My mother never lived on her own.
She never got her Bachelor’s degree. She graduated with an Associate’s then married my father at the age of 21, just old enough to drink at her own wedding. My grandmother never lived on her own either. It is a fact she laments now that she has reached her golden years. She loves my grandfather dearly (they play Scrabble competitively and party as if they are 20 years old) but I still see a glint in her eyes when she talks about how she would have loved to just see what it would be like — to have an adventure, strike out on her own, and test her ability to survive.
I moved out from home as soon as I graduated college. I live in Washington D.C. now, in a cohabited home filled with other interesting, lovely people who have grown to be my friends. I pay my rent on time (mostly!), I buy groceries, plan my meals, sweep the floor, sort the mail, commute to work, and smear peanut butter in the mouse traps by the stove. I kill bugs on my own now, too. I have become adept at downing enemy flies, and squishing ants on my coffee table, all with my bare hands.
But, it has not all been smooth sailing. Here are a few things I wish someone had told me.
The hardest part about moving out was figuring out my monthly budget, especially given the fact that I did not exactly go into a high paying position. In general, you should be spending no more than about a third of your monthly income on rent, because you will need the rest of it for food, expenses, transportation, and activities. I knew this, and my monthly rent was not more than a third of my income, yet I still found my savings account stuck at a certain dollar amount, or even going down. (Honestly, I think I spent a lot of my money on food). What helped the most was to create an excel spreadsheet in which I designated a certain portion of my monthly income to rent, food, going-out activities, transportation, etc. That way, I could make informed decisions at the grocery store or when going out with friends and ensure that I stuck to a budget. Seriously, you would be surprised how much a person can spend on strawberries and cheddar cheese.
2. Buy Curtains
As you are preparing to move into a new place, certain items will seem obvious and necessary to you, things like a bed, a dresser, maybe a couch. Other things will not. After about three weeks of waking up at 6 a.m. because of bright sunlight streaming onto your face, you will finally find the time to get curtains. Save yourself the trouble and buy them right away, along with other items that might not seem obvious. In order to identify said items, try keeping track of all the stuff you use over the course of one day, stuff like a wall clock, Ziploc bags, or a bathroom mat.
3. Refrain from Packing So Much Stuff
Especially clothes. When I moved out, I dumped all my clothes from my closet and dresser into suitcases and brought them all with me. What I should have done is sorted through all of them to see which ones I would actually wear. Now, I am left with too many clothes, considering that I do not have as much space for them as I did. In everything except decoration, I think minimalism can be key to making sure that your new apartment or space does not get too cluttered. Clutter is something that should come over time from living in a house, not something that you dump into your new apartment or house on the day you move in.
4. Always Have a 10-Minute Meal Ready
There are going to be days where you are so doggone tired from work, or only have 30 minutes to eat before you need to rush somewhere else, that you will not have time or energy to cook. There are also going to be days where you open the fridge and realize that your plan to make caprese for dinner is ruined because your tomatoes have begun to rot. On those days, you are going to want to be able to pop something from your freezer into the microwave/oven, or grab something off the shelf that can feed you within 15 minutes. With frozen food, you want to be careful not to get foods with too much sodium. My favorite option is the SteamFresh vegetable bags with a little rice for an instant stir-fry. From my pantry, I have a box of madras & lentils with 1-minute cook packages, and I always have penne and sauce stockpiled on the shelves. Before I figured out the 10-minute meal rule, my best option for quick meals was a handful of nuts and an apple. Do not be me, be prepared.
5. Have Your Apartment/Home Inspected
Do not wait until two months in to find out that there is a gas leak due to an old pipe that never got disconnected. You do not want to be evacuated by firefighters at 2 a.m. when your house is on the verge of blowing up. I speak from experience. You also do not want to wait until four months after you move in to discover that you have lead pipes and should not have been drinking the water all along. And, you definitely do not want to discover that there is a leak in the roof right when a tropical storm with heavy rains is hitting your area. All of these problems can be avoided by a good inspection right away.
6. Invest in a Really Good Mop and Vacuum
I am not just talking about a Swiffer Wet Jet. Swiffers really only do surface level cleaning, or they just push dirt into the edge of the room. For a deeper clean, you need a really good carpet, and mop. Your feet will thank you later.
7. Keep Cash and Keys In Case of Emergency
Inevitably something in the house is always going to need to be fixed or replaced that is not the landlord’s responsibility. Keep emergency cash on hand for that. For me, it was the WiFi. Get an emergency key, too, because you will be locked out at some point and you will want to be able to go to your neighbor or a lockbox to get the key rather than having a panic attack and being stuck outside with melting ice cream from the grocery store for an hour.
8. Find a Place You Will Love
It is a big decision, so you should not rush into it, or you may regret it. I have heard horror stories of bad roommates from friends. You do not want to be telling one of those stories. I know it can be tough because sometimes you have limited time to find a place before starting a job at a new company. But, if at all possible, delay the process until you are 100% certain about where you want to live, even if it means getting a hotel room or Airbnb while you wait.
9. Live Near Shops, Get a Car, or Get Amazon Prime
You will often need to run out for chores or grocery shopping, and you do not want it to turn into an all-day excursion every time you need to pick up garlic or medicine from CVS. Try to live within a 5 minute walk of the grocery store. If you can not do that, make sure you have a car, or that there is good public transportation options. If you have a bike, that is a good choice too, but only if you can manage to get your groceries little by little throughout the week. If neither of these is possible, you are going to want an Amazon Prime account. It is worth it.
10. You Will Still Need Your Parents Sometimes
Truth is, you will not have it all figured out, even if you are super prepared. I found myself asking my parents a lot of questions and asking them for a lot of help when I was moving out, about things such as health insurance, tax forms, and changing my voter’s registration. It is okay to reach out to your parents and ask them for help if you need it. Just because you are on your own does not mean you are alone.
Amanda is a journalist currently working at CNN, but previously worked at the Hartford Courant, MSNBC, the Republican-American, WNYU 89.1 FM, Prague.tv, The PragueCast, and Scholastic News. She holds a B.A. in Journalism and a B.S. in Media, Culture & Communications from NYU. When she is not chasing down a story, Amanda is an avid traveler, a dancer, and a lover of all things outdoors. Visit her website for more.