First off, let’s get some things clear. As a sophomore in college, I’d had experience with being alone – just not quite as much. My childhood had been comprised of a myriad summers spent in camps with people of my age, where coming-of-age things, such as first kisses and first hangover throw-ups happened, and it wasn’t exactly new, being away from my family, when I first started studying at university.
Freshman year was a bit of a blunder, even though I still would refuse to change anything about it. See, I was naïve enough to had been coerced into staying with a host family – common practice in Europe for international students who need to be forcibly indoctrinated into the culture they’re invading. My host family had been a one-woman show named Maria – and our first name was perhaps the only thing we had in common. I didn’t mind her that much, as she, having proclaimed herself a freelance artist, had confrontation issues and chose to communicate with my flatmates and myself through passive-aggressive notes which we would find in the darndest places and at most unfortunate times. Maria was everything a host mother shouldn’t be: awkward, shy, socially inept and completely disinterested. She was also terrible at laundry, which, I have to admit, is understandable, as I myself am still quite capable of turning my best clothes into rags with just a little detergent and lack of experience, but the fact that most of my grey clothes turned out to be my white clothes when I came home and my mom washed them was a bit startling.
Needless to say, freshman year was a bit of a tester in this regard. I was tipping my toes into the water of college accommodation and testing the temperature – and after less than a lukewarm welcome from Maria, I was ready to rent on my own. Well, I thought I was, anyway.
I am a very private person. Not when it comes to discussing personal matters, no, I love putting my most coveted secrets out in the open, and don’t even get me started on talking about my bodily functions with strangers. When it comes to space, though, it’s a whole different matter. I need room to breathe, desperately, and sharing Maria’s apartment with Maria herself (although, to be fair, she was more of a ghostly apparition that fluttered/stomped across the darkened halls in the wee hours of the morning and then disappeared until the next full moon) and two house-mates had been a challenge. For me it wasn’t just the fact that there was enough hot water for just one shower a day – for all of us. It wasn’t the crowded living space and the absolutely abominable state of the kitchen. It wasn’t even the loud conversations in the living room at midnight. It was just the lack of personal space, the horrible yearning to just get away from people that made me think seriously about renting on my own. The second factor was my boyfriend, who, despite being sweet and incredibly supportive, couldn’t afford to split the rent with me. Therefore I was left with the option of finding a studio apartment and trying to make it livable.
Even though it’s hard, finding the apartment isn’t the worst – that’s just the tip of the iceberg. See, us late teenagers think that by having observed our parents go about their lives had taught us everything we needed to know. Indeed, the demonstration might have happened but it turns out, given the age we live in, our attention span is that of a goldfish. So we learn absolutely nothing – or the bare minimum. And when we are ejected full-speed from our family nest, it is up to us to survive the predation of everyday life.
There are many things that living on my own taught me, and I am still in the process of educating myself every single day of my life. But wisdom should be shared, and encouraged, therefore:
- You can never have too many sets of towels/bed sheets. That I got early on. Despite the fact that there was only one person (well, one and a half people, really, considering my boyfriend dropped in on me almost every day) living in my apartment, that one person had zero motivation for laundry. And changing the sheets. It got to the point when I realised I was under a serious threat of lice or aliens invading my bed. So I would change the sheets. And the old ones would sit in the laundry basket for weeks.
- You can have too many clothes, books and knick-knacks. When I first walked into my apartment and saw it live, I was astonished by the amount of space. For a studio in the university neighbourhood, it was an amazing deal… that I quickly screwed up by bringing over all of my stuff. And it crowded everything. All of that space turned into one giant mosh-pit of things begging me to throw them out or give them away. Bare necessities are the key: “what is good is easy to get,” as Epicurus would say.
- It’s okay to overstock on yoghurt, apples, cereal, bread and Nutella. These things never go to waste, despite being perishables (well, more or less). Also you can never have too much coffee.
- It’s not okay to overstock on potatoes, frying oil and milk. The potatoes I bought in the beginning of the semester would have still been there this morning when I left had I not thrown them away yesterday. Frying oil is sold in very big bottles. And that’s inconvenient and takes up space. Milk never gets drunk in my apartment in its one-liter entirety before the expiration date.
- Gluing the windows shut is sometimes the only option. Yep, I had to take to the horrendous century-old window frames with construction tape and seal myself in order not to waste the precious heat that I was paying a fortune for. Speaking of which…
- You never realise how much electricity and water you use until you have to pay the bills by yourself. I have to admit, these past few months have taught me to shower as if I were rushing to a meeting with Benedict Cumberbatch. Also I have gotten rid of the nasty habit of leaving the light on where I’m not using it. And opening the fridge and just staring at it. And operating the microwave for longer than I have to. I’ve also developed an attachment to candlelight.
- How well you sleep is all about comfort. Let’s get this straight: never in my life have I been a prissy sleeper. While my mom would toss and turn all night at hotels we’d stayed in, I never gave a damn about whether the pillow had goose or chicken feathers in it. But my Horrible Mattress (it deserves to be capitalised) has taught me otherwise. See, when for almost four months you wake up every morning feeling like you’d slept on a bed of nails and broken glass, you’d be pissed too. You’d be even more pissed if your landlady refused to change said mattress. Fact is, I have not had a single night of uninterrupted sleep since I came to university in September. So, dear rentees, check your mattresses before signing the contract.
- You don’t need a landline. Seriously. It’s useless.
- You do need Internet. Come on, guys, we live on Facebook. So if you’re willing to pay extra for additional installations, screw cable TV. Get optic fibre.
- Being alone doesn’t equal being lonely. I thought I’d be bored to death, spending the evenings by myself. But you can never be bored when you’re busy. And if you’re doing college right, then you’re busy all the time.
I’m sure I will remember some additional life-lessons further down the line but for now, let’s stop. This experience has been quite a shocker – a nice one, most of the time. For now, I bid my apartment good-bye and am currently en route back home, which I still consider my first home, even though I only now spend summers and sparse holidays there, with my mother, my grandmother and my grouchy dog. Because even if we, teenagers and twenty-somethings, think we know everything, there is nothing more comforting than coming home to someone who is willing to take care of you and put up with you laundry, your Internet habits, and the fact that you spend way too much time in the shower.