Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 21, 2022

How to live alone for the first time

(From a girl who's doing it for the fourth time)

By ELLIE ROSE MATTOON | August 31, 2021

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COURTESY OF CLAIRE GOUDREAU

While living alone for the first time can be daunting, it can also offer independence.

They annoyed you on the car ride to school with their music choices, fumigated your dorm down with Lysol and possibly cried while they hugged you goodbye. But now that your parents have gone home, what are you to do with no adult supervision? The realization that an actual grown-up is not in the next room to help with an unexpected crisis is a scary one, but it’s one that most every freshman is facing right now.

Even though I’m a sophomore, I’ve yo-yoed between living independently and with my parents since I was fifteen thanks to both boarding school and COVID-19. While a lot of living alone has become second nature, there are some things I still forget every time I leave the nest. Hopefully, these tips can help you settle into your new lifestyle with minimal complications.

1. Stick to a cleaning routine

A clean room is a clear mind. This is easy to say and apply now, but when midterms roll around you might slowly lose all motivation to keep a neat space. If some of your classes or exams are online, trust me that you do not want to take them from a dorm that looks like the Room of Requirement. The secret to avoiding this is to make a list now of chores you need to do every week, every other week and every month. You can also talk to roommates about alternating on some chores.

For me, I make sure to declutter, wipe down all surfaces and vacuum every week. Every other week, I do my laundry and clean the bathroom (switching off with my roommates). Whatever schedule you make for yourself, make sure you buy the cleaning products you need and stick to it in the first few weeks of school so it becomes a habit.

2. Get your money in order

If you’re moving far away from home, don’t make the mistake I first made when I came to Baltimore. I realized too late that my bank back home did not have a single branch on the East Coast, which meant I wouldn’t be able to deposit money or get cash from an ATM. Yikes! One of your first priorities should be getting an account at a local branch so that you can better manage your finances. Hopkins has a credit union with a location next to Barnes & Noble, and new students get a $25 Amazon card for opening a checking account. It’s worth the peace of mind should an emergency happen.

If you don’t already have one, Venmo is also a really big part of college life. You’ll appreciate it for everything from splitting a pizza with your roommate to buying a club T-shirt. It’s best to make sure your account is set up before you need to use it!

3. Make sure you have all important documents/information

If I told you how many times I had to text my dad for a picture of my health insurance card, you would probably lose some respect for me. Now that you live alone, you may find yourself making doctor's appointments or filling out forms alone for the first time. Even if you don’t bring the originals, make sure you have information about your health insurance and Social Security number in a secure location, either on paper or in the Cloud. Depending on how COVID-19 progresses in the fall, some places may ask for your vaccine card; I have a picture of the front and back of mine saved to my phone. Lastly, now is also a good time to forward any prescriptions to the nearest pharmacy and make note of any special medical needs or history you have in the event you need to fill out forms alone for the first time.

4. Part of living independently is being alone

Living in a dorm in a new city may be an adjustment for you, especially if you’re used to having siblings to bother or friends to call up. In the first few weeks here, there may be some times that you feel lonely. That’s completely normal! While you will make friends in time, it’s important to get used to only being with yourself sometimes. Most college students will regularly end up eating alone, walking alone and studying alone; that is completely ok. Don’t get into the comparison trap of counting how many friends everyone has on their Instagram stories. If you do find yourself craving social interaction, try reaching out to your roommate or even random people in your classes.

While I am a firm believer in the power of doing some activities alone, this proverb does not apply when it comes to safety. Try not to go out or walk alone at night.

5. You’re allowed to ask for help

Just because you’re an “adult” now, it doesn’t mean that you can handle every situation life throws at you. While friends and upperclassmen you meet at Hopkins will be able to help you with some favors, there might come a point where you need a real live adult to step in and take the reins. This depends on the person, but try and reach out to see if you have any family or family friends in Baltimore. Even if you have never talked to these people, ask some of them for a coffee date or even offer them a tour of campus one afternoon! If you make these connections now, you might feel more comfortable calling them up for a ride to the airport or an emergency place to stay. 

At one point you may have to call your guardians for help or advice. Even though this might feel like a blow to your new I-can-do-it-myself ego, you’re not expected to know everything about living alone right off the bat. Most parents understand this, and hopefully they will be as patient with you as possible as you navigate this new space.

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