Does Living Alone Make You a Happier, Better Adult?

More Canadians than ever are living alone. Here’s what that means.

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Aug 3 2017, 7:13pm

Photo via Flickr user Deb Stgo

Living alone sounds like a far-away fantasy for many young people. You can do whatever you want, when you want, with little worry as to how your life is intersecting with someone else's. But how the fuck are you going to afford it, and is it even really that good for your social life?

Just trying to find an affordable place to live at all in major cities can spark backup plans for ditching urban life for an existence in the middle of nowhere.

According to newly released data from Canada's 2016 census, though, more people than ever are living alone in the country. That's despite rent in the two most populous Canadian cities—Toronto and Vancouver—reaching unaffordable heights in the midst of housing crises. In Toronto, a one-bedroom now costs over $2,000 per month on average.

So, is living alone really all it's cracked up to be?

Eric Klinenberg, professor of sociology at NYU and author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, said that solo living can have "personal and symbolic value" for people.

"Why do young people spend so much to rent their own apartments, even in expensive cities like Toronto and Vancouver? Because today getting your own place is a key way to become an adult," Klinenberg told VICE. "It used to be marriage and children, but now young professionals delay those things until their late 20s or 30s, sometimes longer."

Stephanie Fraser, a 26-year-old who works at an advertising agency in Toronto, said that even though living alone means being more "money-aware," it's worth it for her. In March, she moved into a basement apartment in Greektown after saving up while living with family.

"I just really like the privacy: One of the problems of living with other people is that you're at a disadvantage with their schedules," Fraser said. She said she also enjoys being able to decorate how she wants to and, as an introvert, enjoys time to herself.

Toronto-based millennial money expert Jessica Moorhouse said that moving to neighbourhoods outside the downtown core of a city while still being close to transit, as Fraser did, is a great option for young people looking to live solo. However, "The people I do know who choose to live alone in a city, it can be difficult depending on what your income is," Moorhouse said. "You'll most likely be living in a basement somewhere or a suite in a house."

While intuitively you might think that people who live alone are less social, especially factoring in the cost of going out, Klinenberg says that people who live alone are usually socially active.

"In the US, at least, people who live alone are actually more likely to spend time with friends and neighbours, more likely to volunteer in civic organizations, and more likely to go out to bars, restaurants, bookshops, and cafes."

Fraser said that she used to opt out of hanging out with people more often when she was living with her brother. Now that she lives alone, she goes out more often.

"If people invite me out, I usually say yes," she said. But, when it comes to spending, she has to be vigilant. If she wants to purchase a pricey bag, she has to consciously save up for it.

Chris, 39, who has lived alone in a Vancouver apartment for ten years, said that while he has a "great circle of friends," "being an introvert and living alone, I always think it can go either way."

"It's sort of your instinct to hermit a little bit, and you don't have the obligation to go out, so you kind of allow yourself to be antisocial." He said, though, it can mean seeking out social situations more often if you find yourself feeling lonely.

"Sometimes for sure [it gets lonely]," Chris said. "At the end of the day when you get home and have had a shitty day, it's sometimes nice to vent and moan to someone."

"If you are prone to loneliness or depression then living alone increases the risk of problems," Klinenberg said. "Then again, so does living with the wrong person, being in a bad relationship, and living with your parents because you can't afford rent."

Chris is at a point in his life where he doesn't see himself living situation with another person unless it were to be with a partner. Fraser echoed this sentiment.

But living in a city where rent has skyrocketed in the past few years, Chris said, makes him feel "stuck" in his current living situation. He's been at the same apartment for a decade and is happy with how affordable his rent is, but worries about what could happen in the future. He said, though, that it's still a financial strain living alone now, without someone to split bills with.

"Even though I'm lucky with my rent situation, that could change in a moment and suddenly the impacts would be pretty significant." Chris works a full-time office job.

"You're going to have to give up certain things to afford that lifestyle," Moorhouse cautioned. "Unfortunately, I think a lot of people will just overextend themselves."

When you become old, living alone can actually even be physically dangerous, according to Klinenburg.

"It's a serious social problem that requires urgent attention, because more and more old people are aging alone," he said. "And yet: when I interviewed old people, they consistently said that living alone was key to their dignity and integrity."

"They didn't want to move in with their children unless they truly had to. And when that happened, it was experienced as a major loss of independence."

Follow Allison Tierney on Twitter.

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