Safety Tips for Living Alone

Last Updated on 21/09/2021 by Jenna

I’ve lived alone for most of life and I sometimes get asked if it’s scary as a woman. As a condo-dwelling city rat who loves the benefits of living alone, I don’t find it scary, no! But after nearly three decades of single living, I do have a bunch of safety tips for living alone which I think are worth sharing.

If I were to live all alone in a cottage in the countryside where someone could peer into the windows at night, I would find that a bit terrifying. To each their own. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns in the city though, either. In two of my previous flats, I was burgled and that is a traumatising experience indeed. Both times I was at home, and both times it happened during the day. It’s true: most burglaries occur between 10 and 3 during the day, not at night.

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How can you stay safe if you’re living alone? Being alert, building a network of people you trust, using common sense, listening to your gut instinct, and being wary about what you post online are all beneficial to your security. Read on for 13 more of the smartest safety tips for living alone!

Know Your Neighbours & Neighbourhood

You don’t have to invite them to dinner or even particularly like them, but make it a point to know who your neighbours are! Introduce yourself if you’ve just moved into the building or neighbourhood. Watchful neighbours can be your best allies. So say hi, ask them what they do. Find out when they’re home and who they live with. Swap phone numbers and email addresses with them. Know what cars, scooters and bikes they drive. This all makes it easier for you to identify anybody or anything out of the ordinary in your building or neighbourhood.

Lock Doors & Shut Windows

Most intruders enter your home through the front door, or via a window or back door on the ground floor. Always lock your door. Lock your door even when you’re at home. Lock your door when you take the rubbish out to the bins. Even if you’re just going to fetch the mail, lock your door. Make it a habit! It only takes two seconds for someone to slip in when your door is unlocked. Don’t provide them that window of opportunity.

Speaking of windows, if you live on ground floor, lock the windows in rooms you’re not in. This might sound over-exaggerated, but keep in mind that burglars are not at all deterred by the fact that you’re at home. If they want to come in, they will come in whether you’re there or not. And it goes without saying that no matter what level you live on, you should close and lock all your windows and doors if you are heading out. Even if it’s only around the corner for 10 minutes!

Don’t Advertise That You Live Alone

This is one of the top safety tips for living alone. If you’re a woman in particular, you really should not be broadcasting the fact that you live alone. Doing so can expose you to unnecessary risk.

Don’t put your full name on the doorbell or letterbox, only your initials or surname. No one needs to know that there is a single woman living alone at your address.

Draw your curtains when it gets dark out so that no one can look in and see it’s just you. Turn your lights on in the evenings. You can even keep a big pair of men’s wellies or trainers casually plopped outside your front door so it looks like a man lives with you. I have huge feet, so this is an easy one for me 😅

In this day and age, online dating is common and we sometimes bring home the occasional date. (No judgement here, we’re all human!) Be careful though what you disclose to your Tinder dates. Always trust your gut instinct. Don’t tell your hookups about upcoming business trips, your lack of an alarm system, or how your neighbour’s flat was recently burgled thanks to your building’s broken back door. These are the kinds of things that have the potential to make you a victim. And that goes for whether you’re a female or a male.

Pro tip: Always meet your date in a public place first. Never invite them directly to your place and do not disclose your personal details or address prior to the date. It's also never a bad idea to let a good friend know that you're meeting an online date, and where. For more online dating safety tips, check out this article from RAINN.

Don’t Let Strangers In

Someone ringing your building’s buzzer but you can’t hear what they’re saying or who they are? Don’t let them in. You’re not obliged to answer the doorbell. The same goes for door-to-door salesmen, solicitors, or religious groups. If they’ve already been let into your building, simply tell them you’ve no interest. The mantra we were told as children essentially still holds true: don’t open the door if you don’t know who it is.

If you are suddenly confronted with a stranger at your door, keep in mind that people are not always who they say they are. A salesman might just be posing as one when he is in fact trying to ascertain who is home, and who lives alone. Feel free to fib if they try to engage you in a conversation, and then close the door. “So sorry, but my husband will be home for lunch shortly and I’m in the middle of cooking. G’day!”

Have your guard up, too, when builders are working at your place. Sometimes these strangers are trying to scope out what you have and how accessible your home is. You don’t need to be paranoid around the clock, but be wary of what you have on display, and what details you disclose. Do a background check on any new, long-term appointments like housekeepers or cleaners, and keep your mouth zipped until you really know someone well. Strangers do not need to know that you collect valuable figurines, or that you like to spend your winters in Cyprus.

If you are a younger woman, it’s a good idea to invite a friend or two over when you are expecting builders. This way you will not be alone with them while you have work going on at your place. They will think you have roommates, and you’ll be less of a potential target for them both now and in the future.

Notice Everything

Be vigilant. When you’re living alone as a woman, the sad truth is that you need to be. Notice everything around you. Is someone standing around in front of your house when you come home late at night? Speak a very loud “Good evening! Are you still waiting for Tom?” so that your voice is heard. Was there a stranger in the stairwell again at 11 am on a weekday? Ask them who they’re looking for and who let them in. Did the cellar door get left unlocked again? Tell your superintendent.

Notice what’s going on around you at home, in your neighbourhood, in your building, on your premises. Be alert. And don’t order food late at night when you’re alone, either.

Don’t Be Shy About Ringing the Police

The police are your servants. They work for you; your taxes fund them. Never, ever feel embarrassed about ringing them if you find something is odd, suspicious, or if you feel afraid. They are there for you.

When I was confronted by eight young men climbing the stairs to my flat late one night this past winter, it was frightening. They were looking for a secluded stairwell to party in during one of our hard lockdowns. But I did not want them in front of my flat, or in our building. One of the guys got confrontational with me. Even though the group eventually retreated, I found the situation so unsettling that I rang the police, who came over a few minutes later. The men were all gone by then but I still felt better that the cops checked everything out in our building. Moral of the story: don’t be shy or feel silly. If you feel unsafe, dial the police.

In addition, take advantage of the police’s consulting services wherever possible. In many locales, the criminal police is available for a free consultation on appointment. They will come visit you at home, do a walk-through, and provide you with a checklist of any security weak spots they find. This is incredibly helpful in planning short or long-term installations or renovations.

I invited them to look over my new place when I moved in, and was shocked at what they found. Although the checklist they left me with was a bit overwhelming, I took it step by step and crossed things off when I had the time and money. Today I have a full-fledged security system, 24/7 monitoring, new locks, a new front door, and a panic button. I sleep great. None of this would have turned out as well as it did if I had not consulted with the police first. They’re the second best source of information on burglaries after the burglars themselves.

Mind Your Spare Keys

Never hide a spare key outside of your house or flat. Crooks know exactly where to look for them. If you’re worried about locking yourself out, leave a spare key with a neighbour you trust or with a good friend who doesn’t live too far away. That way you never have far to go if you need to fetch it.

And don’t put your name and address on your spare keys in case they get lost.

Shred Your Paperwork

Identity theft is a real threat these days. Some burglars are not set on entering your home—they want to steal your trash instead. They’re searching for anything with your date of birth, social insurance number, national health ID, travel itineraries, or other personal details on it. Do yourself a favour and shred your documents and letters before you toss them in the bin.

Don’t Advertise That You’re Not Home

Another one of the top safety tips for living alone is to avoid making it obvious that you’re not home. Don’t tell your delivery guy or the clerk at the corner shop you’re excited about your trip to Thailand next week. More importantly, don’t post on social media about being out of the house all day or travelling. Especially if your accounts are public!

It might feel silly to post asynchronously but there’s no reason to draw attention on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to the fact that you’re away. You can still post all those pretty pictures and stories you took when you get home. I was recently travelling but you wouldn’t have noticed at all looking at my socials. I queued my usual home content to go out in my absence. Only when I got home did I start posting my snapshots and stories from the trip. It looked like I was away, but in reality I was posting from the comfort of my couch 😏

Pro tip: There are many other things you should never be broadcasting on your social media accounts. Check out this list of things to avoid posting to your socials.

Another one of my top safety tips for living alone is to use automatic timers for lights. These are very inexpensive yet so effective at making it look like someone is home in the evenings. Don’t set them to go on at the same time on the same lights every day. Instead, be random when programming them. Have the corner living room light go on at 4pm on Tuesday, the other living rooms lights at 4:40pm on Wednesday, and the corner light again at 6:30 on Thursday. Mix it up a little bit. These gadgets are so cheap you can get a bunch to use on different lights throughout your home.

If you want to get really fancy, you might want to invest in the Philips Hue system, which you can even control from your smartphone while you’re away.

Know Your Emergency Exits

If you live in a flat, make sure you know where your fire escape is and how to get out of the building in an emergency. This might sound overly dramatic but it’s just sensible. Weather conditions are getting more and more extreme all over the world, and storms, floods, and fires are unfortunately becoming more common. So know how to get out if you have to. And regularly check to make sure your escape exits are not broken, locked, blocked or stuck.

Build a Safety Network

Whether you’re planning some home renovations where a bunch of builders will be coming and going, or just have a business trip coming up: make sure someone knows what you’re up to. Check in with your closest friends or your favourite neighbour and tell them what’s up. Ask them to ring you or drop by if you go silent.

If you’re planning on being away, ask that neighbour or friend of yours with the spare to key to empty your letterbox and open and close your shades a few times a week. This makes it look like someone is home. Plus, they can also water your plants!

Let your safety network know when you’re home again safely. And don’t forget to get to know your superintendent, landlord, or condo association head. These folks are great points of contact and should be part of your network, too.

Big-Commitment Safety Tips for Living Alone

Get a Dog

If you work from home and have the space and financial means to care for a dog, get one. Not a cat. Only a dog will protect you. Dogs have lived with humans for thousands of years and are 100% focused on us. Your dog will bark if something is wrong. He’s a walking alarm system who has only your best interests and safety in mind. Side effect: you’ll feel less lonely living with a dog, and walking him multiple times a day is great for your health, too.

Reading tip: Alexandra Horowitz: Inside of a Dog. What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. I read this last week and highly recommend it for all dog lovers out there. Absolutely fascinating!

Again though, a dog is a huge commitment. Dogs can live up to 16 years and they are not objects that can be given away when you’re tired of them. They need space, exercise, real raw meat, occasional medical care, and lots of love. Keeping them in a crate, cage, or tied up is animal abuse. If you’re unable to permanently care for a dog, you might find dogsitting for your friends’ pets a nice option.

Source: Giphy

Install a Monitored Security System

This is a bigger ticket purchase that ties you to a contract, but it’s worth it. Having a professional security system installed and hooked up to your local security service provider provides tremendous peace of mind. The security provider will generally have a key to your place and be at your home within minutes if the alarm goes off. If you travel heavily for work or are just away from home a lot of the time, it’s really great knowing that someone is monitoring your place.

In Europe you’ll likely have to fork over a lot of money for the system itself and then also sign a monthly contract with the security agent for 24/7 monitoring. In the US, you can find package deals where you sign a contract for a monthly fee with the security provider and in return, you get the alarm system installed for free. Check around for your options, and be sure to do your due diligence on the make of system you’re considering installing. Ideally, it should be certified by your country’s association of insurers. I don’t recommend purchasing any security gadgets on Amazon for this reason; they are usually not certified and your insurer will thus not accept them.

There are also portable, certified security systems for renters. If you move, you can take the system with you and have it tied to a new contract at your new address.  You can add movement sensors, cameras, fog makers and many other devices to these systems. Plus, you can usually monitor them from your own smartphone.

Those were my top safety tips for living alone, culled from a few decades of experience as a single-person household. If you have any other tips to share, please do leave a comment!

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