When you know you're done living with housemates

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Nicole Haddow

My optimistic glow would fade quickly when people asked, "Won't you get lonely?"

My optimistic glow would fade quickly when people asked, "Won't you get lonely?" Photo: Stocksy

Tearing my possessions out of boxes and placing them in a home I could call my own was among the most exciting and personally rewarding days of my life.

It wasn't until I'd closed the door behind the removalists and family members who'd been recruited to help that the reality of sole habitation descended.

I knew it wouldn't be easy straight off, but I decided not to get a housemate to fill my second bedroom. I wanted to learn to be completely happy without constant social stimulation.

My optimistic glow would fade quickly when people asked, "Won't you get lonely?" And initially I did fear stretches of solitude. I worried that I'd drive myself mad if I processed too many of my own thoughts.

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Living alone is becoming increasingly common. Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that by 2036, the number of Australians residing solo will rise from 1.1 million to 2.2 million - a spike of 50 per cent.

Soon I snapped out of caring about what anyone else thought and began to make the experience a fulfilling one.

I started swimming a few nights a week and I planned my calendar so that it included a mix of soul and social time.

I also started accepting more invitations.

I was no longer in a position to shout rounds of cocktails because I was footing the bill for my apartment, so I became an expert in hosting guests. On weekends I cooked for my week ahead, mastering new dishes and giving the space an epicurean aroma.

Eventually, I found the sense of calm that I'd been looking for and was happy to leave a single pair of footprints on nearby beaches.

Therapist Annie Gurton says living alone can be empowering, which is why for many people it is a choice, not a last resort. "There is a sense of liberation - no more fitting in with the plans of others or serving others by being the main breadwinner or housekeeper."

Gurton points out that living on your own does not necessarily equate to loneliness, but that it's not for everyone. "It requires a certain amount of inner strength," she says.

Inner strength is something that I continue to work on. Twelve months on, I still have lonely moments which arise if I've had a bad day, or if I have nowhere to be on the weekend. Sometimes I realise I haven't uttered a word for quite some time.

In a rare "why am I doing this?" moment, I wobbled on a chair at 3am, trying to remove the batteries from a defective beeping smoke detector. Sleepy, frustrated and unable to eject them, I ripped the whole thing out of the ceiling. I returned to bed lightly coated in plaster crumbs, wishing someone had been there to help laugh it off.

If I do succumb to melancholy, I remind myself that these feelings always pass. Then I call someone who'll be up for a chat or get out and exercise.

I make more effort to be social now because I know for this lone household to function, it's essential to maintain regular contact with friends and family.

"There are so many ways to connect with other people," Gurton says. "The only time you need to be alone is when you close your front door."

I don't believe I'll live alone forever, so I'm making the most of this "me" time - turning up music and dancing, sitting in the bath for hours and constructing IKEA furniture unassisted.

I encourage anyone considering living alone to do it, and do it before life is filled with serious commitments that leave little time for nurturing one's self.

Annie Gurton's tips for a positive solo living experience:

  • Maintain household standards to ensure the environment is pleasant.
  • Get a dog. It will take you out of the house regularly and help to develop relationships with locals.
  • Try a new sport or social activity to expand your network.