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8 Tips for Living on Your Own in College and Beyond

You’ve worked hard, graduated high school, and gotten into the college of your dreams. You’re excited about all the new experiences you’ll have and new people you’ll meet. But most of all, you’re excited to finally take on the challenge of living on your own.

When you arrive on campus, move into your dorm, and meet your roommate, however, you realize that this might be a bit more challenging than you thought. And when you eventually move out of the dorms and into an apartment, the challenges only mount. What are you supposed to do?

To help you make the transition between living at home and on your own a bit smoother, we’ve created this guide to independent living. These are things we wish we’d known when we first ventured out from the comfort of our parents’ houses and into the wider world.

Whether you’re moving into a dorm for the first time or getting an off-campus house with friends, the tips in this article will help you live on your own with confidence.

Prefer listening to reading? Check out the accompanying podcast episode.

Transition Gradually to Independence

While it’s certainly possible, there’s no need to go immediately from your parents’ house to your own apartment. In many cases, it’s better to ease the transition with some kind of intermediary housing.

Your first year or two of college, this usually means living in a dorm. Even if it’s a little more expensive than renting your own apartment off-campus, living in the dorms during your first year has tremendous value.

To start, you’re right in the middle of the action. If there’s a cool concert or talk on campus, you can probably walk. If your RA is throwing a mixer, you can be there in a few steps. And if your hallmate invites you to a Smash Bros tournament, it’s easy to attend.

Even if this sounds a bit intense, it’s one of the easiest ways to make friends early on. If you go right to living in an apartment off-campus, it can be much harder to build those crucial first-year connections.

Besides the social benefits, living in the dorms also makes the transition to independent living a bit easier.

You have more responsibility, such as doing your own laundry, setting your schedule, and learning to get along with your roommate(s). But you also have a meal plan to keep you alive, a short journey to your classes, and less responsibility overall than living in an apartment.

Create a Budget

Although the dorms are valuable your first year or two, you’ll probably get sick of them after a while. At this point, you and some friends may decide to find an off-campus apartment or house.

This can be a lot of fun, but you do need to plan appropriately. In particular, one of the biggest differences between living on and off-campus is budgeting for expenses.

To start, you have to figure out how to pay your rent, insurance, utilities, and food. But you’ll also have to account for details you might not have considered. These include toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and kitchen tools. And while some student apartments may come furnished, this isn’t always the case. So you may need to budget for furniture as well.

Don’t assume you’ll be able to cover all of these expenses as they come up; create a budget. Since you don’t always know what you’ll need to budget for, it’s also useful to track your expenses for the first month or two of living on your own. This will help you determine if your budget is accurate (and if there are ways you can reduce unnecessary spending).

To learn how to create a budget, check out our guide to budgeting and saving money in college.

Plan How to Split Shared Expenses

Unless you’ve got a baller part-time job or live somewhere exceptionally cheap, living off-campus probably means you’ll need a roommate (or two, or three). And having roommates means not only sharing living space (discussed below) but also sharing expenses.

In order to avoid unnecessary confusion and friction, it’s best to plan how you’ll split shared expenses. This has two components.

First, you need to decide the actual amounts. For most college apartment or house situations, this will mean splitting expenses evenly. But there can be exceptions. For instance, if one roommate has a bigger room, a private bathroom, or another special amenity, then it might make sense for them to pay more.

Second, you need to figure out the logistics of how you’ll split rent, utilities, and other expenses. Venmo can work in many cases, but you can also use apps such as Splitwise for more complicated divisions (particularly if you have more than one roommate).

Also note that for rent and utilities, it’s best if all roommates’ names are on the lease and utility bills. This way, each person is responsible for paying their portion (instead of one person collecting money every month).

Here are some common shared expenses to plan for:

  • Rent
  • Utilities (water, electric, trash, gas, internet, etc.)
  • Paper towels
  • Toilet paper
  • Dish detergent
  • Laundry detergent and dryer sheets

Decide How to Divide the Chores

In addition to splitting expenses, living with others also means sharing chores. This is one of the most common sources of stupid arguments, so be sure to sit down and plan how you’ll divide crucial household tasks.

In general, it’s good to have a policy of “if you make a mess, clean it up.” However, there are many chores that this policy doesn’t cover. These include:

  • Vacuuming
  • Taking out the trash and recycling
  • Running the dishwasher
  • Cleaning the bathroom
  • Shoveling snow (if you live somewhere that gets it)

For these shared chores, it’s best to create a formal plan.

This could mean all household members take turns doing each chore on a schedule. Post the schedule on the fridge or another prominent place where everyone can see it. Or, if you’re all productivity nerds like us, use a shared calendar or project management app.

While taking turns doing each task is a good approach, it’s also possible to divide tasks based on preference. If one of you loves vacuuming but can’t stand shoveling snow, for instance, then you can each agree to handle them separately.

Overall, how you divide the chores matters less than coming to a clear agreement. If you leave things vague or undefined, problems are likely down the road.

Learn Basic Household Maintenance

When you live on your own and something breaks, it’s your responsibility to get it fixed. While there are obviously some things that you shouldn’t try to repair (broken pipes, electrical problems, gas leaks), you’re quite capable of fixing simple things around the house.

But I don’t know how to fix things!

No problem. The internet has instructions for fixing just about anything you can imagine.

For instance, I recently had to replace the water filter for my house’s dishwasher. While I could’ve called our landlord about it, it seemed simple enough to do myself. An hour of googling and YouTube videos later, and we had a new water filter installed.

Learning to fix things in your house not only benefits you in the moment, but it also prepares you for the repairs that will come with homeownership down the line.

Here are some simple fixes I think everyone should know how to do:

  • How to change a lightbulb (if this sounds obvious, great, but you’d be surprised…)
  • How to unclog a drain and toilet
  • How to hang pictures (technically this is more “decorating” than maintenance, but it still involves tools)
  • How to reset a tripped circuit breaker
  • How to mow the lawn and trim weeds
  • How to shovel snow

Finally, be sure to ask for help when you need it. While it’s great to cultivate self-reliance, there are also some things that you shouldn’t try to fix on your own for safety or liability reasons.

If you’re in doubt, contact your landlord. Your lease should also contain a section about how to deal with maintenance issues, so be sure you don’t violate any of those provisions.

Organize Flexibly

Figuring out how to organize and lay out your living space can be a challenge, particularly when making the change from dorm room to house or apartment. Instead of thinking that you have to organize everything perfectly at the start, stay flexible.

For instance, you might think you know the best place to keep your dishes or kitchen tools. But in the process of cooking in the kitchen for a few weeks, you realize that a different layout would work better. If so, feel free to change it! Don’t feel like you’re stuck with one layout.

Of course, be sure to discuss any changes to common areas with your roommates beforehand.

Need advice on what to buy for your new living space? Check out our college packing guide.

Give Everyone Their Own Space

Speaking of space, living together is much better when everyone has their own space. Even if you’re sharing a room with someone (whether a roommate or significant other), you should still give each person their own part of the room.

If you don’t do this, then people will have nowhere to go when they want to be alone. Plus, differences in style and decorative taste can be a problem if each person lacks a space to set up as they please.

Practice Open Communication

If I could only give one piece of advice about how to live with others, it would be to practice open communication. Most arguments and conflicts arise because of a failure to communicate, so don’t let it get to that point.

How do you communicate effectively? That’s a massive topic worthy of its own article, but here are the main points:

Create a habit of communicating

If you and your roommate(s) agree that you’ll tell each other when something’s bothering one of you, everyone will be more likely to do it. Without having that conversation, issues could stew under the surface.

Learn to listen

Sharing your problems with each other only works if the other parties are willing to listen.

This doesn’t mean passively letting the words enter your ears.

True listening means processing what the other person says and asking questions to clarify if you don’t understand.

And, more than anything, good listening means not jumping to conclusions or judging the other person before they’ve had a chance to explain.

Focus on the problem, not the person

If you want to resolve a problem, assigning blame isn’t the solution. This will only make the other person defensive and lead nowhere. Instead, be objective and clear about what’s bothering you.

For instance, let’s say your roommate always leaves the bathroom a mess after they get ready in the morning. How do you approach them about it in a constructive way?

A healthy way to begin this conversation might go as follows:

“Hey dude, could we talk about something for a minute? I know you’re in a hurry in the morning, but I’ve noticed that you leave toothpaste in the sink and your wet towel on the floor. Would you be able to clean that up before you leave the bathroom?”

This style of communication works because it’s objective, specific, and empathetic.

You begin by politely asking for some of the person’s time and making it clear that you want to discuss something. This ensures their full attention.

Then, you acknowledge that they might be leaving the bathroom a mess because they’re in a hurry (or just haven’t thought about it). This is far more constructive than immediately saying, “You need to keep the bathroom cleaner.”

Finally, you politely ask them for the change you desire. Now, you should take the time to listen to their response and give them the same attention they (hopefully) gave you. From there, both of you can work towards a mutually beneficial solution.

Stay humble

When you approach someone about a conflict or problem, it’s easy to assume that you’re right and know what’s best. However, this is a mistake.

More than likely, the other person has a perspective you haven’t considered. Returning to our example of the messy bathroom, maybe your roommate leaves it that way because you’re impatient to get in the shower and aren’t giving them enough time. In this case, there’s something both of you can do to improve.

Whatever the case may be, you owe it to your roommates to listen to their side and reserve judgment. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to get along.

For more advice on getting along with your roommates, read this.

Embrace Independent Living With Confidence

Living on your own brings lots of new challenges, but it’s also freeing and fun! Don’t forget to enjoy your newfound independence.

And remember, it’s still okay to ask your parents, siblings, or landlord for help when you need it.

Going to a college outside your home town? Here’s how to move to a new city.

Image Credits: washing fork