10 Incredibly Helpful Things I Wish I Knew Before Living On My Own


Let me start by saying I’m from the Philippines, where living on your own without getting married first is almost unheard of. Unlike in the Western world, traditional Filipino families are very tight-knit. Here, most people usually get married first before moving out of their parents’ house. It was okay to stay in one’s comfort zone for a long time. That’s the problem – I was very sheltered.

Imagine my reaction when my parents actually allowed me, an unmarried 26-year-old, to move alone to a city 30 kilometres (about 20 miles) and two toll plazas away from them. I’m one of those that people consider “crazy folk” for going against the grain and go with their gut. For the first time in my life, I was living on my own. As such, I have been learning a lot and I’d like to share some of the lessons which may help you during a pivotal time in your young life.

1. Life really is full of risks

I accepted a job I pretty much knew nothing about (I’m a journalism graduate who’s now a technical writer in the semiconductor industry). It’s also in a city I’m very unfamiliar with (I commuted for two hours to my first interview without really knowing how to). I looked online for places to rent by myself (I was essentially meeting strangers from the Internet in unfamiliar places). I had to take these risks. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be growing as a person. A lot of the things and experiences I have now are because of risks I took. It’s not always fun, and things sometimes turn out badly (or weirdly!), but everything is either a blessing or a lesson.

2. Independence is a bitch, but it’s a caring bitch

Living by myself meant that my dad cannot fetch me with his car when I’m stranded in a flood somewhere, my mum cannot cook food for me when I’m too tired to move, or I can’t just hang out with my siblings and pets after a long day of work. It’s a lot of getting used to. Younger people, including myself, usually see independence as a ticket out of town, a release from the shackles of the traditional home life. It’s difficult at first to do everything alone, but it’s also a great privilege and a life lesson that I’m slowly but eagerly learning.

3. School is essentially Life 101

Lots of people take the school system too lightly. However, it made me realise that everything we did back then was preparing us for life and responsibility in “the real world.” Don’t take sleep for granted, go to your appointments on time, do your best in everything, and be responsible in general. I heard there’s a book called “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” I haven’t read it, but the premise is there: adults already taught us the basics of all we need in life when we were younger.

4. Embrace simplicity

I have a confession: prior to this move, let’s just say I’m not the neatest person in the world. I had what I called an organised mess. I’m a hoarder, but I had too many things! Moving to a small (read: 13 sqm.) studio apartment forced me to pick the essentials. All I have now are the basics: a bed, a kitchen, a bathroom, a small but decent wardrobe, entertainment (a laptop with Internet, a small TV without cable, two musical instruments, a few books, and an FM radio). I have fewer things in that apartment now than what I have in a smaller bedroom at my parents’ house! I wouldn’t consider myself a pure minimalist, but the lifestyle made me a better judge of what I only want and what I actually need.

5. Thrifty doesn’t have to mean boring

Trimming the non-essentials also made me rethink how I use my money. I spend more wisely now, but I don’t deprive myself either. It’s all about priorities. I learned to budget and track expenses. There are useful smartphone apps, but good old Microsoft Excel often does the trick. I now list my earnings and expenses, and make sure I save enough not just for things and experiences I want, but also for the proverbial rainy day. I learned the importance of investing and multiple streams of income as well.

6. You’re never too busy

While I’m now living and working in a thriving business district, it’s still far from the centre of all things I love. It’s a lengthy, 3-hour commute to my parents’ place, but I go there every other weekend to spend time with them, my siblings, and our pets. It’s an hour and a half away from most of my friends whom I’ve met in college or in previous jobs, so hanging out with them every few Fridays is rare but treasured. Being busy is overrated anyway. I always find time for things and people I want to be with.

7. Time is gold, so work smart AND hard

A lot of us were taught to work hard to achieve our goals, often to the extent of staying at the office for extended periods. Then, out came a saying that goes, “work smart, not hard,” which a lot of people use as an excuse to be lazy. Working in a new environment made me realise that one must not only do the best they can, on time, all the time, but they shouldn’t also wear themselves out either. Doing things this way made me treasure time so I can spend it the way I want to. Luckily I have a job where I could set my own schedule, so I always arrive and leave on time. Unless a task is deadline-centric, continue things where you left off during the next work day.

8. Grow up, but don’t stray from childlike wonder

It’s very easy to get old. Responsibilities can make a person feel and look beyond their years, so there should be a proper balance between being grown up and being young. I know plenty of people who “grew up too fast,” people who now wish they took their time to travel and enjoy their youth. Living alone gave me enough errands and tasks, but I never forget to pay myself attention as well. Find a hobby or rediscover an old one. Do something you love outside of work. Invest in taking care of your body and health. Jog. Get a haircut. Splurge on a sturdy, but classically stylish pair of shoes or piece of clothing because you can afford it. Get a gadget you saved up for. Just make sure you don’t go broke in doing these things.

9. Stay passionate

Again, responsibility can eat up time and energy. It sure drained me! When was the last time any of us did something we really loved? No, I don’t mean an endless TV series marathon or pigging out in a buffet restaurant… Something you were passionate about! Me, I’m trying to rekindle the romance I had with music, a passionate love affair that began when I was a toddler, but sadly neglected since I started working in 2008. I now have my guitar and a portable piano in my apartment. I’m considering taking up vocal or piano lessons again. I’m joining song writing competitions and workshops. What’s YOUR passion? Do something about it.

10. Connect with a higher being

This may spark some debate or strange comments, but I strongly believe everyone should acknowledge and connect with whatever they believe in – a God, the Universe, any Higher Power. I’m Catholic, but apparently not a very good one. I haven’t been to a Sunday mass in a really long time. However, I always give thanks to the One I believe in. Living alone made me closer to my Source. I started meditating (not very regularly, mind you). I pray. I talk to the Universe. I acknowledge that there is a Supreme Being, an Energy, a Higher Power that’s bigger than anybody and everybody combined. As Katy Perry said in her documentary film, “I have a relationship with God, and it’s a personal one.”

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