Studentdom at a university is one of the most inexorable times in a person’s life. It gives us the opportunity to finally study what you want, to make new like-minded friends and to party the night away. On the other hand, it means endless nights of studying, managing finances and cleaning up the kitchen after that supposedly small get-together. Living alone is scary, but it’s enlightening in so many ways. It has helped me grow as a person in ways a degree never could – living alone is something everyone should do early on in their life.
Learning to (or trying to) manage finances is one of the hardest aspects about living alone. I’m a girl from a Slavic country who was lucky enough to have parents who gave me pocket money regularly. I lived the life in my affordable paradise: I went to cafés every day and treated myself to a deluxe €1,80 cappuccino that I didn’t need. I ate out a lot, because going out always seemed to taste better than food at home. What I’m trying to say is that I was used to spending money. When I arrived in Amsterdam, the price of that superfluous cappuccino more than doubled – needless to say my daily trips to the café stopped altogether. I suppose I expected this to happen, but I wasn’t more prepared. I finally had to learn how to manage my expenses. Change happens incrementally – I biked a bit further to get a better deal on my groceries. I discovered easy recipes that I actually enjoyed cooking, limiting my incessant restaurant trips to only twice a month (okay, maybe three times). And about that daily cappuccino, I decided to buy a French press, and now I can make good coffee within the comfort of my own home. What a revelation! This frugal lifestyle isn’t so bad. We’re all products of our environment after all – being on your own makes you weigh out your (limited) options and think critically about what you actually need.
Another thing I had to get used to was cleaning up after myself (and others), which was something I never even thought of when living back home. I had a shared kitchen – great for meeting new people, but a nightmare once you notice that the same dirty pot is in the sink for a week. I spent many nights in the kitchen, just chatting and cooking, avoiding my studies at all costs. These harmless kitchen get-togethers leave a mess behind that no one is keen to clean up. I turned into a clean freak. I organised and assigned people to various activities. One person was the trash guy, the other cleaned the stove, and so on. It even worked for a few weeks, which was longer than I had expected. Out of necessity I learned how to take care of myself and even take care of other people. It was an eye-opening experience to the responsibilities of living on my own. I liked hanging out in the kitchen which initially served as a necessary distraction to avoid being alone.
The most important lesson I learned was how to live in solitude. People are social animals and need constant interaction. Even the most introverted person needs to feel loved and wanted in a community. Right after joining university, I became quite sad. There were plenty of people living next to me, but neither did we know each other well nor did we share any special connection. I couldn’t go to them with my worries or complaints. Being in a crowded room made me feel lonely. I didn’t truly know anyone, so the world seemed big and unconquerable. I had nobody to rely on but myself. And it didn’t get better over time. That’s why I accepted my newfound solitude, and intentionally sought out solitude. I spent days and nights by myself – reading books and taking time to think. At the beginning my thoughts were insufferable, and I just couldn’t bear being alone. But after some practice, that changed. Now I’m happy to come home after a long day at school, curl up in bed and just think. Spending time alone is necessary to create a sense of self and keep yourself away from other people’s projections. I found happiness this way, which made that crowded room much easier to conquer, and even have a bit of fun in. The best companion a person can have is themselves.
Living alone is not something you can plan for. It’s something everyone needs to experience. Every single insecurity and frustration builds the character we all want. I believe that everyone should try to live by themselves in their youth and embrace every challenge it entails.
Lucia Holaskova is a second-year media and information student. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.
- Columnist (Fall 2018)