real clothes and not pajamas. Because it's the girl in panties and a t-shirt that gets killed in the horror movies. But in pants and real shoes, I'll live to the end of the movie.
Also a cat to blame noises on.
posted by teleri025 at 9:22 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I don't normally have nighttime anxiety, by when I do, I adopt some of the same strategies as when traveling solo: I double check my doors before bed, and then I sleep with earplugs so I don't get woken up by unfamiliar sounds.

(If I'm home alone I'll just sleep with the dogs, which is its own curative since 5am heavy doggie breathing by hopeful doggies wanting breakfast quickly convinces me that maybe everything is fine and the dogs can go back to sleeping in the basement like normal.)
posted by deludingmyself at 10:00 PM on July 1, 2015

I've never lived in a house but I lived alone in a city apartment for a while as a single female which was pretty scary. I didn't have money to install a whole security system so I bought one of those hotel alarms that get triggered by movement. I hung it on my front door handle but it also works for windows. So basically, it would go off if someone moved the door/handle.

My bedroom is quite far from the entrance, meaning that I can't hear if someone comes in so I locked my bedroom as well from the inside whenever I slept.

There's also a kind of portable door lock for travelers staying in hotels that can be installed on any door from the inside. Just google "portable hotel door lock". If you're paranoid enough, you can put this on the bedroom door when the boyfriend is away.
posted by whitelotus at 10:21 PM on July 1, 2015

In addition to everything above, an easy thing that might help a bit are nightlights in the hallways, bathrooms, etc. It's especially helpful when moving somewhere new so you can learn the layout better and aren't bumping into objects in the middle of the night.

For my own peace of mind as well, I like having a bedroom door that locks. It can be a better safe space then like a bathroom or another room that would generally have a lock.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:40 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am a big-time scaredy cat in my house at night when my partner is away on business. We don't have a security system in place, but I have developed a bed-time routine that - if I get everything in place - it makes me feel secure enough to eventually fall asleep. I don't know what yours will end up being, but after locking up the house, my routine involves putting two phones nearer to me (one the landline, the other my mobile), putting a big window-reaching metal stick-thingy on the floor alongside my side of the bed (so I can use it as a baton/bat or distance-keeping tool), my swiss army knife on the bedside table (with the knife out; mind you, it is small), and I build up pillows underneath the covers where my partner would normally sleep (not to trick anyone else, but more like to make the bed feel cosier/smaller). Any if I am really freaking out, sometimes I turn on the light out in the hall so I can see clearly what is outside the (dark) bedroom.

Then I read until I drop off.*

*An additional trick is to use an app on your phone/tablet that will slowly fade out a light over time, e.g., 15-20 minutes. So you are falling asleep with some light on. Light always makes things less scary.
posted by Halo in reverse at 1:34 AM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Adding to the comments re: blaming noises on the cat; what reassures me when I'm home alone at night is, if I hear a noise, and rather than blaming the cat, if I see the cats acting normally when they hear the noise, that calms me down; if something were up, they'd be the first to act spooked (or the first to go investigate).

Also? Having a security alarm. Totally worth the price for the peace of mind. And I live in a safe area, in a safe neighborhood, without any issues for years.
posted by lea724 at 3:27 AM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You've just got to switch it around to how much safer a house can be than an apartment!

All those windows! Well, first they probably have locks on them, and second they make for great and multiple means of egress in case of fire or intruder. How much safer than having a fire in your third-floor apartment in front of the only door! Just lock them all up and, if you need more, wedge a wooden dowel between the lower frame and the top of the frame so it can't be lifted. The same goes for sliding glass doors - I would think that an intruder is much less likely to smash glass at night because of the noise, and if they can't open a window from the outside, they aren't getting in.

As for basement windows, comfort yourself that the average American adult is never going to be able to fit through a casement window without significant amounts of grease and ropes. Then, lock them up and put a lock on the upstairs side of the basement door.

Keep your phone charger plugged into by your bed so every night you can go to sleep knowing you have a fully charged phone right next to you.

And definitely move up your timeline to get a dog! Not only will they provide comfort, but I've read that barking from a dog of any size is a pretty good deterrent for an opportunistic home invader.
posted by mibo at 4:26 AM on July 2, 2015

1. Window coverings. Feels much more comfortable if you know people can't look in and you don't have that looming dark outside.
2. Your phone. No one has mentioned 911!
3. Perhaps a visit to nearest police station seeking recommendations for home security—and if you have to call for help, what's estimated time for a patrol car to arrive.

Dog, when you can, as others above have said.
posted by xaryts at 8:43 AM on July 2, 2015

You are describing anxious fear, and as a sufferer of General Anxiety Disorder, I can say from experience that taking SSRIs can completely obliterate these symptoms sometimes.

OK, might not work 100% for you, but no harm in asking your doc for some (generic, cheap) SSRIs to help cope, short-term or otherwise.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:02 AM on July 2, 2015

once I got my handgun license, took training and got my gun, I have slept soundly.

I did this too, along with developing a plan with the assistance of the firearms trainer and some police friends (call 911 on wireless phone next to my bed, then sneak with the phone into my closet where I keep my loaded gun hidden and secured. )

But I have to say I did this because it is in my opinion sensible, and I know implementing my plan is something I will do because it is a last resort. My dog is what keeps me feeling secure and safe when things creak and blow.
posted by bearwife at 9:14 AM on July 2, 2015

To clarify my previous answer, after reading bearwife's answer above, the part that brings me cold comfort is the fact that I have training and a plan. The gun is just part of the plan and a last resort at that. Having a plan for all contingencies is a good idea in any circumstance. Know your egresses in case of fire, in case of an intruder and in case you just want to sneak out like a teenager. Keep a flashlight in the same place at all times. Have emergency contacts handy although the only real contact you need in an emergency is 911. Know where you keep various medical supplies such as liquid skin, bandages, etc. Know what to do in case of pending bad weather such as fill up a tub with water in case drinking water is cut off. Also, have a place to meet family in case of emergency exit. We had a huge oak tree at the across the street neighbors. It makes it easier to account for everyone. The list goes on, but to me comfort comes from knowing I have a plan and the tools with which I can execute the plan.
posted by AugustWest at 12:01 PM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh god, the windows, all the vulnerable windows. And you're out there on your own, with no one else in the building -- THAT YOU KNOW OF. I do just fine in high-crime urban neighborhood apartments, but my brainstem used to freak out in my friends' nice safe Cape Cod style house, especially the brightly lit ground floor at nighttime.

The fear really ratcheted down over time, though, until it stopped being an issue -- kind of like nicotine withdrawal does. Here is what I think helped:

EXPOSURE OVER TIME. My brain kept subliminally replaying a memory of some horror movie in a similar setting, I suspect. Eventually, it got overlaid with happy local memories.

BECOMING THE MONSTER. What scared me most was a classic film trope: the idea that someone might be looking at me through the window, while I would not be able to see them. This became less scary each time I was the one looking in at my friends. We always visited them at nighttime, and walked past a window where one of them was often working, and would sometimes startle them accidentally. At first I felt horrible about this, but then I realized they weren't cognitively scared, just startled in an endearing way. So there was this fond protective feeling towards the people on the inside, coming from me while I was on the outside, which stopped my brain from assuming hostility in that direction.

IMAGINARY SOCIAL CONNECTION. My new phone let me take pictures of their cats and text back and forth with my friends while they were out of town. Their kid got older, so it felt like there was a fellow rational person upstairs rather than this helpless cartoon figure, if that makes any sense. And I became more engaged in keeping their cats company, and thinking about their cats' interactions with me and with each other, so that shifted my focus away from Theoretical Outside Stranger to the more congenial social network inside the house.

Anyway, that seems to be how my adjustment happened. Your adjustment will probably be idiosyncratic too, and its rate exponentially hastened by all the time you'll spend on site. Good luck!
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:45 AM on July 3, 2015

Response by poster: I just can't have this fear and live my life anymore

Nailed it. Thank you all so much for your answers; we're renting and won't be getting a full-blown security system, but it might be worth it to look into getting a pup sooner rather than later. I'm also kind of relieved that I'm not the only one who worries about this kind of stuff!
posted by stellaluna at 5:23 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

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