Living independently can be awesome. You don't have to clean up after someone else (or, if you are the messy type, you don't have to clean up). You can organize your stuff exactly how you like it. You can sleep with the TV on all night, or in a cold room with the windows open. You can adopt a cat or three, or a rabbit or a hamster — or never let a furry paw cross your threshold. You can throw dinner parties late into the night, or decide that you space is sacred and you're the only one allowed in it.

You are the master of your domain. You are absolutely free to do whatever you like within your walls.

That being said, there are some challenges to living alone in a culture that still weirdly expects all of us to have a spouse, 2.3 kids and a dog. Some 42 percent of American adults live solo, according to the Pew Research Center. It's one of those strange facts of modern life that even though so many Americans live alone, so many things, from cars to apartments, from recipes to all-inclusive vacations, are set up for couples or parents with kids.

Don't let that discourage you. Here are 15 ways to get the most out of living alone while staying sane and healthy.

Be prepared

1. Be careful with your keys, unless you want to spend way too much to have a locksmith come by to let you into your home: "Take your keys with you every time you leave. Even if it's just to take out the trash," advises Redditor Wookie_Raisin — and dozens of commenters back him up on this simple but important tip. Consider hiding a spare key somewhere, or giving one to a neighbor or friend to up your chance of not getting locked out.

2. Befriend a couple neighbors: You never know when you might need help. Even if you're naturally shy, make an effort to introduce yourself to the people living around you and be friendly.

3. Prepare for illness in advance: "Get whatever you need when sick and have it stocked in your bathroom. "There isn't anyone around to take care of you and it sucks to have to drag yourself to the pharmacy when you have the flu," writes drunkersloth42 on Reddit.

4. Be sure you have working smoke detectors and CO2 detectors. This goes for everyone, of course, but when you're living alone, you won't have someone waking you up in case of smoke. And be sure to have candles and a flashlight with batteries around for when the power goes out.

DIY

5. To zip up dresses or blouses that have zippers on the back, simply attach a safety pin to a long string or ribbon. Attach the pin to the dress zipper and pull, using the string. Unclip the safety pin at the top. Or, you can use dental floss, as in the video example above.

6. When it comes to decorating your place, ask for help. When you're not splitting the cost of furniture with another person, it can add up quickly. People often have extra stuff they don't need that you can have for free. Get your bed sorted out first (this is something that most people don't have sitting around, and will cost the most), then take your time with the rest. Post a notice on Craigslist for things you need, ask friends and family, and don't rush. Trying to get everything all at once will be costly and frustrating.

Cooking and eating

7. Invest in cookbooks with recipes for one or two people. Cooking for one isn't impossible, it's generally healthier, and it will save you money vs. eating out. There are plenty of blogs that specialize in solo cooking as well, like Singly Scrumptious and One Dish Kitchen.

8. Buy recipe ingredients or regular favorites (rice, granola, dried fruit) in the bulk section of the supermarket. You buy only as much as you want or need, which could be three teaspoons of a spice you don't want to invest in a whole bottle of, or just as much cereal as you'll eat in a week. You'll waste less food and save money, and your favorites will always be fresh.

9. If you love good bread, go ahead and buy a loaf of your favorite from the bakery. Ask the person at the bakery to slice it, then take however many pieces off that you'll eat over the next two days. Freeze the rest in a sealed plastic bag with the air sucked out. It will toast up beautifully for months. Just pull a slice or two out of the freezer at a time and never have to deal with tossing moldy bread again.

Housekeeping

10. Put yourself on some kind of schedule for cleaning: "Try to have structure. Cook dinner every night after work and take care of the dishes right after. Do your housework Sunday morning so you can start the week fresh. Wash your sheets every week. It's too easy to fall into a rut when you live alone and end up a slob," writes RunswithPremise on Reddit.

11. Use (much) smaller garbage bags: You don't want to keep garbage in the house for too long as it will contribute to smelliness and can attract insects and rodents (especially if you don't compost). Use plastic grocery bags, or bag liners for bathroom or office trash cans, and take it out every 2-3 days.

12. Nobody's going to clean up after you, so don't let mess pile up: "If something needs to be done and is going to take less than two minutes to accomplish, do it immediately. Washing the dish/pot you just used, writing and sending the rent check, wiping down the bathroom sink, etc." writes smokehidesstars on Reddit.

13. If you drink soda, buy it in cans rather than the bottle size, so you'll always have a fresh, fizzy drink. Some companies even offer half-size cans of soda. You can make 2-liter sizes of soda last longer by pouring your drink, then shaking it up before you put it back in the fridge. It'll stay fizzier longer.

Don't forget your social life

14. Get out of your home sometimes. "Make an effort to get out and do things with people. Living alone can be a bit of a vortex, especially if you're far away from your friends; it's very easy to get sucked in and never leave the house, and then you'll find yourself going stir-crazy," writes Portarossa on Reddit.

15. Make plans for the weekend before the weekend. By the time Friday night rolls around, you'll likely be tired, and if you haven't organized something to do, the likelihood that you will just sloth around all weekend is high. That can be great sometimes, of course, but when it's every weekend it loses its fun.

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.