How I Moved Out of the Family Home and Survived Living Alone
A young photojournalist shares the triumphs and struggles of living independently
When I told my Mom that I was going to move out of our house, she laughed it off. For months, I planned my move—apartment-hunting, packing, and saving up for the big day—as she rolled her eyes over all the fuss I was making, perhaps thinking that it will never push through.
It was not until I was literally moving out when she realized I was serious. She thought I was rebelling, but really, I was just growing up. Many friends asked me if I was moving out because I was going to elope or move in with a boyfriend—I was not. My Mom told me I was always welcome to come back. I nodded in reply, but I knew that I won’t be coming back. I was determined to be independent.
During the first week of my independence, I remember telling my sister that the best thing about solo living is being able to walk around the kitchen in my underwear. Since I grew up in a conservative family, I was not allowed to be reckless and spontaneous so little thrills like that made me happy. I wasn’t even allowed to go to parties or have sleepovers so the first time I had a friend over, it felt like an achievement.
Thanks to the house help at home, food was always cooked and served. I can’t help but stare at my plate and smile for a minute when I first prepared a meal for myself. When my new refrigerator—my first real appliance—arrived, I was so proud I even sent a photo to my best friends. Everything seemed to be an achievement, it was literally a whole new world.
Within a few weeks, I developed a lot of silly (sometimes even gross!) habits that I know others who have ever lived alone can relate to. Some of these include breaking into a dance the moment I open my eyes in the morning and apologizing to my furniture when I accidentally bump into one. I embraced all of these quirks and thought it was a privilege to have them. At one point, I felt that this is truly what living alone means. I was wrong.
Budgeting is never easy. At 20 years old, I didn’t have much in my bank account but it was enough to help me survive a few months in my new home. As long as my bank account’s balance didn’t reach the “danger zone,” I thought I’d be okay. Again, I was wrong. It took me a year and a new apartment later to realize this after coming home from a trip abroad with just enough money to cover for next month’s rent. I sold old things to make up for it. I earned enough but I knew it wasn’t sustainable so I knew I had to do something about it.
I started budgeting my money. I took note of my expenses every month to give me an idea on where I spent the most or least so I know where to make adjustments. I wouldn’t call myself financially stable yet, but I’m happy to say that I haven’t had to borrow money or skip a meal to save. I’m getting by and I’m still learning every day. My biggest lesson so far? Don’t spend just because you can. Know what you have and what you need, and live and spend within your means.
With work, cooking my own meals three times a day seemed to stressful so I eat out a lot. I thought I was saving time and money, not to mention avoiding dirty dishes. Per my first budget report, I was wrong. I learned that I was spending more money on dining out compared to shopping for groceries and that’s a lot of splurging for one month. To make sure I wasn’t keeping myself from having fun though, I allotted twenty percent of my monthly income on food and I make sure I break it down accordingly.
As a freelancer, my budgets also vary monthly—according to who pays, when, or if anyone pays at all. Since there are instances when payments don’t arrive at all, it’s crucial for me to set up an emergency fund which is around at least another twenty percent of my monthly income. This amount goes straight to my savings account—no questions asked. The rest of my income goes into a second account which covers my daily allowance. Having an emergency fund is important so that I can still buy basic necessities even if I don’t have projects.
As a self-proclaimed minimalist, I thought having my own apartment meant finally having a clean space a la Muji. I was wrong again. Cleaning is tough. My first apartment was barely 20sqm—my bedroom, dining room, and kitchen all occupied one big space. My bed ends up having food crumbs on top and my sink always has dirty dishes. It also didn’t help that the old building where I used to live was beside a main road as my space was exposed to dust and dirt, 24/7. I came to a point when I didn’t enjoy cleaning at all that I just throw away dirty things.
Looking back, I cringe at how wasteful I was. In my new apartment, I now have self-imposed rules. Guided by the KonMari method, I give away or throw out items that I haven’t used in the last six months. I do not let sentimentality get in the way as even gifts and brand new things are put on sale. As Marie Kondo wrote in her book, only those that “spark joy” must remain in the house.
Depending on the number of new items I buy or receive, I make sure I discard the same number of things. This way, I had control over the number of things I have in my life and in my apartment. It allows me to control my clutter.
Every after meal, I make it a point to wash my dishes immediately so they don’t pile up. It also helps that I have a dog that poops and pees around the house—it forces me to clean and mop the floor. My dog and I share a healthy relationship.
On missing home
During my first year living alone, there were times when I would come and stay in my family’s house for a week so that I could escape the responsibilities of living independently. I fooled myself thinking I was just saving money, but really, I just didn’t want to clean, cook or be alone.
These days, I try to come home during weekends. I allot my weekdays for work and I try my best to stick to daily routine so that I don’t lose my drive or mess up my body clock.
Living independently doesn't require a manual.
Given these experiences, no month has passed without at least one emotional breakdown. I’ve been living alone for two years and it’s quite a rollercoaster. Laughing and crying, I believe that I have a love-hate relationship with living independently just because it’s not always how I dreamt it would be, that is, living a la Carrie Bradshaw or at the very least, Pinterest-worthy.
Living alone is not always you doing you, it’s also you being responsible for a million different things. Dancing around and having friends over are just some of its perks.
It‘s always a love-hate relationship with your apartment, but at the end of the day, it’s still what you call home. My first apartment was a shoebox but I still called it home. My new apartment may be more than twice the size, but I feel right at home.
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