I didn’t really know what silence or privacy was until I moved to Toronto to start university. I spent the majority of my life with my family of nine, or at my best friend’s house with her family of 10-plus several “adopted” teens like myself. I took both the love and warmth of community and the lack of privacy for granted. “Alone time” and “secrets” were foreign concepts to me. If I locked myself in my room (which I shared with my sister for a good chunk of my childhood), someone would inevitably need something from me or want to play, and they would just pry open the door with a screwdriver or bang incessantly until I relented and opened it myself. If I told my best friend a secret, I may as well have told it to her mom and all her siblings, too. The next day everyone would be interrogating me about how my date went or what happened with my parents the night before.
When I moved into my own apartment, I spent the majority of the first few weeks marveling over the quiet. It was unbelievably quiet! If I put my shoes down in one place they would be there the next day. All of my things were so beautifully untouched. My roommate even asked me before using my blender—I felt so respected—and she visited her family on weekends, so I often had the place to myself. I could pee with the bathroom door open. I could walk around naked and eat ice cream that hadn’t already been devoured by little kids. My friends and family would call and ask if I missed them, and I’d say, “Of course I miss you guys, but being alone is great.” I relished the newfound solitude, so much that it was difficult for me to acknowledge that after a few months, I was finding all this space and silence unnerving—and kind of sad.
There were other things I couldn’t understand about my newfound solitude: For example, why was it that I was finding myself getting less done in my quiet apartment than I got done while I lived in all these noisy houses full of people? Why did I feel less motivated to do things in my new life than I did in my old life, when so many more inane demands were constantly being made of me? I adjusted to the quiet and, slowly, learned to bring the community and the noise back into my life—on my own terms this time. Here are some things that might help you, too, if you’re getting used to a new, more solitary living situation:
Get out of the house.
When I lived amidst chaos, I longed for the day I wouldn’t have to leave my house to write a short paper for class. However, having to wake up and get dressed made me so much more productive. Although I could work in my apartment every day now, I’ve learned from my past habits and try to get dressed and work outside my bedroom if I need something done without procrastination. This isn’t to say I leave my house every time I need to write or read for class, but I try to go out when I find it difficult to concentrate among my home comforts.
If there’s newfound quiet in your home and you’re struggling to use that space (and time!) productively, try to find other places where you feel motivated to work. Because I grew up constantly surrounded by noise, I can have a difficult time writing or doing homework in complete silence and solitude, so I go to a coffee shop or work at the library around other people. Try finding similarly quiet-yet-not-alone places that work for you, and remember that you don’t always have to work in a coffee shop or a library to be around people! It’s lovely to work outside if it’s warm, either in the park or on a good stoop.
Leaving the house isn’t just important for writing or homework, either. If you like to dance, do yoga, or exercise, you might find it easier to engage in these activities more fully and consistently if you do them outside your room, like at a studio or a park. That being said, sometimes it is too cold or expensive to leave your cozy, quiet apartment. You can make working from home feel more productive by getting dressed (this one is crucial), sitting upright at a table or desk if possible (rather than doing it from your bed), and taking a break every hour or so to walk around the block or do some stretching. If you need background noise to help you concentrate, try playing music without words, or even this strange soundtrack of coffee shop noises.
Find your community.
Understanding that my home wasn’t the ideal place to get work done made me see that it didn’t need to be a sanctuary of silence, either. Admitting that I missed the community and warmth of my old homes and families—both real and adopted—didn’t mean I was admitting defeat, or a dislike for my new life. It just meant I was admitting to the very human need for community. It wasn’t until I moved into my apartment that I began to discover the phenomenon of Wasting Time on the Internet for Hours. I don’t think the internet is evil or bad, and I do enjoy a good ol’ internet waste every now and then. But when I came home looking to unwind and began to click through the black hole of the web, I went to bed feeling bleary eyed and sad. In the past, I would come home and sit with my sisters, cook dinner with family, meet with my best friend and drive to my city’s lake (and get Slurpees on the way, always). Missing that didn’t mean I wasn’t capable of being alone, it just meant I needed both things: the real, wonderful interactions with loved ones and the time to unwind by myself.
When you’re used to constant stimulation and community from your home, it can be difficult to adjust and reintroduce something you’ve always taken for granted. But finding your community again isn’t as difficult as it might seem. You can ease community back into the different areas of your life by trying different spaces out while carefully checking in with yourself to see what feels right. You won’t find people like your family right away, but you may find places that remind you of home. These spaces will typically align with your interests and comforts, be it language, poetry, gaming, art, dance, hacking, film, etc. You may be surprised at the many places you can find this coziness, too! When I realized I missed the two things I had always taken for granted—having kids around and speaking Yiddish—I began to volunteer so I could be exposed to kids and my familial language again. If you have a hard time leaving the house or don’t like going out much, it helps to invite people over for dinner or tea. Cooking with others can be a wonderful way to make your house feel homey.
Frequenting spaces that align with your interests doesn’t guarantee instant community. It may take some time—and some painful small talk—for you to start feeling at home in a space or scene. Be patient with yourself when you’ve just moved to a new city or eased your way into a new community. Just because you don’t feel like “one of them” right away doesn’t mean you won’t feel that way soon.