The quiet joys and foibles of solo living.
Here’s my personal list that I put together during the first two weeks of Covid-19 lockdown. Some of this no longer applies in the same way– there’s no longer the need to ration toilet paper. But at the same time, I am now ‘between jobs’, as many others are. The need to live super frugally is a new reality to contend with.
Living alone makes frugal living difficult in some ways. Every single bill is covered by myself. Solo living may have a slight effect on water and power use, but there’s no one with whom to share the service charges, the big quarterly bills such as rates and owners’ corporation fees, and any repairs.
On the plus side, living alone means you can make your own choices on food and goods – to spend or not to spend – without negotiation.
1. Don’t chuck your tissues. When I only had four toilet rolls left, I made very little dent on these. Turns out my pockets and hand-bags were full of half-used tissues. You’d hear a loud “Eureka!” when a scrunched up tissue was unearthed. It was then cast onto a small pile in my loo roll basket, ready for its final use.
Also, excuse the TMI; my first ‘pee’ of the morning is sometimes while showering. Doing what bidets do: the water wash. Just sayin’.
2. Use cloth hankies. To conserve my one box of tissues as potential loo paper, I returned to using cloth handkerchiefs. I have heaps of large men’s hankies and a few smaller lace-edged ladies’ hankies. It’s been a nostalgic pleasure. As a child, I used to always have a hanky in my pocket or school bag.
People have used cloth handkerchiefs for centuries before the invention of disposable tissues. Sure, they have fallen out of favour, seen as harbouring germs that get pushed back into one’s pocket. But who doesn’t stick their used tissue back into their pocket? Dispose of tissue when you get near a bin, chuck hanky in the wash when you get near the wash basket. There’s always a hygienic solution. I probably wouldn’t blow my nose on a cloth hanky in public. But I’m not in public. I’m saving money at the home, delighting in cloth and tradition, and not adding tissues to landfill. (They will get added to the loo roll basket, if anything!)
3. Snack foods. I’m lucky that I am quite disciplined in this area. I’ve never been a comfort eater, and I’m not about to start now. In fact, I tend to lose my appetite when there’s a combo of anxiety and downtime in my life.
I used to eat more when attending a workplace daily. The relentless pace and mental tasks ripped through my energy reserves, and I’d seriously need a decent breakfast, mid-morning snack, substantial lunch and something else – usually nuts or Indian bhuja – to munch on as I walked the 25 minutes to the train station.
Now, I usually don’t feel the need for breakfast until mid-morning, which rules out the need for a snack. I’ll have my main hot meal at around 2pm, so I don’t feel like an afternoon snack. While waiting for my first government assistance to come through, I have to dip into my savings to buy food, therefore exercising a fair bit of frugality at the supermarket cash register. Junk foods don’t make the cut.
Sounds like not much fun? Ah well. I’m not exactly starving either. Come the evening, I like to reward myself with a small glass from my $5 cleanskin shiraz, and on Saturday evening, I’ll get takeaways – my one fast food concession.
4. Transport and going out. Goes without saying that there’s no more of the leisure activities I’d normally spend a buck on. I also no longer have to travel to the city for work, which is saving me around $160 per month in train fares. But for a week or so there before lockdown, I still had places to go and things to do. Spanish class. The beach. Health and tax return appointments. I exhausted the funds on my pre-paid travel card while I could, then started cycling everywhere.
Going out now means walking around the hood and along the river – really getting to know my ‘hood thoroughly. I feel blessed that it’s such an interesting area with a lot of variety.
5. Particularly hot water. OK. I’m home alone. When I worked in an office, it felt essential to shower daily. I no longer feel that pressing need. Before you go “ewww”, I do shower every second or maybe third day, or immediately after rousing cardio exercise. Even my doctor told me, when I was having a skin reaction to soap, that it wasn’t necessary to shower every single day. Now, hey, who’s gonna know!
But when I do shower, I am trying to stick to four minutes if it’s not a hair wash shower. That means taking my portable radio into the bathroom, and showering for one song only. The average pop song on say, an 80s station, is around 3 – 4 minutes long. Should be able to easily complete ablutions in that time!
I used to joke that dishes were washed on Wednesdays and Sundays. Now that I’m making every meal at home, boy those dishes pile up quick! Still, I am washing dishes every second day. That’s only four or so sinks of hot water per week.
6. Steaming clothes between washes. I don’t own a washing machine. My place is simply too small, unless I sacrifice shelf space in my already small kitchen. So I have to use either the coin-operated communal washer on site, or the coin laundry down the road. Right now, I have only 3 loads-worth of coins left, and as autumn and winter kicks in, will need to conserve some for the dryer too. As I now occupy my small sitting room daily, it’s gonna be somewhat cramped to have laundry drying on the rack for two days. Sure, I can make some effort to get more coins. But right now, I’m seeing if I can stretch a fortnight or even three weeks between washes. Having quite a lot of underpants and towels helps.
Another useful tool is my new steamer. Gone are the days of T-shirts being flung in the laundry basket after just two wears – where they might be stain and scuff free, but have “used armpits”. The steamer freshens up the pits of shirts and the crotch of leggings by killing bacteria. I’ve also steamed my gloves and makeshift mask. It’s the perfect Covid-busting tool while saving on doing load after load of laundry.
I use my kitchen and bathroom hand towels a lot. They’ll get a serious steaming mid-week, then will be biffed into the laundry basket after a week. My tea towels are now moonlighting as handtowels for the second week. Really, this makes sense. I so seldom actually use a tea towel for its prime purpose. My dishes drip-dry.
7. Surgical gloves. I missed out on these, since I refused to take part in the stockpiling queues. But now I need them. So, I have plundered my first aid kit and an unused pack of hair colour, and found me a couple of latex and plastic pairs. They are then being washed for re-use. I have also held my hand inside a paper bag when I needed to touch the railing of a tram, or a supermarket basket. I’m also using some lovely old leather gloves that belonged to my grandmother. They then get steamed.
Mask? Made my own, using a hair bandana. It already has an elasticised bit to hold it onto my face. I also doubled over a cotton ski mask. We’re told we don’t need to wear a mask if we are well, but it is a cautionary measure, and I feel like I’m toeing the line if I take one with me.
8. Make-up. I used to add a small bit of mineral powder and blusher to my face every day, plus some lipstick. My powder had just about run out and now I’m hardly about to order some more. My face loves being makeup free, and I’m no longer using up my favourite ‘discontinued’ lippies so fast either, though I have applied them for the odd Zoom session.
9. Hair cuts. Everyone’s in this boat. I’m not panicking about my hair. My fine easily-frizzed hair was always a nightmare to keep looking smooth and put-together. It doesn’t hold any style well. I was also tired of constantly touching up my roots. I decided some time last year, when grey hair was going through its trendy phase, that there was no time like the present to let my new greys shine proudly through. I noticed many other women clearly thinking along the same lines.
Still, there was a degree of self-consciousness. This period now allows us that respite from critical eyes. Our regrowth to really take root, so to speak. I also have plenty of ponytail going on, which is good for all the exercise I’m doing. I’m saving on hair all round, with no use of product, washing once a week, and power saving by not firing up the straightener or hair dryer.
10. Use up the travel miniatures. In my plentiful travels, I’ve always scooped up those mini shampoos, conditioners, soaps, shower gels and body lotions that come complimentary in hotel bathrooms. Can’t help myself! My notion is that they will come in useful one day.
Well, that day has arrived. Before I need to buy any more soaps and shower gel, I will be finally using up my collection, and decluttering at the same time.
11. Learn to fix stuff on You Tube. The rotating head on my Dyson stick vacc is malfunctioning. I had mentioned to a friend that I’d take it to get fixed. She send me a You Tube clip showing me how to work out the problem and fix it myself. It opened up my world. Now I’m going to try fixing my sewing machine and servicing my bike, with the help of the YT. Short of re-wiring my kitchen and fitting new glass in my windows, the world could be my oyster.
12. Keeping warm by keeping clothed. Winter is coming. Melbourne doesn’t get frostily freezing the way many other locations do. People here complain about the cold, but really, time living in Edinburgh, Canberra and Christchurch showed me what cold was all about. In my small low-ceilinged flat, I can tolerate a cool evening without putting on the heater, simply by donning woolly PJs, a big fluffy bathrobe and shoving my feet into my sheepskin-lined Ug boots. Certainly I’ll be aiming not to have the heater on all day. And I’ve got to admit, nothing keeps one centrally heated quite like menopause, eh ladies? #silver lining