Living alone! Yay!
March 3, 2008 11:07 AM   Subscribe

How can I maximize the awesomeness of having my own place?

Tomorrow I move into a one-bedroom apartment, and it’ll be my first time ever living alone. w00t! After 12 years of roommates and group houses, I will be the head of my own household. Can you tell I’m excited? Three rooms to decorate how I want, no passive-aggressive battles over what to watch on TV, the freedom to have friends over whenever, yay!

Here’s what I want to know: if you live/have lived alone, what would you have wanted to have known or done when you first moved into that first solo apartment? How would you have started out in the new place?

Also, one thing I am particularly interested in hearing about: I am a slob. How can I start things out right in my new place, to give me the best chance of not living in squalor?

Specifics about me/my situation: 30 years old, moving into a one-bedroom apartment in a great neighborhood, planning on getting a cat or two once I've settled in. Moneywise, I’m not rolling in it, but I make enough to spend a little money on things that will improve quality of life. Also, I have all the furniture I’ll need.
posted by lunasol to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
Walk around shirtless/naked. You're on your own, you've earned it, you deserve it.

Then follow the advice of the rest of the folks in this thread.
posted by explosion at 11:16 AM on March 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

When you live alone every day is a pants optional day. See if you can make it through a whole day without pants, and award yourself bonus points if you can get a romantic interest involved in no pants day.
posted by hamhed at 11:20 AM on March 3, 2008 [6 favorites]

to stay neat, inventory your stuff, sort it, and then figure out what it should go in. then buy appropriate storage furniture.

if you have trouble remembering to clean as you go, set yourself a time of day to just walk through the house and clear up any dishes, collect trash into the can, re-shelve books and/or games, and put the laundry in the basket. give yourself one day a week where you MUST vacuum, do/put away laundry, and do/put away dishes.

that should keep your place relatively neat.
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:24 AM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In a new place, given your self-described slob-status, you must begin with good habits.
*When you move in, completely move in...if you don't have a place for something, get rid of it. Don't live out of boxes. "Just-moved in" is not an acceptable decor choice, particularly if you haven't just moved in.
*Always put things away when you're finished with them. Hang up your towels, put your dirty clothes away, fold and put away your laundry when you finish a load. (All the stuff that Mom used to say, essentially.)
*Don't go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink! Wash 'em or put them in the dishwasher.
*Make an effort to eliminate clutter in every room. Never let trash accumulate.

Living on your own is exhilarating. Enjoy your new place!
posted by heathergirl at 11:25 AM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

One warning... When you decide to have a naked day, make sure your curtains are closed if you have neighbors close by. I learned that the hard way.
posted by JasonM at 11:25 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To avoid squalor: when moving in to your new apartment, assign a place for everything. Don't stuff stuff into drawers/cabinets/closets. Put every item away thoughtfully, as that will be its place. It lives there; when you use it, you are borrowing it from its home. When you're finished, put it back in its place.

I've found that the only areas in my house that are squalorific are the areas that don't have adequate shelving/storage (the basement), so stuff is just stacked horrifically. I'm saving up for appropriate shelving. :)
posted by iguanapolitico at 11:26 AM on March 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

PS - enjoy living alone! Be careful you don't end up like me, though: 35 years old and so used to living alone (and enamored with it) that I'll probably choose to do so forever. ;) Unless that's one of your goals.
posted by iguanapolitico at 11:27 AM on March 3, 2008

Walk around shirtless/naked.

Better: have sex in every room, happy that no one is going to walk in on you.

what would you have wanted to have known or done when you first moved into that first solo apartment? ... How can I start things out right in my new place, to give me the best chance of not living in squalor?

These things are connected, to me. The best way to not have it be a shithole is to get in the habit of taking care of small messes daily. That means washing one or at the most two meals of dishes at a time, not letting dirty laundry pile up on the couch, etc. The mental trick I use (because on my own I can tolerate a fair bit of mess) is to look around a room and ask, is this room ready for my mother/boss/girlfriend/whomever to walk in unannounced? Would I be embarrassed? If the answer is "yes," then I need to do some minimal tidying.

The good part is that living alone (or even with a partner), it is a lot easier to keep things clean than in a group situation where somehow a mess is never any particular person's problem. Alone, if there are dirty dishes, there is only one person who can be held accountable: you.

Lastly, the thing I enjoyed the most when I first lived alone (well, aside from the afore-mentioned sex in the living room) was being able to entertain guests on my own terms. I could have friends over for dinner without having our nice dinner interrupted halfway through by a housemate wanting to start cooking his own dinner and getting irritated that I had used the same pot he wanted to use or whatever. So I say, have dinner parties, host happy hour, hold dungeons and dragons night at your place, whatever you and your friends enjoy.
posted by Forktine at 11:27 AM on March 3, 2008

Best answer: Wear your pajamas all day long.

In terms of not being sloboriffic, I basically have people over often so I have to keep the public parts of my house more or less tidy. My bedroom is my own personal clutterpit and I just shut the door when people come over. My favorite thing about living alone is not feeling like I have to wake up or go to bed at some normalized time for my housing situation and not having to jockey around the kitchen if we're all making meals at the same time. Also I moved my computer and stereo mostly out of my bedroom and into the rest of hte house which makes it easier to sleep when my bedroom isn't a multitasking room.

Also since I know the kitchen is going to be empty of other folks, I sort of developed a routine where I get up and start the coffee making and do the dishes from the night before [I don't generate enough in the dish realm to load the dishwasher unless i have company] and so the kitchen doesn't get super slobby. Sundays are laundry days and thus my clothes mostly get clean.

What I really like about living alone, besides sleeping late and never feeling I have to get dressed and/or not have company at all hours of the day/night is turning off all the lights in the house and turning the stereo/ipod way up, lighting a bunch of candles and taking a long bath with all the doors in the house open. YMMV on this depending on how close your neighbors are but it's a really relaxing way to end the day which is mission critical here in the land of Perpetual Winter. Congtrats on your new place.
posted by jessamyn at 11:30 AM on March 3, 2008

Best answer: planning on getting a cat or two once I've settled in

I'm going to monkeybar away from your main question just to reinforce another learning-the-hard-way notion. Your cat(s) - which reasonably seem like a nice addition to a new bachelorette pad - could live until you're 45 or 50 years old. Think about whether you'll be settled (in this place or any other) long enough to accommodate them, because moving with cats can suck, especially if you're in a city where housing is competitive - like, say, NYC.

On the main topic, don't accumulate stuff. Especially, again, if you're preparing for a move in a year or two. This will not only help with your slob problem, but will greatly simplify the change of life when you decide to take the jump.
posted by mykescipark at 11:38 AM on March 3, 2008

Best answer: 2nding heathergirl's advice.

Even though you probably do (or will) have a bunch of sheets, towels, dishes, glasses, etc., just use one of each and keep the rest put away in the linen closet/cabinets. That will cut down on the mess as well as laundry/utility costs.

Change your sheets regularly, and clean your apt. during the time your bed is naked. That way when you put fresh sheets on your bed, the rest of your place will be clean as well.

Keep a bag/box/bin in a handy place to put things you realize you're not using --- purge regularly by bringing those items to your local Salvo/thrift shop. Deduct the donation on your taxes.

Whenever you finish cleaning, take time to bask in your apt's cleanliness and pat yourself on the back for making it happen.

Don't get a cat until you feel really secure in your cleaning habits --- consider it a reward. Cats are self-cleaning, but their litter boxes aren't.

Congratulations! Once upon a time I lived alone, and it was a glorious year. Or maybe I'm just remembering it that way, because right now I am outnumbered by stinky teenage slobs.
posted by headnsouth at 11:39 AM on March 3, 2008

nthing everyone who says to develop a regular cleaning/tidying schedule. Doing a little bit daily is a pain in the ass, but less of a pain than having 4 hours of cleaning to do on a weekend when you'd rather be doing something fun. 15 minutes an evening to straighten, do dishes and one other cleaning thing, and the place stays looking fine.
posted by gaspode at 11:41 AM on March 3, 2008

Best answer: One thing that helps me to be neater is just keeping down the amount of stuff I bring into the house in the first place. My home is smallish, and I do have a fair amount of stuff (it's not Spartan), but whenever I start bringing in a bunch of things it begins to feel unmanagably cluttered and I feel like I'm forever picking things up, moving them around, and putting them away. Before bringing new items into the house, I have gotten much better at asking myself things like"Is this thing useful? Do I need it? Do I like it a whole lot? What if I didn't own it, would I miss it? How much? How often will I use it? Can I borrow one instead? Do I have a place for it? Does it go with anything?" I ask myself those questions about even freebies.

If you are allowed to paint, paint. It is really fun to put your own stamp on things, your own style. If you've always wanted a blue light bulb or a beaded curtain or a Zen garden or a dart board or a water feature or "levels" or whatever, now is the time to have it in your home, when there is no negotiation needed. Do it now because if you ever move in with someone you go back to community standards. So indulge those random impulses.

If you can't paint, have fun with giant rasterized images or things that don't belong on a wall, on a wall.

You'll probably need to buy some furniture, but do yourself a favor and don't buy crap furniture. Try to avoid particleboard and that Sauder stuff from the discount stores. What happens is, you buy it for cheap, it halfway serves a need while looking crappy, but you don't want to get rid of it because it's still perfectly good and you don't want to pay to replace it. In most cases I'd have been happier if I'd bought better quality things (even used, or on Craigslist) more slowly so I didn't have to have a gradual attrition of crap furniture later in life.

Storage is really important. If you don't have storage furniture, it's like your house immediately gets junked up because even a few unstored items look sloppy. So take a look at your closet and shelf and dresser situation and make sure there is space for your clothes, coats, and shoes. Have enough shelves for your books and media. Have somewhere to stow your office-y stuff like pens and envelopes and checkbooks. Have enough shelving/drawers for your kitchen equipment and if there isn't enough, go and get some of those white wire organizers that create two shelves where one used to be, or hang under an existing shelf. Wire baskets are also good for holding bunches of random stuff.

Baskets in general are awesome. For some reason, a stack of 8 magazines on the coffee table looks like a sloppy pile to me. But 8 magazines in a magazine shaped basket looks rather nice, a cozy abundance of reading for days to come. I don't know why this is, but things seem so much less sloppy once they are contained with other like things.

Once every 3 months or so, take some time to really go through and deep clean the place room by room. Wipe all surfaces, move the furniture and sweep, and throw out or give away stuff you don't want any more. Cleaning in a binge and then touching up in between is easier than halfway cleaning every second or third week. Plus when you start with a really CLEAN place you're more reluctant to mess it up so it stays clean more of the time if you get it back to square one every now and then (when you're having a party or guests, that provides some impetus to get the deep clean done).

Have fun. I think living alone is awesome.
posted by Miko at 11:46 AM on March 3, 2008

Best answer: - Get rid of as much stuff as you can stand now. Be brutal. You don't want to move all that stuff anyhow, do you? This is the number-1 way to declutter. Have less stuff.
- Before you unpack, clean the place obsessively, or make sure it is spotless.
- Figure out your storage requirements, and then get storage to suit. Everything should have a place, and should be in that place.
- Don't buy stuff if you don't have a place to put it.
- Get into a daily cleanup routine (wash the day's dishes, put away stuff that's lying around) and a weekly cleanup routine (vacuum, clean the kitchen and bathroom surfaces, stuff like that). This will take 10-20 minutes/daily and maybe 1-2 hours/weekly and keep your place looking clean.
- Do you have all the tableware/cookware/small tools/extension cords/etc stuff you need?
posted by adamrice at 11:52 AM on March 3, 2008

Networked music and speakers in every room. What you want, when you want it, and nobody to tell you otherwise.
posted by diastematic at 11:55 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was going to say what adamrice said: Keep it spare. Don't bring any junk into the house that is not necessary. If you never use your air-pop popcorn popper, or you have a million of those plastic cups from bars and restaurants that just take up space, don't bring them into the new place. If you haven't used your tennis racquets in then years, get rid of them. Minimize.

Have a thoroughly defined plan before you start painting and decorating and buying furniture and such. Measure your space before you buy furniture. Try out a few paint colors before you commit. Try very hard not to impulse buy anything. Plan and visualize how you want your space to look, and what specific items you need for the space. Write it down. If you're thinking of natural hues with Mission furniture you won't be distracted by that flashy modern chrome lamp. Stay focused and stick to a shopping list to avoid costly mistakes.

A few houseplants in glazed ceramic pots can go a long way in making a house feel like a home.

If you need new linens, buy only white sheets and towels. They can be bleached and always look crisp and clean.
posted by LoriFLA at 12:10 PM on March 3, 2008

Perhaps the single greatest thing about living alone is that everything is right where you left it. The dirty dishes in the sink are your dirty dishes, and they didn't mysteriously multiply while you were out. You can leave half-prepared food out while you rush off for a last minute errand - nothing is going to happen to it. Adding even so much as a cat to the mix denies you the awesomeness of living alone. You'll come home and stuff will be knocked over. Things on tables will be moved. You can't leave food out. Areas the cat is not allowed (the bed? Kitchen food preperation areas?) will mysterious gain cat hair or pawprints, or even fleas, when you are not around to enforce the rules.

So, don't get the cat or two. They will make it harder to keep the place clean, and eventually you will give up, and live on furniture encrusted with cat hair, with it getting all through your clothes, and so on. Then you will meet this wonderful girl, who you then find out is allergic to cats.

I love cats, but only when living with others. When living alone, having a cat defeats the point.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:10 PM on March 3, 2008

Masturbate whenever and wherever the hell you want to, and feel free to make a lot of noise as you do so.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:21 PM on March 3, 2008

Best answer: Someone around here a while ago suggested "defragging" your home, and the idea has stuck with me because it's how I generally tidy my place up. You notice something that's out of place, so you grab it and put it where it belongs. Now that you're in another room after putting Thing 1 away, look for a Thing 2 that is in the wrong place. Return it to where it belongs, and look for a Thing 3 in whatever room you've ended up in. See how many jumps you can make.

For me this is much less daunting than the thought of The Weekly Two-Hour Cleaning Spree, because I can tell myself that I'll just put this one thing away. Oh, but then I notice one other thing, and I might as well put it away because I have to go back into that other room where it belongs anyway. Baby steps, you know? And suddenly everything is in its place.
posted by vytae at 12:57 PM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sex. Everywhere. On the bed, on the floor, on a towel by the door, in a tub, in a car, up against the mini-bar.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:23 PM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I just went a bit crazy with the "best answers," but that's just cause these answers are really, super-helpful. One point: mykescipark, thank you for the concern about reponsible pet ownership. I would definitely never get a pet without a plan for being able to care for it responsibly for its lifespan, hence my only now starting to think about getting a cat.
posted by lunasol at 1:34 PM on March 3, 2008

the only way i seem to be able to get off my ass and clean is to invite people over. arrange a housewarming party to show off your new digs. and absolutely get a cat! it's great living alone, but its also kind of awesome to come home at the end of the day and have a little furball rub heads with you.
posted by kidsleepy at 1:35 PM on March 3, 2008

I'm seconding what jessamyn and gaspode said. Because it works for me. If I know people are coming over, or even if people might come over, that's enough incentive for me to keep things clean. And, it is WAY easier to keep things clean and put away, if you're always on top of it - a minute or two here and there, rather than a full-on, six hour house cleaning marathon every two weeks.

And hardwood floors give incentive to vacuum.

Good luck on the new digs! When's the party?
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 2:03 PM on March 3, 2008

LoriFLA makes a good point. Having a really precise flooplan is very valuable for figuring out where furniture can fit. At my current house, we had everything figured out down to the inch (and there weren't many to spare). We haven't moved anything since we moved, because everything went exactly where it belonged. It's a bit late in the game for you to do that, but if you'll be buying furniture in the future, it's nice not having to wonder "will this fit?"
posted by adamrice at 3:04 PM on March 3, 2008

My tip is to close the blinds, then run around naked, waving your hands in the air and going "WOOOOO!"

Oh yeah, and keeping things clean: Buy a kitchen timer. Set it to 5 minutes. Clean your bedroom INTENSIVELY, don't stop to read that mail you found or count the change under the bed, then stop when it goes beep. Do another 5 minutes somewhere else. You'd be surprised how much you can do, and 10 minutes a day is nothing really.

I find that a day of casual messiness is more than equalled by 5 minutes of hardcore tidying.
posted by tomble at 3:34 PM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sex swing.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:03 PM on March 3, 2008

Sex swing.

Fun fact: I designed their first website (not that ugly one).
posted by jessamyn at 5:05 PM on March 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I used Google Sketchup to model my new place. If you're buying any mass-market furniture (IKEA etc) chances are someone will have built a 3D model of it. You can plug your dimensions in and generate a pretty good virtual space to move your furnuture around in. Saves a lot of time.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:06 AM on March 4, 2008 [6 favorites]

apartment therapy is a great source of ideas on how to live in a small place. they write about a lot of purchases, but house tours are awesome!

incidentally, they've just started a "cure", an 8 week thing where you focus on your home. there's a "deep cleaning" version, where you go through your residence and clean it, arrange it, think about it, and in the end of 8 weeks throw a party to show off how well you've done. i've done parts of it when i had time and its a nice program to get your head straight. i'd say its perfect for having just moved in!

also, because its a group cure everyone shares questions and answers, so if you're stuck with a corner where you want a TV but also a plant people will help you come up with a genius solution.

the advice above is great.
posted by olya at 4:06 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

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