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Home Lone

How one-person households survive and thrive

No this isn’t about that Macaulay Culkin movie and it’s not about mortgages. This is the latest article in a series all about being by yourself. The previous two stories have espoused the hidden benefits of being by yourself (Alone-ly) and the joys of solo travel (Trav-alone). Today we focus on how one-person households can survive and thrive. 

In the English-speaking world, about one in four people live in lone person households. That means that a quarter of the population have a distinct efficiency advantage over the rest. When these homes wake up in the morning, their residents don’t need to collaborate, negotiate or even bicker over what to do. There’s no dividing up of the chores, no sacrificial time spent doing things to keep the other half happy and none of those endless discussions that go something like,

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t mind, what do you want to do?”

“I don’t mind either, whatever you like”

And so on!

Let’s talk about the household chores. I can almost hear the blissfully happy couples smugly sneering over their ‘his and her’ coffee mugs. Of course there’s no dividing of the chores, you have to do them all!  But, perhaps one doesn’t make as much mess as two or more. And there’s no cleaning up after anyone else. You can just clean as you go. So, without a detailed Dickensian time and motion study who can really tell if doing all the chores for one is easier or harder than doing half the chores for two? After all even dust is just human skin so fewer people must create less dust right?

So, the jury is out about chores, but what about all that other free time? You’ve already saved hours in every single day not having to discuss what you are going to do. You can sort that out in a few minutes on your own. And no waiting around for the more narcissistic person in the household to prepare themselves for the outside world either. Every way you choose to spend your time can be selfishly devoted to your personal enjoyment. No visits to your Aunt-in-law Mabel to see her 923 holiday snaps or attending that knitting convention that you feel obliged to go to. Score one for the solo people here, you can squeeze much more fun into your day.

Have you ever heard couples talk about their partners going away? “Oh well (partners name) will be away next weekend so I’m going to have the boys (or girls) round then eat a whole pizza (or chocolate) myself. I can’t wait!”  Well, happy couples, one in four households can do that …every…single…day.

For those choosing not to exit the house, couples still feel the need to do things together. For instance, the TV situation is much better for the lone householder. Sure, houses nowadays have screens around every corner but it won’t help your relationship if you spend all your time in another room watching the water polo or whatever tickles your fancy.

While you’re checking out the TV have a look at one of those home decorating shows that thrive on the conflicts and stress of couples who can’t agree on the colour to paint the walls, or the style of their flooring or tiles. None of those shows feature lone households, simply because those conflicts don’t exist!

But it’s not all beer and skittles (although a lot of it could be if that’s what you really like!) At some point we all have to shop. And the solo households have to shop in a society where things are stacked against them.

Being a lone shopper is expensive and wasteful.

Ever bought a jar of pasta sauce? It’s enough for a family of four. And its shelf life once opened is so short that unless you want pasta every day for the rest of the week, you will end up tossing most of it out. Sure, you could cook up a batch and freeze it up. But on a Tuesday night after a hard day at work do you really feel like cooking up a huge meal, then separating it into plastic containers? Especially when there’s no roster for anyone else to do the dishes.

Eggs are no different. Purchasing half a dozen eggs is a real commitment. If I want one egg I need to commit to eating eleven more in the very near future or buying 6 at almost the same price as the cost of a dozen. And after those chickens have gone to so much trouble I feel like I need to eat them all. After that feast I find I don’t want to even see another egg for the next 6 months.

It’s not just food either. For those who have bought toilet paper lately, can anyone explain why I now need to buy a year’s supply at a time. It makes no sense for a solo household unless I’m planning on embarking upon a bout of diarrhoea? The paper has yellowed with age by the time I get to the final roll. There isn’t enough storage space in a one-person home, unless I throw out some eggs and pasta sauce to make room.

Society packages things up for the majority and advertises to them as well. Will a solo householder buy a certain detergent because it makes the kids’ school clothes whiter? I think not.

Two for One specials sound great, but if you don’t want two it seems like the store is rubbing it in your face that you have to pay a premium for the privilege. So, you end up buying two bags of potatoes, or chocolate or whatever and ending up with more than you need. Although, after baulking at cooking that big pasta dinner, the second block of chocolate starts to look like a viable dinner alternative.

But it’s not all about perishables. Go shopping for clothing and those “Does my butt look big in this?” conversations have to be held with the shop salesperson rather than a trusted companion. Inevitably you are told that the orange shirt with the large white polka dots really suits you and brings out the colour in your eyes. Three weeks later you are still trying to convince yourself that the stares you get on the train to work every time you wear it must be looks of admiration.

This is the time when I should start pointing out the benefits of shopping alone. Sure, you could form a collective of like-minded sole survivors to swap and share products you have you have been forced to buy in relative bulk. But we don’t all lounge around all day in Birkenstocks and tie-dyed shirts seeking out opportunities to form co-ops. Besides, in this modern world I don’t even know the names of my neighbours.

After all this ranting and raving what can we conclude? Maybe buying for one isn’t always the best experience. We can hope that one day someone will sell a single egg. But until then, solo householders should recognise and enjoy the other benefits of freedom and choice that come from living in a one-person home. 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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