Single again...How do I feel & stay safe living alone?
October 10, 2018 5:35 PM   Subscribe

I am a newly single woman & one of the few things I am dreading about single life is feeling afraid at night. Now I wear earplugs & an eyemask every night. I am not sure I could sleep like that when I move out. Should I be looking for a second or third floor apartment? An apartment building with buzz-in doors? What are some things you've found that make you feel safe? (A dog is certainly in my future but that is years away. )
posted by i_mean_come_on_now to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Having an alarm system makes all the creepy noises in the night just go away.
If you can't buy or install a monitored alarm system, you can get hardware store alarms for your door and windows.
And you don't have to take the alarm on walks. Good luck!
posted by nantucket at 5:38 PM on October 10, 2018 [9 favorites]

This may be weird, but I like to lock my screen doors before I go to bed at night - just one more layer in between me and folks who are looking for an opportunity.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 5:40 PM on October 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Meet your neighbors. I feel a lot better knowing that we would all help each other in a crisis.
posted by corey flood at 5:44 PM on October 10, 2018 [16 favorites]

> Should I be looking for a second or third floor apartment

Yes, in my experience -- I liked knowing someone couldn't just walk in the window, and it meant I could leave my window open.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:57 PM on October 10, 2018 [22 favorites]

I feel safer and less hyper vigilant on upper floors, and in better insulated buildings. If
I can hear my neighbors talking, I'm more likely to feel like they're breathing down my neck. Make anyone showing you housing be quiet for a few minutes, and look around for bars and live music venues that might generate late night noise.

I used to use blackout curtains and a motion-sensitive light by the door, or always-on hall light, so I could sleep in a very dark and quiet room but I'd notice if the room were entered.

I made a ton of progress on this with psych care, but I have no idea what your options are on that front. Nearly everyone can get curtains way easier than therapy or meds.
posted by bagel at 6:02 PM on October 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you're the sort of person who's comforted by statistics, look up what the actual risk of that kind of break-in is for your area.

If you're not that sort of person, locking and alarming your bedroom door may make you feel safe enough to continue to sleep with earplugs after you choose a place that feels otherwise safe to you.
posted by metasarah at 6:04 PM on October 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

I like having a door-stopper like this because I live in an apt building and feel safer sleeping with that propped up under my door knob on the off-chance that either a resident or one of their guests could be a problem. My building has security systems for someone breaking into the building so I'm less concerned with them breaking in and coming all the way up to my floor, but since my door has a fairly basic lock (no deadbolt, even), I like having this extra bit of security. If nothing else, it would buy me some time to call the police. I avoid living on lower floors of apt buildings partly for safety reasons but I also really hate having someone walking around above my head but obviously, it's not always feasible to get a top floor apt.
posted by acidnova at 6:05 PM on October 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

How do you people feel about taking an elevator up to your apartment?
posted by Baeria at 6:18 PM on October 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I do feel much safer where I live now (3rd floor, door opens to a hallway, doors to outdoors are reliably locked, windows in a flat facade) than where I lived before (2nd floor rear which helped, doors to outside often left unlocked and a very easily-accessible roof under my windows, which very much did not). So I'd say not just look at what floor, but the architecture as well.

Also, if anecdata soothes you any, I've lived alone for years, and always feel quite safe after a night or two of adjustment in a new place.
posted by kalimac at 6:25 PM on October 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm female and live alone, and I agree with everyone who says to try and find a dwelling that is not accessible from the street. I live in a sixth-floor apartment (yes, there are elevators) in a building that requires a fob for access, and I always bolt the door at night. Sometimes, noises in the hallway at night still spook me, but I generally feel very safe, and I use an eyemask and a white noise machine.
posted by capricorn at 6:30 PM on October 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

This door alarm is $10, you can also set it to chime if anyone opens the door if you want to be alerted when home, but don’t want the full blaring alarm experience. It’s AMAZING.

They make similar for windows, equally as inexpensive.
posted by jbenben at 7:13 PM on October 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

This is going to sound weird, but if the idea at all appeals to you... get a cat. (Or a dog, if you’d rather). Obviously a cat isn’t going to protect you, but in addition to being good company, whenever there’s a bump in the night (or any random noise that homes tend to make but also seen to amp up the fear in these situations) it is so so much easier to go back to sleep because “it’s just the cat”. Because most of the time, it really is!!

+1 to being above the ground floor, and/or not having any doors or windows available from the street level.

Other things that help me includes those smart home devices that will do any number of things if a door/window opens or even moves. I just get notifications, but with some smart lights i could set the whole system to flash red light if the door opened or something equally as obnoxious.

When i bought my place the previous owner had additional locks on the door that effectively can only be locked from the inside. Like a chain, but with no “give” and stronger. It thought it was a bit much at the time but since they’re there anyway i use them and they do make me feel better.
posted by cgg at 7:33 PM on October 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

When you are considering places/neighborhoods, visit more than once at different times of day and night (and/or weekdays/weekends) to gut check how you feel on the street, at the doorstep, and in your entryway. Also, I appreciated having bars on my windows when I lived alone in a basement apartment with street-level access, but those are pretty standard in DC.
posted by juliplease at 7:55 PM on October 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I heard that Oprah said you should never live below the second floor and I followed that for a long time. Make sure everything locks (obviously) and what I care about too is the entryways. Do you feel safe entering the building at night? (is the street dark, do you have neighbors/shops that can see what is taking place, do the doors function as 'dog run' doors do- ie you can close one before opening the other?) It may be evident that I am quite paranoid and I feel the entry point(s) is (are) almost more of a problem than once you are actually in your apartment. Locks locks locks, of course, and always check them again before sleeping.
posted by bquarters at 8:05 PM on October 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

This may not be a popular answer around here, but when I was living alone in the woods, I got my pistol permit, took lessons on gun safety and how to use the darn thing, then purchased a gun. I do not know if I would ever actually use it, but it sure as hell helps knowing it is there.

Also, I do not know how these Alexa and Google home things work, but if they can say call 911 if you ask it to, I would get one.
posted by AugustWest at 8:36 PM on October 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

I make sure to get familiar with the layout of my place in the dark. Good mental map of where entries/exits are, and quickest routes to all. I don't choose large places, empty spaces means more places to hide. Echoing everyone who says second floor or higher apartment. Get to know your neighbors at least by site, and their vehicles. Walk around your new neighborhood, get to know the new environment. Have people over in the first month, and tell everyone that you trust where you live.

You can buy 1" or thicker wooden dowels, and have them cut to half the size of any window, and jam those in the sill - I did this in apartments where the window locks didn't really work, and I was too broke to afford anything else.

I sleep with eye mask, fan, white noise machine, and sleeping medication, and I feel safe to do so when I do all of the above.
posted by shinyshiny at 8:57 PM on October 10, 2018

I find having a chain lock or visible bolt on my door helps with my sense of security even though I understand that it affords very little real protection. I just glance over at it and the visual reassurance that the door is indeed blocked off helps.

I use dowels to keep windows and balcony doors from opening all the way even though I live high enough up that nobody is coming in my windows.

I try not to get in the elevator to my apartment before strange men after dark, If I can't avoid it, I make sure they hit the call button for their floor first so they will have no excuse to follow me to my floor. I do not make eye contact after dark. I do not make conversation after dark. I do not go to the laundry room after dark. I do not answer my door if someone knocks unless I am expecting or recognise them. Yay for peepholes. If the landlord or a repair person must come into my home while I am there, I stand holding the door open with my body while I wait for them to leave. I do not care if they do not like it or think it is strange. That is their problem.

I try not to let strangers in the building. To avoid letting people in the building at the same time as me, I "can't find my keys" or "let them go ahead" while I hang back and "do something on my phone". I've even "forgotten something" and gone for a quick walk to the corner store depending on the time of night and what felt safer. Nowdays it's a nonissue as I have a car and enter through the parking garage.

I guess some of this sounds excessive, I've had some really bad experiences in my life and am extra-cautious. Take what you need.
posted by windykites at 9:10 PM on October 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

I may be the outlier and/or just have been blessed by living in safe areas but I never do anything other than lock my door and the only reason I don’t sleep with open windows is that my apartment is ground floor and I have no windows to crack, I have massive patio doors and even I dislike the idea of random people walking in while i’m asleep. I have lived alone most of my adult life.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:10 PM on October 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

Apart from securing the house, having a TV/radio/podcast/music going at night as background noise helped me a lot when I was feeling jittery and living alone.
posted by ProtoStar at 9:50 PM on October 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Installing a peephole so I can see who is there before opening the door made me feel much safer when I'm home alone. I also find a door chain or bolt re-assuring, because it stops people even with keys just walking in (had a rental company that wasn't great about telling me when contractors were coming round, and always gave them a key. Came home once to find a strange man in my flat. He was lovely, but I still about had a heart attack. Maybe tell whoever is your landlord explicitly not to do that).
posted by stillnocturnal at 10:19 PM on October 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Speaking just to your feeling safe, rather than what-is-safer, I'd encourage you to think again about a dog. Even people not scared of dogs are wary, and prepared to be scared of you. But during my years as a single mom, the times I most needed him was when I heard something! or woke up! or just felt eee! Look at the dog sound asleep, immediate relief. Or if there was a noise, both of us alert and one ready to make a lot of noise.
posted by kestralwing at 11:19 PM on October 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

I live in a ground floor appartment and while I have a husband, he travels for work, so I'm often alone overnight. I freak. out. over small night time noises - wake up, heart thumping, paralysed in terror. It's horrible and is definitely not rational - we live in a super safe, low crime area - but it's real and there are a few things I've taken to doing that have helped me feel less scared/hyper alert at night. We have security grilles on both doors. I lock these. On sliding windows, I do the wooden dowel in the window tracks thing, and lock the window too. On the two windows that have roller shutters, I roll those down (they're electric, it's just flicking a switch) but have it set so there are some small gaps between the leaves of the shutter for air flow. Then on the windows with shutters, I open the actual window while the shutters are down. The shutters and grilles are incredibly ugly and I can't see myself installing them if we buy a place. Buttt.... this is the safest I've ever felt in a house on my own.
posted by t0astie at 11:39 PM on October 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Since everyone covered the safety inside your apartment (those loud door stoppers are great), I want to share more about choosing an apartment the way I see it.
I lived alone and live with my husband now, but he often works into the morning or has business trips, so I go to bed alone. (If he works late, I also can't use the bolt or I lock him out.) While we live in Japan where it's generally very safe, I followed some tips from the internet and real estates sites for women:
- don't live on the ground floor - not necessarily because of breakins, but because passersby can know more easily who lives there
- have curtains to hide your silhouette and presence
- no lingerie on the balcony if it's visible from outside
- choose an indoors corridor instead of a wrap-around one where everyone can tell which door is yours (this is also why you need curtains so a potential stalker can't tell by the light going on which apartment you entered)
- I chose to live right on a busy street, which is noisier, but makes me feel safer walking alone at night (there's also a police station really close by)
- automatically locking front doors
- a small window you can leave open if you like ventilation - if it's too small for people to get through, it's pretty safe (plus I live on the ninth floor)
- I also sleep with my phone near my pillow if I'm alone
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:17 AM on October 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

I interviewed an ex-burglar and his tips were to get a dog, or have a massive dog bowl, leash and dog toy outside your house to give the appearance of owning a dog. Dogs are loud, dogs call attention to them, and dogs indicate there may be people inside; all things a burglar does not want.

If they see this stuff outside your door--or if you have a motion detector with a dog barking--they will keep looking for a safer house to enter.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:41 AM on October 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've been single for a decade and a half now, lived in a partially-underground apartment (basement windows street side, courtyard garden on the other) previously, spent a couple years on the seventh floor, and have been in a ground-floor apartment for the past three years now.

A few things: break-ins on upper floors do happen, and are increasingly common because they're less expected, and the flip side of being less visible and less of a known factor is also protective to intruders. Elevators and staircases that go from underground garages (easily accessible when a garage door is open) to upper floors with no locked doors between the garage and elevator/staircases/apartments are a risk.

Break-ins on basement levels also offer cover to intruders – less visibility. I had several attempts on my basement place, while I was home, but they gave up. I don't know what eventually dissuaded them other perhaps than the sound of movement behind my door; my cats went to investigate. Neighbors of my seventh-floor apartment were burgled. No one I know at ground-floor level has been burgled. Anecdata is, of course, not data, but our police forces (local and national) do corroborate that upper-storey burgling is increasing.

I have cats, curtains (definitely curtains!), and know all my neighbors. We chat regularly, once a week, and share neighborhood goings-on. I wave to my cats when I leave every morning; they've gotten into the habit of ignoring me when I go out the apartment front door to sit at the garden French doors and wait for my waves. I know the police and fire departments.

Our local police department offer randomized daily drive-bys and home checks if you ask them to when you go on holiday. It's a "free" service (your taxes help pay for it).
posted by fraula at 2:54 AM on October 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

In your situation, I would not pick a place with a sliding glass door. Too easy for burglars to take them off the tracks. I lived in a complex where burglars climbed up to someone's second-story balcony and did just that. The area was not the greatest though, and every now and then choppers would fly overhead in search of this or that fugitive. Neighbors warned me to keep the doors locked at all times, even when "just taking out the trash" or "just doing the laundry" because people on the run could and would slip inside unlocked doors. Since then I have gotten a dog. Even a small one, if you are able to have one, will be a deterrent as they tend to be big barkers.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 5:25 AM on October 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

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