Ask me any day of the week and I'll tell you that one of the biggest things I'd love is to be able to move out. I've been living with my parents for the last decade since I moved back after university, and as incredibly grateful as I am for all their support, let's just say it's not always a smooth ride. Having a space of my own to make my own little home and live the way I want to has been a dream for years but unfortunately financial circumstances have never made it possible.
However, a couple of weeks ago I spent a few days home alone while my parents were away, and it really made me think about exactly what it is about an independent life that I crave, and what might not be quite so much fun.
I won't share with you all the ranty inner monologue that sometimes gets really wound up about the frustrations of being a woman in her 30s living at home with her parents, how annoying I find it to be asked where I'm going/who I'm meeting/when will I be home every time I want to leave the house, or to be expected to join in family meals every night of the week when sometimes I'd rather carry on with whatever I'm doing and grab some toast when I'm hungry, or how restricted I feel sometimes in being able to work to my own schedule. There's lots more, and trust me, it's not pretty, it doesn't actually reflect well on me, and honestly I'm not at all ungrateful that my parents care deeply about me, or are concerned for my safety and wellbeing. But seriously, sometimes it feels like I'm still 13 years old instead of 32.
Anyway, back to the main story. So my parents went away for a few days, and initially I was excited and positively gleeful at the prospect of having the house to myself and being able to do what I wanted. I could eat what I wanted when I wanted, I could watch what I wanted to watch on the big TV in the lounge, I could play music, or light candles, or invite people over for a wild party... Of course I ended up doing hardly any of that (and the wild party thing isn't really my style anyway), instead sticking pretty closely to the routine I've been used to.
Yes, it was a pleasure to be able to get in the kitchen and cook meals from scratch that I wanted to eat, without having to fight for space. I even switched up my breakfasts, cooking scrambled egg on toast a couple of mornings instead of reaching for my usual bowl of cereal. I carried on working until I was hungry for a later-than-usual lunch, and went back to working again in the afternoon until I was ready to stop. I did enjoy watching my choices of TV programmes in the evenings, and as the weather was good I sat outside to enjoy the sunshine. I carried on with my normal days, with a few tweaks, much as I would on any normal week.
But then the evenings drew in, and surprisingly, I began to miss having other people in the house. And I'm someone who is more than content in their own company 99% of the time. Perhaps it was just because it was a different-from-normal situation, and anything out of habit can feel unusual and unsettling. There was certainly an element of anxiety about being alone overnight and I found myself getting paranoid about making sure all the doors and windows were locked before I went to bed, and taking longer to drop off to sleep because of a higher state of awareness and alert. An apocalyptic thunder storm one night didn't help my nerves much either.
This anxiety surprised me. I didn't think I would be worried about being somewhere that I know is a comfortable and safe home on my own, even when my rational brain knew that the likelihood of anything happening was pretty low, my parents would be on the end of the phone, or there were neighbours or nearby family who would help in an emergency. I thought I would relish the peace and quiet, and during the days I did, but at night my mind seemed to think up all kinds of scenarios just to scare me. And I don't even watch horror films so I really don't know where it managed to find some of them!
I don't know whether it was to do with the size and stand-alone-ness of the house - whenever I've stayed in a hotel on my own, or when I lived in a flat after university for a while, it's always been in a building or a block where you're still essentially surrounded by other homes and people. Or maybe it's coming from a desire ultimately to not spend my life alone - of course I'd love to have a loving partner to share a home with, but we won't get into my lack of a romantic life here. I'm sure some of it was from the safety lectures I've heard from my parents over the years, so I'm conditioned to plan for the worst and expect disaster to strike at any minute.
However, as I'm here telling you the tale, and I'm pleased to report the house didn't burn down or crumble around me, it's pretty clear that I survived. But it did make me think - am I just so used to sharing my home that I wouldn't actually enjoy living alone long term? Or is it just another change that would take some adjusting to? I suspect the latter, after all, millions of people manage to live quite happily on their own. And let's face it, I'm not an idiot who would be completely uncaring about her personal safety, but I would definitely enjoy the opportunity to live more in alignment with my own routines and habits, and need for flexibility, as well as being able to make a space my own in the physical sense (one of my dream jobs would be as an interior designer).
I don't want you to think that I'm a wuss for being scared to spend a few nights on my own, but I think it was a useful experience for me. I also can't quite believe that in ten years I haven't spent more time (overnight) at home on my own - clearly my parents need to go away more often!
I suppose what I want to say in summary, in a time when more and more 20 and 30-somethings are living with family due to the spiralling cost of renting or buying a home and wages aren't keeping up, is that it's OK to feel worried about being alone in a space, and to feel safer surrounded by the comfort and love of family. That doesn't in any way reflect on your independence or courage, and can perhaps be a bit of a safety net as you test things out, find your way in the world, and figure out the life you truly want to lead.
I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to become a hermit living alone in the woods forever, or if I need to desperately get out there and hunt for a husband or a houseful of friends to live with. A week home alone has given me a greater appreciation for my parents and the love we share as a family, as well as time to reflect on my own anxieties and that negative inner voice. It's also made me more determined to build a life for myself that balances independence, freedom and following my passions, with connection, sharing, and closeness to my family.