Natalie, news & features writer at Refinery29 UK, took the plunge at the end of last year and gave up commuting in favour of living on her own and being able to walk to work...
I'd been living in the family home on and off for four years since graduating from university and last year I decided it was about time I did some growing up. So I left the north London suburbs and moved into my very own studio flat in Dalston, Hackney, to try living alone while I had no commitments tying me down. Living alone had always appealed to me – it’s a cliché but Virginia Woolf was definitely partly to blame – and my best friend does it too, so I knew how great it could be (namely, lots of makeshift dinner parties, questionable guests, late-night chats and no wait for the bathroom. Heaven). But I wasn’t sure I'd be able to do it myself, so I sought tips from a few other friends (all of whom enabled me with their YOLO mentalities) and read reams of advice articles online before deciding to take the plunge – and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made, despite the expense. I’m pretty independent and already enjoyed my own company but wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. Not only has it made me more self-sufficient, it’s also made life 10 times more exciting.
It didn’t take me long to find my perfect place, which was surprising considering it’s a popular area that’s generally outside of my price bracket. I knew I wanted to live in east London within walking distance of work so I set up alerts on property sites and checked them every morning for a few weeks. Then one day the flat of my dreams popped up on Rightmove – a studio with a separate kitchen, wet room and loo, which was within my price range and in an ideal location. I arranged a viewing for that weekend, along with a few other studios in the area, dragged my mum and sister along for moral support and we all agreed this flat was The One. Every other studio was sterile in comparison and the lack of space meant you could literally fry an egg while sat in bed, which I wanted to avoid. I put an offer down that day and was persistent enough to be chosen.
The flat won me over with its huge windows and natural light, high ceilings, marble fireplace and checkered kitchen flooring. It was also fully furnished which was helpful as I didn’t have any of my own furniture, although it does mean I’ll have to leave one of my favourite things – the dining table – behind when I move on. The flat, being part of an old house, also doesn’t have central heating. Suffice to say that I needed about five jumpers and looked like Charlie Bucket’s grandparents in bed during winter, but it was worth it to be able to live in my dream area.
Dalston is one of my favourite parts of London – there’s always so much happening and there’s an abundance of great pubs, bars, restaurants, cafés, shops and cinemas within minutes of my door. There’s Kingsland Road, Broadway Market, Mare Street, as well as Chatsworth Road market a bit further out. Green space is also crucial for me and while I don’t have access to a garden, there are several parks nearby – London Fields, Victoria Park, Haggerston Park, Hackney Downs – which I love running through and will be my sunbathing and BBQ spots of choice this summer (if I can find a space!).
It’s still a novelty being able to walk to work and get the bus to most places rather than take the Tube. Previously, I was spending up to three hours a day commuting by train and it’s freeing having that time back to myself. In hindsight, I probably should have moved out sooner as I’d been feeling a bit "stuck" for a while, but living at home for so long allowed me to save money and spend time with my family, which I value a lot. I also recognise how lucky I am, as someone who works in London, to have had a family home in the capital and have the option to live in the family home at all.
When it comes to interiors, I’m not a naturally nesty person and it’s taken me a while to get the flat looking like this. Previously, there were boxes and bags of clothes and reams of miscellaneous stuff strewn all over the floor, but having a tidy living space makes a huge difference to my mood so I’m making a concerted effort to keep it up. I religiously follow and save images from various interiors Instagram accounts and lifestyle bloggers currently renovating their homes, though this is mostly so I can create a dream home in my head rather than borrow any IRL tips.
I’d describe myself as an aspiring minimalist (it helps to have a Monica Geller-style cupboard in which to hide all my junk), and I mostly gravitate towards Scandinavian-style interiors, though obviously can’t afford to invest in designer furniture at this point, so it’s high street brands all the way. I generally don’t spend much money on homeware unless it’s something I’ve wanted for months or which I know I’ll keep for years, such as my gold floor lamp, rattan IKEA chair and rattan lampshade.
Being a youngish millennial renter, plants are also essential, and I enjoy treating myself to flowers every so often; as are my books, which are currently organised by colour like everyone else (cringe); white walls – I recently painted over some hideous dark purple accents on the ceiling and walls with the generous help of my dad and it looks a hundred times better; mirrors to make the rooms look bigger; candles and rattan accessories, like my light fitting, chair and bedside lamp. I’m not self-disciplined enough to have a set colour palette but I try to stick to black, white and neutrals, with flashes of colour here and there: dark green, mustard, navy, gold and the odd bit of pink.
There are so many perks to living alone. I love having a kitchen to myself and not being accountable to anyone, playing music at full blast and cooking for people while they entertain me. I rarely feel lonely but when I do I just get someone over, go to theirs or leave the flat to feel like a functioning member of society. I’ve probably actually become more sociable because I know I have to make plans if I don’t want to spend an evening alone, and it’s easier for me to do fun things now that I live more centrally.
The biggest downside of solo living is feeling like I spend most of my time washing dishes and hanging up clothes. I wouldn’t recommend it to extroverts who need constant attention and company, because there will inevitably be days when no one’s around and you have to amuse yourself (the cinema and gym classes are great for this). It sounds saccharine and even trite, but living alone has been an invaluable period of personal growth. I’ve learned more about myself in the last seven months than I did during the few years prior and it was 100% the right decision for me at this stage in my life. Renting my own place isn’t a long-term investment in a property but I see it as an investment in my experiences and quality of life. People often compare it to "throwing money down the drain" but I prefer to see "investments" as more than financial – you can make investments in yourself that will help you grow as a person. It’s not a long-term arrangement and I’m hoping to buy somewhere eventually, possibly with someone else (if I can bear living with someone else again!), but I have no idea what the future holds and life is short, so it’s worth it for me right now.