1. Offer to pay something – anything.
We (my husband and I) pay nothing for the privilege of living with my parents, although we have offered on more than one occasion. When I graduated college, I owed over fifty grand in student loans. Knowing this, my mom and dad encouraged us to move in and forego paying rent – with the idea that we would be throwing that money at my student loans, instead. Although we don’t pay rent, we proactively (meaning without parents nagging us – that’s important) pitch in for household essentials – toilet paper, light bulbs, laundry detergent, and garbage bags. If your parents let you skip on paying rent, put your would-be rent money to good use and pitch in where you can.
2. Clean up after yourself, for the love of God.
Leaving your wet towels on the bathroom floor is something that’s only acceptable when you’re under the age of 13. If your parents are doing you the privilege of letting you live in their house, it’s nice to show some common courtesy and don’t let it look like absolute shit. Shamefully, every so often, I’ll get careless: I’ll leave the dirty dishes in the sink and the cheerios will dry and crust and stick to the sides and it’ll be a nightmare for someone else to clean off. I’ll leave chalky streaks of toothpaste in the bathroom sink. And I’ll have to eventually ask myself why. (Spoiler – I’m lazy!) If moving back in with my parents was a strategy for me to get back on my feet, then it’s important that I don’t let myself regress back into adolescence. It’s important for everyone. Buy the bottle with the scrubbing bubbles on it and wipe down the bathrooms once every few days. It takes five minutes. Do it.
3. Pick one room to clean every day – and no, your bedroom doesn’t count.
Your bedroom is an extension of yourself. If you leave shit all over your parents’ house but keep your own room fastidiously clean, guess what? You’re self-centered. Your room doesn’t count – nobody else in the household benefits from it being tidy. Clean the kitchen instead.
4. Give as much as you get.
There’s a difference between living at your folks’ house for a time and actively mooching. The difference? Moochers like to take without giving, and living with one is a burden, not a blessing. If your parents have cooked for you once this week, make them a meal (or order pizza!) the next night. Before you go to bed, turn off all the lights (something I am always, always forgetting to do. Don’t be a forgetful dick, like me.) Living with your parents shouldn’t mean more work or more expense on their part.
5. Establish the rules early so there’s no weird bitterness.
Even though you’re an adult – technically – your parents still might feel uneasy with the prospect of you staying out until 3 AM or having “adult visitors” sleep over at the house. The best thing you can do to be proactive is have a frank conversation before you move in. Sure, it’s uncomfortable – but having uncomfortable conversations is part of adulthood. What are their expectations for visitors? What does their cleaning schedule look like? Sneaking around with your significant other, avoiding confrontation, and passive-aggressively slamming bedroom doors is a sign that communication has gone awry.
6. Give them a move-out date, or at least a rough timeline.
I have even heard of people signing yearly or bi-yearly contracts that specify household responsibilities and amount of rent owed. Doing so is important for communication, it’s an acknowledgement to your parents that you don’t plan on staying indefinitely, and it’s also a crucial reminder (to yourself) that your generous arrangement has a shelf life. My parents and I have never had any formal agreement, but it’s understood that our responsibility is to get out of debt as quickly as possible. Once the debt is gone (we’re happy to say that after four years of paying extra on our loans, our debt load is almost entirely paid off) then so are we. They don’t monitor our progress or our bank accounts, but if we started buying $400 bottles of Cristal or going on lavish trips, they’d likely ask us to leave. Our arrangement is a strategy – not an all-expense vacation.
7. Say thank you.
This is something I’ve learned from living with my parents, from being married, from raising two thankless toddlers. Show them that you appreciate living with them. Show your parents that you understand this is, on some level, a sacrifice for them – of privacy, of living space – and that you’ll honor that sacrifice by respecting their household. Show them that there’s some benefit for everyone involved in letting you live there – a clean space, some rent paid, some companionship. It will make all the difference in the world. It will make all the difference when you leave your crusty cheerio bowl in the sink and your mom has to scrub it out. Again.