How to Move Home With Your Parents and Keep Your Dignity:
A step by Step Guide
There were mornings where the only other person I saw as I began my commute was a man in his fifties dressed like Benjamin Franklin. He was very authentic, even down to the pince-nez squeezing the bridge of his nose. We were both preparing for the day, one of us to drive to a newspaper office, the other to tell stories to tourists. Most mornings I wanted to change places, be Ben for the day, and let him do the drive north and then the long end-of-day drive back home again. Instead, we would nod awkwardly at each other (I always wondered how he kept his glasses on) and I would leave the little brick-lined avenues for the highway potholes. The transition never stopped being weird- Ben saying goodbye on behalf of the little family enclave I left behind each day.
For almost two years after college, I lived at home with family in a small mid-Atlantic tourist town, which I'll leave anonymous for now (it can be a talkative place). As with most great beginnings, it began unassumingly. I had only intended to stay for a few months. It was going to be like a tax shelter for my post-college income, a brief release from the bills that papered my previous apartments, and a quiet, writerly retreat where I would finally type up that manuscript. Though I wasn't always that noble- I never turned down the free laundry, the labor-free meals, and the shampoo that seemed to replenish itself every few weeks- I told myself that when I felt I had overstepped my bounds, out I'd go.
The trouble is, convenience feels good, even when it's not good. As Americans, we have an intimate relationship with living made easier. In some ways, we ravage our bodies with diseases of convenience, from obesity to type II diabetes. Even the inexorable creep of global temperature, at least the kind influenced by our car tailpipes, is a symptom of our convenient world. Such it was with me and living in my family home. After only six months had passed, I was anchored in. I would make attempts at scanning Craigslist ads or musing about a shorter commute, but every passing paycheck and every no-cost meal kept me rooted in the idle life.
Of course, there are challenges to any subsidized lifestyle. In my household, these dilemmas took the form of fixing things that seemed to require the deft touch and specialized attention that post-college twenty-somethings specialize in. So, I became the go-to guy for jobs like painting small walls solid colors, organizing utensils into big and small, and making sure vinegar wasn't accidentally poured into the jar labeled olive oil.
I won't hold up my own experience as any sort of standard. I know from tightly written emails and painful, short phone calls that many of my friends and family who went the same route had a much different experience. For some, living at home felt like debasement, others experienced it as punishment and failure. I know that, for these people, living with family after an independent stint felt less like a reprieve and more like a sentencing.
Now that my stint as household small wall painter has come to a close, I feel qualified to offer a bit of advice for those considering a move back to where it all began. I'm not really one for lists, not to mention lists that offer any sort of insight or erudition, so forgive my musings- I hope they are helpful. I can at least guarantee you that they come from experience in the field.
Set a schedule.
I've heard that barnacles, once they grow their calcium carbonate shell on their rocky real estate, open up only to feed, closing their little plates tight over themselves all other times. For the first month or so of my home life, I followed their example. And let me tell you, it was quite nice, extending my feelers out for meals and then retreating to cozy rooms to stare at flickering electronic screens. Eventually, though, the primal pursuit of food and sleep began to lose its appeal, so I found a job, made a schedule, and began dressing in long pants again. I wouldn't expect everyone to be able to accomplish all those things- after all, cohabitating with family is often very much wrapped up in a cycle of unemployment. But, employed or not, appropriately attired or not, schedules can be made.
Unlike the last ten or twelve years of academic-related appointment books, the schedule you set for yourself in a home environment is yours solely. Ultimately, it is your new boss, your new parent, your new professor, your new spouse- fulfilling the role of someone or something who keeps you on track, on target, and more or less on time. Though my Luddite tendencies led me to writing my calendar on a combination of receipt-backs and sticky notes, I'm sure there are far more advanced electronic systems capable of keeping track of your time. Whichever method you prefer, organizing your hours will hopefully enable you to feel a bit more independent and bit less formless as you navigate the early days of home re-entry.
Don't lose connection.
For some time, I decided that being thrifty- the same excuse I used to start the living at home process in the first place- excused me from having to join the electronic communications revolution. If my borrowed Internet access collapsed under its own weight one evening, the emails I had neglected to respond to would wait for another night. If my cell phone continually expired as I drove to work, the financial burden of purchasing a car charger was too much. I had shed my economic agnosticism to devote myself to the god of savings.
This lasted until I missed appointments en masse, received a sharp reprimand from my boss, and found myself hunched over a borrowed laptop looking for droplets of connectivity at coffee shops. When I finally relented and negotiated a family-wide wireless Internet upgrade, I was launched into cities of electronic sin- everywhere I looked there was something flashier and faster than the last. I now fought the opposite problem, slowly keeping myself upright underneath fast download speeds and rare digitized vinyl music collections and 17 morning newspapers and endless emoticon conversations. While great for me, it was having a slow and grating effect on anyone else who shared my space. One evening, a guttering wind storm took out my connection altogether, and for one night I sat by a lamp and read from a page that did not blink, move, or link to another book. It was sobering, to say the least. My long-winded parable here will hopefully illustrate my advice- connect, but don't overconnect and lose yourself all over again.
Find a hobby.
As a kid, I failed at baseball, basketball, soccer, basket-weaving (yes, I tried), knot-tying, ball-tossing, dog training, and pool-diving. Yet I did have one ability that later would become useful: I wandered. Finding that last spot of park left unexplored, or the untamed region of playground where the older kids furtively smoked after-school cigarettes were the highlights of my wanderings. Post-college, I found myself heading toward the map once again-this time to plot points for Sunday afternoon ramblings. So maybe it wasn't the sexiest hobby, nor the most organized, but it kept me out of the house when I needed it.
If you find yourself living at home, I'd urge you to consider the same objective. If it seems trite and repetitive, it is- but the advice is out there so often because it's true. A hobby, or interest, or pursuit, is distinct from your career, your friends, and your evenings out, in the sense that is a sport for one. The only obligation you have when you pursue a hobby is to yourself. How many other situations in your life can you say that?
Say thank you.
In my case, the first words out of my mouth when my family agreed to take me in were most likely not "Thanks." Instead, I probably blathered on about the prodigious packing abilities that allowed me to compress an apartment-mattress included- into the back of a station wagon. What I should have done, then as now, was to admit that my presence changed my family's lives as much as theirs did mine, that far from being neutral observers, it was their couch, their shower, their television impacted- not to mention their time, their schedules, and their lives. I was supposed, by all accounts, to be gone, yet I wasn't. I hadn't sprung up and out as I should have, like the other kids whose parents would tell proud stories at cocktail parties. For their patience, for their good humor, and for their compassion, I should have thanked my family more often. I'd support anyone considering living at home to do the same.