Congratulations! Whether it’s your first university dormitory or own apartment, the freedom of living independently for the first time is exhilarating. There are tons of posts out there that list the furniture and stuff you need but, objectively, those are nice-to-haves rather than must-haves. I’ve been living alone since I was 16, over 10 years and a dozen non-permanent addresses ago. Let me tell you, you’d be surprised how long someone can live in an empty apartment with makeshift chairs and plates (spoiler: years).
Clothes, hygiene products and electronics aside, these are the must-haves I truly needed from the very start:
1. Emergency fund
This is a NON-NEGOTIABLE. I didn’t have an emergency fund until a few months ago, so I can tell you that living in fear that I won’t have enough money for extras and emergencies was such a HUGE weight on my mind. They say your emergency fund is supposed to be at least three times your monthly living expenses. I don’t have that much yet but the moment I reached what I felt was a safe amount, I felt safe too. I credit saving for being the chill pill my mind needed to fight my anxiety.
Emergencies come in all sizes and when you least expect them. In 2016, I went to see doctors no less than 30 times for various concerns (flu, shingles, acid reflux, PCOS, UTI, etc). Over the summer, I accidentally spilled a few drops of clear soup on my Mac trackpad. Apple Care told me I needed a new one (north of P50,000/$1000). What the?! But I was able to get it fixed at Greenhills for P8,000, which is more than what I spend on food in a month.
2. Contact details of: emergency hotlines (fire, police, ambulance), nearest hospitals, landlord/property manager, plumber, electrician, repairman, friends living/working nearest you
Anything could happen and you should know who to call. (Ghostbusters!) Your faucet could burst before going to work, a fire could start nearby in the middle of the night or you could get locked in your apartment because the doorknob just wouldn’t budge. Yes, all these have happened to me.
There were also times I needed to be rushed to a hospital but no one was around and Uber wasn’t a thing yet. Those moments were some of the loneliest I’d ever felt.
3. Spare keys
Leave your spare keys somewhere safe like in a drawer at work or with someone you trust and can get to easily. Finding yourself locked out of your place after an exhausting day or drunken night out is not fun.
4. Waterproof envelope with all your important documents
You’ll need all your important documents in one place in case you need to grab them and go. I have an expanding plastic envelope with dividers labelled identity (birth certificate, passport, etc.), home (rental contracts, old bills), work (contracts), school (diplomas, transcripts) and medical, which contains a smaller plastic envelope insert with all my medical documents so I can pull that out easily to bring to the doctor.
We all know how difficult it can be to request for new documents in the Philippines since we’re not as automated as our neighbors, so make sure you have your documents in one place and scan them too as soon as you can.
5. Notebook/s with your health and bill payment records
Record your health issues, appointments, lab tests and medications in a small notebook you can bring to your check-up. This is especially important if you’re trying out new clinics or changing doctors because they will always ask for your medical history. Having detailed information about your health will not only help physicians advise you better but also help you take care of yourself better. (I did this a couple of months ago and realized I took at least 15 lab tests and six cycles of antibiotics in a year. Like why, girl??)
I feel it’s important to have a record of your bill payments, big purchases and home repairs as early into your independent life as possible. Having an overview of your financial situation and habits will help you make better money decisions and forecasts. If you’re renting, it’s also such a practical way to keep track of your payments and the repairs you’ve done/requested in case you ever have to bring it up with your landlord.
6. Go bag with first-aid kit
Since this is something you should have during an earthquake or zombie apocalypse, you definitely need it in your house. Be realistic and prepare for the worst. This is a life or death thing, folks, and living alone means you have to be extra prepared.
I got my go bag from Project Resilience PH. The bag itself is well-made, convenient to carry and has built-in waterproof pockets (makes it great as a travel bag too). The go bags I’ve seen online either aren’t well-made (which you wouldn’t want to bet your life on) or too expensive. I got my bag from Project Resilience because they offered that perfect in-between.
If you’d rather make your own go bag, please do so as soon as you can and encourage your loved ones to do the same. Here’s what my bag contains: envelope with documents (mentioned above), first aid kit, hard hat, dust mask, water, water purification tablets, flashlights, candle, windproof matches, tool knife, insect repellant, emergency shelter, thermal blanket, rain poncho, whistles, paracord, duct tape, soap and the Resilience Guidebook, which contains emergency numbers and life hacks for emergency situations.
7. Electric kettle, water bottle, microwaveable lunch box and utensils
There were times when I’d only be able to afford a powdered milk drink and pack of biscuits or instant noodles a day for weeks on end. I remember having only P200/$4 for two weeks once. I honestly don’t know how I did it.
Anyway, all those years living alone, I noticed that regardless of my purchasing power and country of residence, my kitchen constants are an electric kettle, water bottle, food container and utensils. (You’ll realize how useful and precious having boiled water can be when it’s all you have.) When you live on your own for the first time, you’ll discover how much work is put into running a household and how much of it you took for granted. I am reminded of this every time I run out of potable water and have to use my trusty kettle to boil tap water.
If you still have the budget to spend on another appliance or two, I recommend taking note first of what you always end up wishing you had in your home. You might buy a stove and discover that you don’t have the time to cook or the patience to do the dishes afterwards. It really depends on your lifestyle. In my case, I bought a toaster and then a fridge.
Don’t wait until you’re summoning all the gods over a stubbornly clogged toilet, beads of sweat and horror forming as you count down the minutes to your guest’s arrival. My clogged toilet bothered me incessantly for days and would make me panic even when I was at work. Just thinking about it now makes me nervous. Do it! Buy a plunger!
9. Wash basin and tabo
Is it even a Filipino’s home without a tabo (water dipper)? These two are your cleaning kings, whether it’s your butt, handwash laundry or apartment floors and surfaces.
10. Something that gives you comfort
In 2016, a study found that our brain stays half-awake when we sleep in a new environment (called the first-night effect). When living alone for the first time, bring something familiar and comforting with you like a blanket, stuffed toys or candles in a favorite scent so you can adjust better and to keep the homesickness at bay.
Bonus: Water, white vinegar and baking soda can clean everything! You don’t need to buy a special cleaner for every surface. Except for laundry and dishes, I use white vinegar and baking soda to clean my entire apartment. They’re tough on dirt but gentler on your skin and the environment than your ready-made cleaning chemicals.
Did I miss any true must-haves? Share yours below!
Credit: Thumbnail photo by Anthony Tran, from stocksnap.io