In college, I always knew that real life would start later. Real life—of course—means having your Bachelor’s degree, getting a “real-people job,” and living in your own place. But for those blessed with piles of student debt and optimistic but vague career plans, real life may start by moving back in with your parents or guardians after college. Fear not; you’re in good company. The number of graduates hanging up their diplomas on the wall at their parents’ house is increasing. In 2011 about 45% of college graduates age 18-24 were living at home.
This number has been on the rise, up from 31% in 2001. But college graduates living at home represents neither a personal tragedy nor a societal calamity. In fact, throughout many cultures and periods of history, family has trumped individualism and you never would have moved away to go to school in the first place. But you did. You left your poor family behind. And years of college away from home is more than a casual vacation. People change, and now you have a new identity to navigate when returning home as a semi-independent adult with parents for roommates. Here is some advice, self-deprecation, and a little tough love, from someone writing this on my parents’ couch right now:
1. This is a phase. Remember when you were a teenager and hated being told that anything was a phase? For some reason, teenage you was convinced of the permanence of your identity at that point. Thank goodness that’s over. Part of adulthood is recognizing the ever-changing cycles of life. You don’t stop going through phases; you realize you’re supposed to go through them. And living at home right now? That’s a phase. And it too shall pass.
2. Your family kept existing while you were away. Like it or not, your parent or parents got used to life without you. They may have changed in unexpected ways, and stayed the same in ways you haven’t. They may have new routines or activities. Since they didn’t go through college with you, they might not be Walmart-boycotting vegetarians, or have the exotic, sophisticated habits you picked up during study abroad. Be firm on decisions you have made about your lifestyle, but don’t expect them to eat or live the way you do.
3. Cook. If you’re lucky, you have absorbed some big-people skills over the past few years—don’t let them atrophy! We all need to eat, and helping with family cooking can be fun. At first, my mom had to get used to me helping in the kitchen (of course, you may have a dad, uncle, or grandfather who cooks). She had such a routine that delegating was harder than just doing it herself. So rather than collaborate, I told her to take the night off when I wanted to cook. Whatever you do, contribute in the kitchen. Either because now you know how to, or because it’s about damn time you learn. (Your gender, by the way, not an excuse.)
4. Be an adult. Just because your parents or parental figures are helping you out financially doesn’t mean you get to be a kid again. If no one has let you in on the secret yet, adults are all scholars in the unmentioned field of household management. This goes beyond cooking to include kitchen inventory management (a subfield in itself), cleaning, yardwork, household repairs, family calendar management (especially if you have other siblings still at home), and trash and recycling. You should help in these areas without being asked. It’s like when you were a kid with chores, but it’s just life. Chores are not a phase. If you go shopping, check on household basics like milk, eggs, tissues, maybe a light bulb that needs replacing. You should contribute small purchases like these regularly and without expecting reimbursement, especially if you’re living rent-free.
5. Find a job. Working on your novel doesn’t count.
6. On Drink. Your new old roommates who brought you into this world will welcome all of the above suggestions on adulthood. But being a full member of society also comes with the privilege of adult beverages. Your parents may feel odd drinking with you as another adult. If your parent, parents, or parental figure/s seem uncomfortable with you having wine at dinner or a couple beers after work, be patient. In their eyes, you have gone from a runny-nosed toddler to a wine-drinking adult in what seems like 24 hours. It’s a lot to take in. Even if they are covering all your expenses, consider buying a bottle of wine or some beer to contribute at home. This is a quiet reminder that you are a full adult who can buy and drink alcohol.
7. When you move in, move out. If you are lucky enough to have an extra bedroom, sleep there. Sleeping in your childhood bed in your childhood room in your childhood house is a great way to feel like a child all over again (especially if you’re like me and the bed is half a foot too small for you). Right now, I’m staying in the spare room downstairs, where I have access to my own bathroom, and am much farther away from my parents’ room. A different space helps enforce a different identity and a more equal relationship.
8. Reduce your crap. Remember how this is a phase? Spend some time preparing for the next one. Someday, you’re going to move out of your parents house almost completely. Get a big recycling bin and a big donation box, and go ballistic on all the crap you’re storing in your parents’ house. Reducing the amount of crap I own is a major project for my time at home. This will make a future move that much easier.
9. Enjoy it. I hope you are as close to your parental figures as I am to mine. You may not yet be the CEO of the non-profit through which you want to change the world and bring down capitalism, but that will come later. Right now, enjoy your time with some of the most important people in your life. When you find a more permanent place, you probably won’t get to see them this much.