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The dining space in my condo in Carrboro, 2010.

My previous post was about living with roommates; this one is about not having roommates.

I started my PhD program at UNC Chapel Hill fall of 2005. I rented a basement apartment for the first few months, but purchased a one bedroom condo in Carrboro in early 2006.

There’s a certain beautiful simplicity about being a household of one. There’s no dividing up the household chores; either you do them yourself or they don’t get done.

Economists and other social scientists talk about “externalities,” which is when a person or firm “externalizes” costs. For example, let’s say I have a factory that releases a lot of air pollution and makes children in the area get sick. This pollution means real costs in terms of medical bills, missed days of school, etc., but they aren’t costs that appear on my balance sheet. Essentially, the people who pay those costs are subsidizing me by paying some of the true costs of my production. (Environmental regulations attempt to correct this).

Similarly, if I cook a meal and enjoy it and then leave the dishes in the sink for my roommate to clean up, I’ve externalized some of the costs of the meal (labor) onto my roommate.But without roommates, this whole issue goes away. If I’m running late and leave my breakfast dishes in the sink, they aren’t going to inconvenience anyone else. I don’t run the risk of someone else washing them and resenting it. They will just wait there until I take care of them.

I usually took care of dishes right away, both because that’s my personality and because I wanted to keep the roaches away, but it was nice to have the option open to me without any complications or need to communicate with someone else.

Living alone also made me become accustomed to being in control of my environment: cleanliness, noise level, schedule, organization. That made sharing spaces with other people—in Havana, in Brasilia, when visiting family, after moving in with my wife—a bit of an adjustment. With my wife it’s been pretty easy because we have similar standards about all those things.

Next post in series: Memories of dishes: Fieldwork in Brasilia.