How To Be Alone is a HuffPost Canada series about how to make the most of life when you live by yourself.
Your home should be a place where you feel comfortable and happy, where the chaos of the world can’t get to you.
This is always true, but it’s even more significant now, nearly a year (sob) into the pandemic. For many of us, home is where we work, “socialize,” exercise, eat, sleep, cut our hair, watch movies and do everything else — often in a pretty small space. It’s easy to feel confined, or bored, or just so sick of the same four walls that you could scream.
It’s especially important to make your space cosy and comfortable if you live alone. Loneliness is a real problem at a time when it’s not safe to see friends or family in person, and it’s even worse in the winter, when it’s hard to socialize outdoors. It’s important that you make your space as welcoming as possible, so that you don’t hate being at home.
The good news about living alone is that you never have to compromise in terms of taste, needs, or even whims.
“There’s no one else to consider,” said Lynda Felton, a decorator and stylist in Toronto who lives alone with her chihuahua. “You don’t have to worry about, ‘Is it kid friendly?’ Or, ‘This leans towards my tastes, but not my partner’s tastes.’ For the most part, I think we’re sitting in a very unique spot, in that it’s beneficial.”
Felton gave HuffPost Canada her tips for making your home beautiful, comfortable and cosy, even during a pandemic and even if you’re on a budget.
Maybe you have no idea how to design your space. That’s OK! As Felton pointed out, there are a ton of online resources devoted to this exact same thing.
Social media can be great for finding things you love. “You can jump on Pinterest and just type in the simplest thing and get pages and pages of other people’s inspiration,” Felton said. “It’s just a matter of minutes before you find your people, and what they like that you could borrow from. I always find those are good places to start.”
Inspiration can come from almost anything visual. “Sometimes it’s colours, sometimes it’s texture, sometimes it’s a piece of nature, sometimes it’s a picture of a country that isn’t the country where you live. It just gets you thinking good thoughts, it gets you feeling happy.”
And many of us have the time to devote to design-forward thinking these days: “We’ve got nothing but time on our hands right now.”
Here are some tools to help you find inspiration:
Pinterest exists pretty much for this exact reason. Find some boards you like, and just keep going until you have a full mood board.
Apartment Therapy offers decorating tips, design trends, product suggestions and real home tours focused on people who have made the most of their small spaces.
Instagram, as always, can provide a ton of design inspiration. Check out the DIY or home decor hashtags for general ideas, or check out more specific tags like “bathroom” or “throw pillows.”
Think about how your needs have changed
Most of us spend way more time at home these days than we ever expected to — and the way we use our homes has changed. For a lot of people, home is now a workspace. And even for people who work out of the house, what used to be socializing time is now time spent at home.
Given how your use of space has changed, “you probably already know, right off the top, a couple of things that maybe aren’t working for you,” Felton said.
Maybe you’re sick of working at your dining room table, and need space for a desk. Maybe you’re spending a lot more time watching movies, and you’re sick of your living room furniture. Maybe you need more room for motion now that you’re doing home workouts.
Use those insights to re-arrange. You don’t have to do anything too permanent, but given that we’ll be living with the pandemic for at least several more months, consider moving around some furniture. If you have access to storage space, consider putting your big dining room table in there, given that you aren’t entertaining, and use that space for your working out instead.
Start saving for that new couch or office chair that will really improve your day-to-day. Take stock of the space you have and the way it can best suit your needs.
Get rid of the stuff you don’t use
A lot of us accumulate things over time, and space that was once clean and organized can very easily become cluttered and unmanageable.
It’s normal to have a bunch of stuff you never unpacked from your last move, or clothes you never wear, or books you were sure you wanted to read but haven’t taken off the shelf in four years. And as much as it might feel like a chore to go through your stuff, you’ll feel better once you do.
“Now’s the time to do that,” Felton said. “Sometimes just freeing up space gets you inspired to do something else, and getting rid of a bunch of stuff you don’t need creates more space.”
The most important thing to remember here is that it doesn’t have to all get done at once. Felton recommends starting with just one drawer. Eventually, you’ll get through it all.
“It’s amazing what that will do to your overall mood,” Felton said.
Start with small tweaks before committing to big changes
Before you commit to making any huge changes, Felton suggests trying them out by making small tweaks and seeing if you can live with them.
There’s one tool she recommends for process: painter’s tape.
If you want to put up a gallery wall, for instance, measure the sizes of the frames you plan to use and put up tape in those dimensions on your wall “before committing to hammer and nail,” she suggested. “Just walk away from it and live with those squares on the wall for a bit before you commit.”
She suggests the same process for people who want to rearrange a room, buy new furniture, or make another major change. Tape can help you see what will work before you a financial commitment or drill a hole in your wall.
“I wouldn’t suggest to anybody, as tempting as it is, to go online and order a whole room’s worth of things,” Felton said. “If you want to buy some new things, get them in your basket, get the measurements, measure them out, make sure that that’s really what you want.”
Don’t be afraid of colour (but start small)
Similarly, if you’re thinking of choosing a bold paint colour, great! “Now’s the time to do it,” Felton said.
But again, starting small can ensure that you like the result. Before painting the whole room, for instance, try painting just the back of a door. That will give you a much more accurate sense of how comfortable you are with it than just looking at a paint swatch.
If you like colour but don’t want to paint a whole room, consider painting just the window frame, Felton said. “It’s a great pop of colour.”
Another great way to introduce colour to a room is peel-and-stick wallpaper. It’s a good option for renters, because you’re not actually gluing paper to the walls. She recommends Giffy Walls, an Etsy shop that makes custom sizes. Home Depot and Wayfair offer options, too.
If your home is small, think vertically
“Vertical space is important,” Felton said. Upper walls are often underused. If you’re in a small apartment or condo, you’re going to want to use all the space you can.
Look at storage solutions that take up space vertically. If you’re looking for a new desk to accommodate your home office — something a lot of people are doing these days — consider a tall, narrow one, rather than the short, wide desk that’s more traditional.
“We don’t have big computers anymore,” Felton said. “Depending on what you do, you might not need to devote space to that.”
A search for “vertical storage” or “ladder desk” can help you out.
If you’re going to splurge on one thing, make it a couch
A lot of people are working with small budgets. If you have the time and energy, you can find a lot of great furniture that isn’t too expensive by thrifting at flea markets or Facebook Marketplace, or shopping at reasonably-priced stores like Ikea, Wayfair, or Structube, or waiting for sales at pricier outlets like West Elm, CB2 or Article.
But if you do have the budget to spend money on one luxury item, Felton suggests making it a couch.
“Nobody wants to sit in an uncomfortable sofa or chair, and a cheap chair will get really uncomfortable quickly,” she said.
The pandemic, of course, means it’s impossible to try out sofas in-store. That makes shopping for a super-comfy one a little harder. But Felton has a suggestion: if you’re shopping online, look at the seat height and depth.
Height “is especially important if you’ve got a tall person in your life,” and said. “And the depth — you don’t want to get something that’s too shallow when you sit in it, and when you have room for something deeper, that’s what you wanted. Those are the big things to consider.”
It could also be a good idea to look at a store’s return policy before you buy online. If you’re unsure about a purchase, being able to return it for free is your best option.
Invest in plants
There’s nothing like a little green to brighten up a space. Whether it’s houseplants, flowers, or your own tiny garden, plants look great and have the added benefits of improving your mood and decreasing stress. A new plant is always a good idea.
Watch: Six design trends that will define 2021.