Ode to an attic flat

I just read a post by my friend Amy Palko — her husband and three children are about to head off to Australia for six weeks while she stays at home in Scotland working; Amy now faces six weeks of living alone… for the first time in her life. I just tweeted her that it would be “six weeks of awesome” and that living alone is the best thing I have ever done (with an emphatic EVER repeated at the end.) And it’s true. I wouldn’t have chosen to live alone; up until that fateful day in 2005 I’d either been living with family, boyfriends or flatmates. Back then I thought that to be alone would also mean you were lonely, despite knowing it was perfectly possible to be lonely within a relationship. I know that much of my fear was down to abandonment in my childhood, something that never got healed and played itself out again and again as I clung on to relationships that were long past their sell-by date. I had never lived alone; I’d never actually been alone. It was simply unthinkable.

And then, suddenly, there I was, completely on my own.

Somewhere around the beginning of the second year after his death, I was filling my fridge with food for the week, and noticed that everything on the shelves was stuff I liked to eat. Hummous and veggies, and little anchovies in olive oil. There was my favourite yoghurt, and Jarlsberg cheese, and the wine I relied on too much in those days. Every single thing in that fridge was just for me. Hell, even the fridge was mine — I’d bought it in a sale when I moved into the flat. He’d never seen that fridge, yet mingled in with the sadness was a growing sense of freedom and independence that I had never experienced before. The more I nested in that flat, the more me I became.

Five years later and I don’t think much about my fridge anymore. It holds my food and Polaroid film, a small but essential piece of a home I have built around me. One of my greatest pleasures is coming home, locking the door behind me and sinking in my own comfortable space, just me and my sofa, my big bed calling to me as I type a last email into my laptop. The wedding blanket I bought in Marrakesh sparkles in the morning light; a side table rescued from the tip now holds my favourite books. Everything in my home feels like an extension of me, yet even when i go away, i carry that same feeling inside me — that sense of being grounded in my own space, and it helps me navigate the world as a single person.

When Sas came to visit a few weeks ago she walked through the door and let out a sigh: “It smells like your home,” she said, a trace of incense still lingering in the air. And it does, and I love that it does. And yes, one day I hope to be telling you all how hard it is to mix my beloved books with someone else’s, that his guitar or his running shoes or whatever it is that’s important to him are now sitting on my wedding blanket and I’m finding it hard to let go and let someone in, but that I’m trying really hard, because I know it will be worth it.

I look forward to that day very much; but for now I’ll relish the space and freedom I have, because I’ve worked so hard to appreciate it as much as I do.

Have you ever lived on your own? Did you/do you love it?

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Ps. If you’d like to listen to Monday’s call you can now download it over at Fabeku’s place — it was such fun we’re planning to do it again :)

30 responses
  1. ABCcreativity


    I totally adore living alone.
    I totally adore that my whole house is exactly the way I want it to be.
    My house is my cocoon.

  2. Rachel @ suburbanyogini

    I lived alone for 4 years, everything was mine, exactly how I wanted it. And I hated it. Every moment.

    Now I live in a chaos I never thought I would. And I love every minute!

    I’m still working out what that says about who I am v who I think I am….

  3. Meghan

    Heck yes, I have done both! :)

    I lived alone during a lovely stint in England (Oxford), and then during the entirety of my masters program (2 years) and part of my PhD program (1.5 of 3 years).

    Doing my bachelors degree, I lived with 2 roommates over 2 years in 2 dorm rooms, and then lived with 1 roommate for 2 years in an apartment.

    I have since lived with my now-fiance (half of my PhD program, and now an additional year afterward in a different location).

    It’s lovely either way. I enjoy the mental and physical space of being alone (not lonely, mind you, as you pointed out in your post), but I also enjoy the company and find I have just as much mental space to myself as I allow, although the physical space is much more intertwined. But it’s a lovely sort of intertwining. =)

  4. Emily

    I currently live on my own and am getting ready to move into a house with four other people. Everyone around me thinks that I’m crazy for doing so as I’ve lived on my own for so long. But truth is, I’ve only ever lived with my sister and two very close friends if I haven’t been living on my own. I’m ready to try my hand at living with a motley crew of people in a house. But at the same time, I’m definitely relishing every little bit of total peace and total quiet that I’ve come to take for granted these last four years. That, and every time I feel like it’s completely acceptable to not wear trousers.

  5. Jan's camera

    Hi Susannah, great post. I have always lived alone and I love it. It’s great having my own place and all of my favorite things. It’s the right choice for me.

  6. Marianne

    I loved living alone and even now that I’ve been living with Lucas for almost three years I like to think of the Paekak house as my space and retreat there whenever I need to.

    And I miss having a space that I’ve decorated, filled with things that I find beautiful and inspiring. I haven’t had that for many years and your home always inspires me to find a way to recreate it!

  7. Glad Doggett

    This post is comforting to me. In a few short months, my husband will deploy (again) to Iraq.

    I will be alone for the first time in 20 years. We relocated to another state last year (Army move), but my kids both stayed at home because they are in college.

    I’m a wee bit nervous about the prospect of living alone day after day for a year.

    But now, after reading this post, I am going to try to change my perspective and choose to see this as an opportunity to stretch. And grow. And get reacquainted with parts of myself that I’ve forgotten.

  8. Brigindo

    I’ve never lived alone. My entire life has been with: my birth family, my ex, my ex and my son, my husband and son, and now just my husband. There have been a few times in the past couple of years where my husband has traveled for several weeks and I’ve been alone. Actually one is coming up in about a week. I get some of the joys (like only cleaning up after yourself) but I can’t say that I like it. I’m an introvert and a workaholic. Left to my own devices I can become an obsessive recluse. I’m sure I’d be forced to change if I lived alone but it is not something I would wish for.

  9. kathryn

    noooo…not in my whole 50 years have i ever lived alone, but i soooooo rejoice when my daughters are away with their dad in WI…do i ever relish that time!!! not that i don’t love them tremendously…!!!

  10. Roxanne

    Learning to live and be by myself has become part of my healing process, in the wake of my recovery from a virulent addiction. I have a partner, with whom I am reconciling, but I find that living apart from one another enables us to keep the relationship going.

    Before we each went through our own drug rehab programmes, I felt incomplete without a mate, as if my mate had become an extension of myself. Now, I feel whole, all on my own. It is the coolest thing ever.

  11. Jess

    I have semi-lived-alone – I had a job for a year where I and a small team travelled the countryside – so I spent many evenings alone in various hotels – but that’s the closest I’ve gotten.

    I’m lucky to have a very chilled husband who’s pretty happy for me to run rampant in our (very small, 2-room space) but we just naturally fit together, and being with him is just like being with an extension of myself. I feel *less* me when he’s not around. Strange but true.

  12. jane (faerian)

    i loved living alone – i often have mutinous thoughts about living alone again…

  13. Liz C.

    Great post! I loved a lot about living alone, but I’m super lucky to have found a wonderful man who is really easy to live with – in other words, gives me tons of space to do my own thing in:)

  14. sas

    yes to all of this :)
    i was so fearful of what it would mean to share that hard-won space. but then i found his razor and toothbrush on the side of the sink one morning. and it was fine (though clearly, it would have been better if he had put them in the glass container WHERE THEY BELONG).
    totally worth it.

  15. Ruth

    I have never lived on my one. Not through choice it just happened that way. I got married very early and straight out of my parent’s house. We got married in India and stayed there with my husband’s family for a while before coming to the UK and living with my parents again. We are moving into our own home (a cute little flat with plenty of space) in a couple of weeks and I couldn’t be more excited about it. But sometimes I wish I had had sometime to just live by myself. :)

  16. Amy Palko

    Oh, Susannah, thank you so much for responding to my post with this truly beautiful and centering piece. I love that you differentiate lonely from alone – this is one of my big issues that I’m hoping to resolve for myself over the coming weeks.

    We have a busy household – I home-educate our 3 kids and so I spend almost all of my time, either with them, or waiting for them, as they take music lessons, play sports etc.

    To build my world (even for only 6wks) around myself rather than my children will be a really strange and (I’m hoping) liberating experience. I get to figure out who I am when I’m not playing the role of mum 24/7 – and I think that’ll benefit both them and me in the long run.

    And yes – the fridge! I eat what the family eats. My husband loves meat and needs a high protein diet otherwise he just gets cranky. I would quite happily be vegan. We generally compromise somewhere in between, but I know we’d both be happier with separate meals – lol!

    So, this summer, he’ll get to eat his mother’s cooking, and I get to eat salads and soups and strifrys – best of both worlds – yum!

  17. suzanne

    I’ve never lived alone. I went from living with my parents, to semi-cohabitating with a jerk who is the father of my three sons, back to my mother’s (now divorced from my father) and in with my now significant other with who I have two young children. One of my biggest frustrations is that nothing represents me here. It’s all his. I LONG to have my OWN home, that’s mine and breathes my name….a little part of me believes it will come true someday, but realistically? Ahh, let’s not go there ; )

  18. Sophie Ncholls

    What a beautiful post. Thank you, Susannah.

    I live with my love – on many different levels. Sometimes it’s just me and him – and his three laptops, three guitars, cables and loose change and little piles of receipts everywhere. (Where do they all come from, those bits of paper?)

    And sometimes my three stepdaughters join us and it gets even more messy and crazy and energetic – and wonderful.

    And sometimes it’s just me. He’s away and I have the house All To Myself. I adore those times. I can eat what I want to eat when I want to eat it and stay up late writing without worrying about anything and just savour the silence.

    When he’s away, I wonder why I live so differently and vow to keep some of the rhythm of my me-ness when he comes home. But it never quite seems to work out that way!

    But in the end, I’m so grateful for all these different versions of my space and my life. Later this year, I’m hoping to build a garden office – a room of my own. It will be All Mine – but I might sometimes choose to share it too.

  19. Arabella

    Oh. This resonated.

    I lived with LOTS of people for most of my life. I don’t think I slept in a room alone until I was in university. I was used to being able to wake in the night and hear the quiet sounds of other people’s breathing.

    And then…I moved countries and found myself in my very first flat on my own. All by myself. I HATED it. I spend the first few weeks running away from it. Going anywhere except there where it was just me. And I HATED that when I woke up there was no one there. Not even anyone close by. And I was young and broke so my decorating wasn’t up to much!

    That was my only time alone. I got use to it. I actually got to liking after a while. But I didn’t learn to truly appreciate it.

    Now? I would KILL to live by myself. My husband and I have very similar taste so I never feel like our home is a compromise. It is ours and mine and his equally…don’t know if he feels that way. I hope so!

    But every single second of being alone at home without him and kids feels so free and light and calm and peaceful and luxurious and slightly self indulgent. Even though I don’t live alone…I totally understand this post and where you are coming from.

  20. Maura

    I really enjoy your blog and your writing. I live alone and LOVE it so much so that I often wonder if I could live with others. My apartment is my safe haven for renewing my introverted soul.

  21. barbara

    i live alone and lately everybody that comes to my house who does not live alone want to stay and live by themselves they feel so calmed and a bit jealouse!!! :-)

  22. suzie

    I have never, ever lived alone in my life…but I rather fancy the idea sometimes

  23. Delia

    i am learning my way around living alone…for the past two years i’ve been growing into it. since the divorce, my children live one week with their father, one week with me. some solo weeks are scary–since this is my first time on my own *ever*…some are pure pleasure. i do soak up the weeks the kids are with me, their clutter & crumbs everywhere & noise still feel like home to me…but i am beginning to see the gifts in the solitude as well. thanks for this post.

  24. susannah

    honey, it sounds to be like you have the best of both worlds :) x

  25. Marija

    I have always wanted to live alone. I did have my share of living away from home but I never really got the “aloneness” that I have always wanted because I had roommates back in college and as much as I liked being with them, I’d rather have only myself to come home to. I am a private person, more or less and just being myself after a long day without having to shift from student to roommate would have been preferable. I intend to live alone when I work. I love my space. I am really in love with my room at our house and yes, I hate it when someone just comes in as if it’s theirs. Being alone was never lonely for me. I have myself and what I love and somehow, that is enough. :)

  26. Krista

    I love this and confess I’m a bit teary reading it. :-) I lived alone for one beautiful year in a lovely little flat next to a creek. I lived there until 3 weeks ago when a strange man tried to get in and assault me there. Now I’m staying with friends, learning to be brave again, missing my own spot but grateful to be safe and loved. One day I will have my own space again. And I will love it. :-)

  27. susannah

    Oh my goodness, love, I am so sorry that you had to go through that. Sending huge hugs to you xxx

  28. Fernanda

    What a beautiful post dear Susannah.
    I lived alone for a year and I loved it.

  29. Robin

    I have not had the financial good fortune to live on my own. I have lived with flatmates in various cities since I was 17. I could probably afford to live alone now, but I struggle with the idea of if I would really want to?

  30. Christian @ Eskimo Kiss

    Thank you for this beautiful post. It nearly brought me to tears. I am so sorry for your loss. I hope each day brings you more and more strength and peace.

    After years of being in a very unhealthy marriage, never living on our own, I mustered up the courage to go out on my own. Scared and unsure if I could do it, I reached out to my friends and family that I had kept in the dark for so many years. Their support pushed me through. Now, I’ve had my very own adorable, “very me” apartment for over a year. Every time I walk through the door and step onto the hardwood floor I’ve always wished for I have a great sense of thankfulness. Even taking a shower in “my very own” shower with my very girly shower curtain and towels reminds me of how lucky I am now. To have finally gotten my wish!

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