Peter McGraw welcomes Christina Martinez and Brandon Patrick back into the Solo Studio to continue their conversation about how to live alone.
Listen to Episode #112 here
How to Live Alone – Part 2
This is part two of my conversation about living alone. In part one, my guests, Christina Martinez and Brandon Patrick talked mostly about the benefits. We pick up here with some of the costs, in particular, talking about safety, and we conclude with some tips for those of you who want to live alone. I hope you enjoy the episode. Let’s get started.
Let’s talk safety. We are saying earlier that more single women than men own their residence, but you are also on your own. You may have a fall but what if someone tries to break in? What if you have a stalker and so on? It may not even be the real threat, but the perceived threat can be bad too. It’s the idea of, “I feel very alone. What if something happens?” Do you do anything special safety-wise?
I don’t have a security system or anything. I do share my location with my other single girlfriends. We all tell each other if we are doing something. It would not matter if I’m at my house, but if we are going out of town or meeting up with someone. I have a shotgun. It’s not under my bed but if I needed it, I could grab it out of my closet and point it out to someone.
I’m super anti-hunting or anything. I could never kill something but I have skeet shoot and clay shoot. It’s a hobby. I have one that’s a big old thing. It’s in a case. If a threat came up and I at least wanted to point it at someone to be equally threatening, I could do it. I live downtown. Even in an area that’s turning over, I don’t personally feel unsafe. I know my neighbors well. I feel that I’m part of the community. I feel that if someone heard something, my neighbors would be calling me or checking in.
I put this to the SOLO community. There are a lot of people in the community who live alone, as you might imagine. They came forth with lots of ideas. One was to get to know your neighbors. That’s important. There are also things like putting lights on timers. Technologically, there are lots of stuff happening with surveillance.
You can have doorbells that capture video of people who come to your door. There are security systems. If you are not living isolated, if you are living in a building, you might choose a building that has a concierge or doormen, a little bit more set of eyes who’s coming and going. That’s there. One of the safety things is you have to assess your own risk tolerance.
How are you going to feel, even if you do all these other things? Are you going to feel safe? One is are you living in a less safe place? I joke that when I lived in Boulder, I had a door of my bedroom that the lock did not work. For some reason, it was a pain in the ass to try to get it fixed. I was like, “I’m not worried about someone scrambling up here and coming in here.”
Do you have a crazy ex? Do you have a family member? That’s what the other thing is, especially when it comes to the risk of women. When women are assaulted, it’s usually someone they know. It feels like the stranger is the scary one, but it’s often an ex-boyfriend, a current one, a husband or something like that.
It’s because those people know how to get access to you.
I know we are only touching on some of the safety-related things, but the important thing is to figure out your own tolerance for how comfortable you can be. How safe you are going to feel? What are the options that you have in terms of being connected to people in the neighborhood and checking in with people? What are some of the technological solutions like security cam and locks? Perhaps even a pet might be something.
Some people have dogs for that very reason because the bark is enough to scare someone off, or even the presence of that animal can help you feel safe. I feel that’s not a trivial element for some people, depending on their situation. Let’s close with some advice that you would have for the person who’s contemplating living alone. They are like, “I’m going to get divorced,” or they have roommates or they are have been living with a partner. Maybe they are moving somewhere and they want to give this a try. What are the best practices do you think?
You should move intentionally. I know what I like. I like hipster stuff. I try to pretend that I’m not. I know ultimately what it is. I’m like, “Where are the hipsters?” They are off Colfax. I’m going to live off Colfax. Find your people and live by them. There’s nothing worse than everything I love is 40 minutes away. I will see it when I see it. Go where it is and then move two blocks away.
I’m a big believer in that too, especially walkability. When it’s easy to find the things you like to do, you are going to do them versus the big drive or a lot of work. If you are going to live on your own, you don’t have to compromise. You get to live exactly in the neighborhood and exactly the residence you are looking for within your own financial limits.
You should get to know like I need a grocery store within walking distance. You can plan out that sort of thing.
A solo life in some ways can be very European where you stop in the grocery store every day to pick up a little bit of something, these huge grocery orders that you might have for a family. I’m a big believer in that.
I don’t know what I’m going to want tomorrow. I can’t shop that far in advance. I’m two days only, then who knows what’s going to be inspiring me.
I liked the idea of stopping in like, “I like some comfort food. I’m going to get some soup and chicken.” I’m a big believer in that too.
I’m going to say one thing I had a hard time with when I first moved alone. I wanted to do it so badly but then I got there and it was almost like an eerie feeling. I wanted so badly to be alone. I was so used to always having people around that I had to keep background music, TV or something on because it felt too eerie at first.
Put something that simulates an environment if you are used to hearing someone talking in the background or something to help you ease into it. If you are taking the leap and worried about feeling lonely in the first week or two, maybe having a set phone date or something with someone, just so you know, “After dinner, I get to catch up with whoever,” and you have something to look forward to.
I love both of those pieces of advice. As Brandon likes music, I’m constantly playing music sometimes loud. Just the fact that I don’t have to worry about someone, but it also provides a little bit of stimulation. It’s a company in a sense. I’m also a big phone person. I talk on the phone a lot. I call it puttering around the house. If I’m washing some dishes, making the bed or folding laundry, I will often put my earbuds in and make some phone calls. Now I have someone keeping me company while I’m doing something mundane.
It drives my friends crazy by doing the same thing. I will call in the middle of the day, but I also keep insane hours. It will be like 1:30 in the morning and I’ll be like, “What are you up to?” “No, we are sleeping.”
Occasionally, the background stuff can be annoying to folks, in general. I had my list of people that worked my way through it in that sense. We have to talk a lot about loneliness more generally, especially if you are moving from a place where you have someone around a lot.
I’m going to say get a pet. I know we talked about it for security.
We finished a series on conventional relationships where we talked about pet ownership.
It’s true. There’s something to be said about having a living thing even if it can’t talk to you. If you are feeling some way, you can go over your pet and it interacts with you. Maybe you sit on the couch and it comes and sits by you. You can get your “alone space” but feel comforted.
You are in control unless you have an out-of-control pet. There’s research on even the value of plants and fresh flowers.
Maybe it’s taking care of something too other than yourself. It’s been super cold that I might not get up and go on my daily walk or run, but when you have a pet, I’m not going to skip that because you have something else. There’s a little bit of taking care of yourself through something else.
I want to add something. I also picked this up out of the SOLO community. One of the members wrote, “My tip for living alone is to enjoy it but also find your tribe.” This is relevant to what Brandon was saying. I could happily hibernate solo for days on end but I benefit from the connection. I try and make sure I reach out and connect with someone every day like making your phone calls or setting up coffee dates.
For example, I like singing but I’m not religious. A few years ago I joined a humanist choir. In that choir, I found a whole bunch of like-minded people that I can engage creatively. Julie who’s a regular member talks about intentionality like living with intention and recognizing that any type of living situation is not going to be holy good. There are upsides and downsides. One of the downsides is you might be a missing connection. You might get a little isolated. You might end up wallowing in your basement for too long making sad songs.
To this point, and maybe this is not related, but when you said the plants, that was something else I had on my list. Open the shades if you are in the basement. There’s a fundamental thing when you got to get the sunlight. There are so many days that I will be at my house and it’s cold. Opening my big curtains levels up my mood five points. I feel that maybe the plants have something to do with that. There are two windows so I always make sure I do that because that’s where my plants are. When I walked through that, I’m like, “My house is so bright.” It’s mood-boosting.
I like the opposite. I like it when I don’t know what time it is outside. I don’t have any clocks in my place.
I’m so glad you can represent a world that’s not like Christina and me. People who read this were like, “I can’t stand this guy. He is so happy and has everything in order.”
I like chaos. I don’t like to know what time it is because I like to be able to create constantly. If it’s 2:00 in the morning, I want to create like it’s night.
Versus feeling like, “I should be going to bed.”
It’s like, “This is a time that people are sleeping.”
You are going to be okay not living with someone.
There’s too much to spring on it. Even when I stay with a person, I’m like, “Can I bring my guitar and a saxophone?” They are like, “What?”
About safety. This came up in the channel, having a medical kit. Having the basics of Tylenol or ibuprofen. Here is one, Pepto-Bismol or something like Rolaids. I once thought I was having a heart attack in the middle of the night. The pain woke me out of bed but when I would sit up, it would go away. I get up and googled the symptoms and it’s like, “You have acid reflux.”
There’s a term for it. I forget what it is. I’m sure people are shouting it. “It’s called this. I have it all the time,” but I had an upset stomach basically like acid reflux. When I would lay down, I was in excruciating pain. When I sat up, I was fine. It’s 2:00 in the morning. I had to drive to a 7-Eleven and buy some Rolaids, eat a bunch of them, and then I was fine. If I had a roommate, you could ask them to do it for you or whatever, but to be prepared for the kinds of things that you might experience.
You should always have that stuff. You don’t know it until you know it, but there’s nothing worse than having to go out and buy medicine when you are sick.
Now you can get things delivered. Life is a lot easier with Uber Eats.
It changed the game.
It has. I agree with that.
Is Amazon the same?
The stuff is ludicrous.
I don’t know if they still do it. They use to have Prime now, and it was a two-hour delivery window.
I don’t normally do these things but occasionally knowing that you can is nice in a sense.
Sometimes it’s like, “It will here today. Is that cool?” It’s like, “What?” “For how much extra? You have another extra. Bring it on.”
With the loneliness stuff, I would also say this idea of having a team. One of the things I like to do is to invite people into my space. I host a lot. It’s part of my identity. I host a show. I host these solo salons. I have been hosting game nights. A lot of good comes of that. It never creates as much reciprocity. You ended up giving a lot more than you get, but it does stimulate connections and it puts you top of mind when other people are doing things. It also gives you a little bit of purpose.
Entertaining is energizing. It’s also good for your space because I want to create a space that I’m comfortable with, but I also want to be welcoming to others for them to feel comforted and stimulated if they find it aesthetically pleasing. It’s also nice that I don’t have to leave the house. I don’t have to drive and park. It’s work but here’s my pro tip. Don’t be afraid to delegate. If you come to game night, you are asked to bring something. You might be asked to lead a game. I’m not afraid to ask, “Can you give me a hand cleaning this up?”
I would add to set the end time. Anytime I get worn out from hosting, it’s because I did not set that expectation.
It’s true. I do say, “What time we are going to wrap?” You don’t have to be rude.
You have always got the guy that’s like, “I never got to play the piano before and such. That’s cool. They got a guitar center.”
Here’s my other pro tip. I don’t do traditional dinner parties. I might do a party. I have not done a party-party in a long time for obvious reasons. When I do a party-party, I do two things. One is I will sometimes hire someone to work the bar or work for the party. Keeping people’s drinks filled, tidying up, helping set up and so on. It’s a minimal expense, which allows me to then enjoy rather than work the entire night. That’s there.
The other thing is I will invite some close friends like 30 minutes to 1 hour early. Now people are there and then I get one-on-one time with the people I’m closest with and they also help out. If I’m scrambling, they will jump in and help in that way. The way to say it is don’t be afraid to set boundaries and ask for help if you are going to invite people into your space.
I like the invite people early.
It’s two tiers.
I like that too because that’s most of the time where I struggle finding the right size group because I want one-on-one time with more people. There’s always that couple that you are like, “I did not even get to talk to them.”
Some little bit of hosting fills a gap and a need. You are not alone in your place all the time. Other pieces of advice that come to mind. I have got a couple of others but I want to see what you have.
It’s important to be a part of your community. If you are in a neighborhood, establish a routine. Have a coffee shop, grocery store or a nice restaurant that you like for familiar faces. Even when you are having a crummy day if you go to Target and it’s like, “How is it going? Have you finished your shelf or whatever?” “No, I have not finished the shelf.”
I feel like that does not happen to me with grocery stores and department stores but it happens with coffee shops. They know your order. Have a chit-chat a little bit.
I see the same people on my walk with my dog every day. One guy went as far as to say, “I was worried about you. I did not see you for two days.” I’m like, “Honestly, you would notice before and probably a lot of other people would notice that I’m missing or if I went missing,” because it was a weekend and I was going to be away. Usually, we chit chat and I had not said anything. He noticed.
Let’s talk about costs and cooking. The cooking thing is related to costs because if you are ordering food, the charges are ridiculous. Also cooking for one is more expensive than cooking for more than once, and it’s more time. I’m going to do a solo cooking episode. I’m working on that. Is there anything that comes to mind in terms of how do you make your eating easier and more inexpensive?
I have a chef that cooks most of my meals so I’m in a different spot.
This is the most ridiculous thing you have said so far.
It’s Taylor. He’s a good guy.
Is he a friend?
Yes. He’s also a professional chef.
Is this his service or he’s like, “I’m doing this for myself, I will do it for you too?”
No. I got to pay for it.
Do you pay for food and he’s making for himself?
He cooks all my meals, but the way this will translate to a normal person is meal prep. You can never cook one meal. Every meal has got to be something or else you are spending $20 a meal. I don’t know if that’s sustainable for everyone.
Most of the time I plan on getting dinner and lunch to bring to work the next day or whatever out of mine. I have never had to cook for a family or something, but I don’t find it that expensive especially when I look at what I would spend if I ran out and grab a salad.
You can buy in bulk and that can save some duckets.
I eat a lot of similar stuff. When it’s you, you know what you like. You feel like there’s something you won’t get sick of as fast as other stuff as someone else would. I eat a ton of salmon. I don’t ever get tired of it. I do different sides and stuff, but it’s easy for me to buy a big thing of salmon and cut it up because I know I will go through it.
I do the meal prep stuff. I have gotten into eating salads. I will make a whole bunch of salads for the next 3 to 5 days. They keep pretty well. There is enough work, cutting and dicing things and putting all the ingredients in there together. That’s something that I do that’s labor-intensive, but every time I wanted to eat a salad, I would not do it. I’m buying the huge 16-ounce thing of triple-washed spinach and all that stuff. That’s pretty inexpensive. That’s $5. That goes a long way than if I bought it in smaller packaging.
I will pay for the stuff at King Soopers or whatever grocery store that’s pre-washed. I bought asparagus and the ends were already chopped off and it was pre-washed. I’m going to cut up my salmon and do all that. For that, I’m going to throw that on a pan with some oil, salt and pepper, and throw it in. That’s going to be 30 seconds for me. You can find yourself some grace on different parts, spending a little extra here and there.
It’s the same way with the lawn cutting, you are going to pay one way or another. You are either going to pay with money or with time. If you want to keep your costs down, you are going to have to do more stuff at home, old-school cooking. If you want to save time, you are going to end up grab and go, eating out and ordering.
Here’s the thing. I don’t mind spending money on extra ingredients and making myself a nice meal. It’s like a treat. I have talked about this before. That is something I get enjoyment out of. I feel like I’m treating myself and having fun doing it. To me, part of the experience is to go out and make something more elaborate.
That’s fair. I had some lean years for a long time. My eating was not as much fun. I have never been a big foodie anyways but it was also not as healthy. One of the challenges is healthy food is expensive food, generally, like fresh fruits and vegetables. I don’t think I eat salmon until I got into my 40s. It was one of those kinds of things. There are very real trade-offs that people experience. I do believe that if you do have the money, investing in good healthy food is an investment in a good healthy life. I would second that.
There’s a lot now too like how the world has changed. There are meal service places where they prep it and you can go pick different meals out of the refrigerators. At least that is not packed with preservatives and it has a shelf life. You got to go pick it up that week and someone else is making it for you, back to Brandon‘s stuff.
He’s not living with me. It’s not as cool as it could be.
It sounds better. I don’t want him to live there. I want him to drop me off some gourmet delicious stuff and get out.
That’s exactly what it is. Drop it off, explain it and then get out of here.
He drops it off too?
Yeah. I will pick it up.
Here’s another pro tip. Frozen foods are not a bad solution. You can often get frozen vegetables, fruits and meals. They tend to be healthier because the freezing is what keeps them preserved versus preservatives. They keep for a long time. If you go out of town, you can come back and there’s something in your freezer that you can make.
I do that a lot. They have the steamables. They are frozen packs of different vegetables. You just poke it with a fork and put it in your microwave.
Those are a little bit of a cheat code.
Get your air fryer. That’s a cheat code right there. I just want the SOLOs to win.
I get it. You are on the team.
The air fryer saved my life.
Some costs are inescapable. Another way to do this is, how do you downsize enough? What ends up happening a lot of times is if you are solo, the tendency is you want to buy a house because that’s the American dream. You end up overspending on a bunch of space that you don’t need or use often. When you start to deviate from whatever the standards are, you can start to now make the most of a smaller space.
One of the members of the community said, “I live in a small beach cottage with very limited space. I got rid of my dining room table with seating for six and opted for more living space. It works for me. Now, I enjoy finding unique design customizations for my home.” The default is you have a dining room table because that’s what families have, even though they rarely ever use it. Maybe you are going to sit at the counter in your kitchen, or you are going to spend more time on the balcony, or you are going to sit on the couch versus dedicating a lot of space. Now you can have a smaller space as a result of it.
For example, in my apartment, I’m very proud of this decision. I bought a big desk that I put behind my couch that has a beautiful view. That space would normally go to a dining room table if it was a traditional apartment or house in that way. Now I have a good, nice, creative and comfortable workspace. It works aesthetically. It’s not in the way if I’m entertaining.
You got the perfect spot for a solo.
It’s a nice space for it.
Except there are windows.
Christina’s happy. You are unhappy. It’s very bright.
You will always know what time it is.
There’s no oversleeping. I would refer people back to one of the early episodes, Financial Freedom With Money Amy. There are two sides to financial freedom. One is the one we are talking about. How do you keep your expenses low? The other one is, how do you save for the long run? How do you afford the life that you have now? How do you invest in the life that you want in the future?
You may end up having to make other types of sacrifices in order to live solo where you might be in a little bit smaller place than you would want, or you might have to give up some other luxuries. For example, you might not be able to eat out as much as you would want, and you might have to meal prep more. Maybe you are not exactly in the neighborhood that you want to be in, but you are going to be adjacent. It is a dominating strategy. It’s good for people’s lifestyle and their soul, depending on how they are wired, but it does come at a little bit of a premium.
That’s okay too. It’s a stepping stone. In the first place when I wanted to be alone, I could not afford what I wanted. I was like, “I’m not compromising. I’m getting a balcony,” and there was one other thing. I compromised on both. It ended up being still a lovely place for me. I had a shared courtyard. It was not what I wanted originally, but it afforded me to take the next step to get to what I wanted and I still got the experience.
To build on that from a behavioral science standpoint, recognize that you are adaptable. We think that this is not going to work, but you are going to adapt to it. I will give you an example of this. When I first moved to Boulder, I had a very hard time finding an apartment that I liked. I ended up finding a place, a good price, good location. It’s this old big house. It’s like a mansion that got broken into five condos.
This place was a one-and-a-half bedroom. It had lots of character. There was one problem. The living room walls were pink and the bedroom walls were purple. It was the only thing I did not like about the place. The owner was like, “No. You can’t paint them.” I remember standing in the apartment thinking, “Can I do this?” It was empty. It’s this pink wall and there were white cherubs around. This was an old building. The other was more of a sheeny purple-ish thing. I was like, “I don’t think I can do this,” and then I was like, “Humans are adaptable.” I pulled the trigger on it. I lived there for four years.
Probably you did not even notice it.
After a while, I did not even notice it. It became part of the background.
Posters and stuff can fix so much.
There is some level of adaptation. Why don’t we do this? Let’s end with one last thought. Either another piece of advice or some reflection that you have based upon encouraging someone or warning them about this endeavor of joining the 28% of Americans who live on their own, who live alone, or the 50% of Stockholm residents who live alone. What would you say?
You get to indulge your creativity and you get to know yourself on a level you would not if you had to share your space. When it’s just you for 24 hours and you have got everything that makes you you, you get to find out who you are. You get to beta test and make modifications to things like, “This sucks. I would not accept this from another person.” You get to get a better complete picture of who you are and what you are bringing to situations.
I like the idea of the benefits of solitude, which we have covered in previous episodes and the whole series on it like a chance to reflect and a chance to create. I would like to say create more than you consume. When you live alone, you have much more opportunity to create than when you are with someone else, especially if the saxophone is involved.
Mine is along the same lines. If you are thinking about it but you are hesitant, I would encourage you to do it because whatever you are hesitant about, you are going to impress yourself. You are going to find other things that are impressive about yourself that you did not even know you could do because you have not had to come to face it yet or problem solve it.
If you want to do it but you are reluctant, is there some in-between like should you take a vacation on your own? Is that a good way to warm up?
I don’t think so because you are not yourself on vacation.
You are not surrounded by your daily tasks and everything. I don’t think it’s terrible because I have some friends that even that is a huge step. I am thinking of a friend in particular that went through a divorce and owns a business, all this stuff. She does not live here. She is a strong woman who does a lot of motivational and inspiring things.
She was having a hard time living by herself and even going to dinner by herself. It was mind-boggling to me, but she wrote to me and was like, “I’m so proud of myself. I did this. I took care of this. Someone else has always taken care of this in the house, and I figured it out. I thought it was going to be complicated.” There are all these opportunities to surprise yourself, but she did go on a vacation by herself. She was like, “I could do this.”
I’m going to end with one that’s a little weird, but I picked this up from a previous guest, EC Synkowski. She did the early episode on Eating for a Remarkable Life. She has a great Instagram account and gives very grounded nutritional advice. She says, “If you binge it, don’t buy it.” What happens sometimes is because there’s less accountability when you live alone, especially if you like cannabis, but even in general, especially when you are low energy, you have had a hard day, it’s easy to snack a little too much, eat a little too much, eat too late. Especially we all have something that sets us off. Recognizing that and not having those tempting things in your space can help you make better decisions because when it’s just you, there’s no one looking over and going, “Are you going to stop eating? How many cocktails have you had?” Whatever that might be.
Even a TV in the bedroom. I feel like there are a lot of things. If that’s your kryptonite, removing it helps.
There are a lot of these things where you are self-control because it’s all on you. There’s no outside accountability. Recognize that you might have to go to extremes to keep yourself living healthy. I know that’s a weird one to end on.
That makes sense.
Pro tip, take your TV out of your bedroom. Your bed is for two things.
What are those?
Not watching TV.
Sleeping and snacking.
Christina and Brandon, I hope both of you have better days ahead.
I could not imagine they are going worse.
This was very fun. I hope people find a little bit of inspiration. If you want to add anything to what we missed, which I’m sure is plentiful, you can join the Slack channel. We have an episode discussion channel where people can weigh in on some of the additional things. There’s a great Reddit thread on living alone with outstanding advice. The number one piece of advice right now is to get renter’s insurance. It’s one of those things when you are on your own and something goes sideways. It was not that expensive. It can make a difference for someone who might already be in a little bit of a tight financial situation. Thank you both.
- Christina Martinez
- Brandon Patrick
About Christina Martinez
Christina Martinez is an outdoorsy DIYer living in Denver. She holds a degree in Marketing and HR from the University of Colorado.
Christina spends her free time with her dog, cooking and restoring her 1968 Dodge A-108.
About Brandon Patrick
Brandon Patrick is a stand-up comedian, storyteller, and host of Burritos with Brandon.
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