Foresight Analysis: I Want to Be Alone

Solitude: A Re-Evaluation

MIX Magazine issue 45

First seen in MIX Magazine, issue 45, in our trend Ma we look at ideas surrounding being alone and find that solitude is now being re-evaluated. Simon Jones finds out more.

While film star Greta Garbo may have begged for some peace and quiet, there’s a lingering consensus that being single is bad for us, causing everything from heart disease to depression. Yet recent research by the University of Auckland in New Zealand has discovered quite the opposite, challenging previous research that happiness and wellbeing are linked to relationships. This new paper found that people were just as happy being single as in a relationship. This could partially explain the growth in singles around the world as the traditional societal stigma of being alone gradually recedes. According to the Office Of National Statistics, 28 per cent of households in the UK only contain one person.* This is similar to the European average of 32 per cent, and is not just a European trend; in the US, there are 34.19 million people living in single person households*2, while in Japan it is estimated that 61 per cent of men are single.*3

Singularity is currently being redefined away from negative labels towards something far more positive, a lifestyle choice. There have been a tranche of new books on the subject; writer Sophia Dembling’s championing of the positive aspects of introversion; its links with creativity, ideas and concepts, seeking out solitude rather than being alone not by choice.  And Sara Maitland has written How to Be Alone, part of the School of Life series (published by Macmillan), that argues that those who want to be alone are not ‘sad, mad and bad,’ but are instead embracing freedom and adventure.

All this could well have a strong impact on trends in the future. Old preconceptions need to be rethought. The travel industry is already broadening its offer, with several specialists offering tailored holidays for single travellers. In Japan you can even buy a solo wedding package complete with commemorative album (Japan has a particularly high percentage of single people). The power of single living as a contemplative creative act is also being championed in Amsterdam with Eenmaal, ‘the first one-person restaurant in the world and an attractive place for temporary disconnection.’

As well as changes in travel, it seems likely that design will need to adjust to this ever growing demographic. Single dwellings demand a rethink both in scale and usability. Crucially too, colour may have a pivotal role to play as, if we don’t seek comfort from people, there is every reason to believe we will look for comfort in our surroundings. “We will see an increase in soft materials, comforting colours like brown and oranges for warmth and comfort, fabrics that feel as if they are hugging you,” says Judith van Vliet of Clariant ColorWorks Europe/IMEA. We are already seeing an increased interest in products that delight all the senses and inspire security and a feeling of being cocooned. As figures for single living continue to rise steadily, we expect to see this trend to grow apace.


*Families & Households, 2014.

*2 Statista, The Statistics Portal

*3 BBC News