10 February 2019

Life After London: Moving Back in with my Parents

(And Other Real Life Quandaries of a Single Twenty-Something)

Life After London

It's been five months since I moved out of the Zone 2 flat I had been sharing with my friends. Although returning to live with my parents - to quote Valentina from RuPaul's Drag Race - didn't make sense with my fantasy. I had envisioned the latter half of my twenties living with a best friend or significant other, but my friends have their own lives to pursue, and there's no significant other to speak of. Moreover, the fact of the matter is I couldn't afford to rent in London by myself, mentally speaking as much as financially.

In 2017, the Office of National Statistics revealed that more than a quarter of young adults (aged 20-34) still live with their parents, due in part to the rising costs of renting or buying a home. It's clear therefore I'm not alone in my predicament, albeit that doesn't necessarily make it easier. After a period of independence, there was always going to be a certain reluctance in moving back to my childhood home.

Of course, this isn't the first time I've been met with this particular situation. Following three unforgettable years at university, my very first taste of independence, I was faced with the bleak reality that I had to come home and figure out my direction in life. Within days of returning to Woking, I felt like a teenage boy again, stripped of my freedom and bound by the rules of my parents, whose primary mission, it seemed, was to harass me into finding a full-time job. In hindsight, they only sought to ensure I didn't become lazy and complacent, but there was a discernible tension between us that I couldn't shake. At least I could take solace in my situation being only temporary, because I would soon find my dream media job and move to London.

Life After London

Except I didn't. When an internship at the Daily Express ended abruptly after just two weeks, my parents did not delight in my sudden unemployment. I was promptly ordered to work at my stepdad's architectural practice until I found myself an alternative position, which - given I had no prior experience in architecture besides building virtual houses in The Sims - served only to deepen my reliance (and resentment) for living at home. Without any immediate prospect of moving to the capital, I took up driving lessons in the hope that having a car would perhaps offer me some form of escape.

More than a year passed; my friends had migrated to London, I had a tally of unsuccessful job applications, and I was still living with my parents. Yet in an unexpected twist for all parties, I found I had come to enjoy my "temporary" appointment at Amasia Architects Ltd, and all thoughts of a future in journalism - with exception for this blog - began to drift away. Of course, this made my masterplan of leaving home for London all the more difficult, for what other reason did I have to abandon my cushy set-up besides seeing my friends?

It turned out they were enough. When Maddy and Georgia invited me to join them in a new flatshare, it took me all of two minutes to say yes. We brought Lizzie into the fold, and there we were, an awesome foursome living in South London. At long last, I was living in London with my best friends, reclaiming my social life, and relishing my independence. (Even if said independence cost myself £700 per month in rent, plus bills.)

Life After London

Fast forward three and a half years to the present day, and I have no regrets about my London life. However, where mine greatly differed to my friends' - and that of nearly everybody who moves into the capital - is I held onto a career outside London, and therefore was committed to enduring an hour-long drive at silly o'clock each morning to avoid the worst of the outgoing traffic. Suffice it to say the daily commute took its toll on me, which made the decision to return to Surrey somewhat easier to bear.

Nevertheless, I was reluctant to move back in with my parents. If anything, I would have preferred to rent or buy my own place, thereby maintaining my sense of independence. But while my savings were substantial, the tough reality was I couldn't afford to live somewhere by myself. A modest one-bedroom flat in Woking or Guildford costs £100-£200 more per month than I was paying for a share of a four-bedroom flat in Kennington, and would have cancelled out any savings I might have made on fuel and everyday living costs. And it's a widely accepted truth that a mortgage is difficult to apply for without the benefit of a second salary.

So I swallowed my pride and moved back in with my parents, who were surprisingly very encouraging about the whole affair. All they asked for in return was £200 in monthly rent (a bargain by any standards), to assist with the housework and cooking (which I'd have happily done anyway), and to look after the cats whenever they went on holiday (a task which I was already accustomed to performing). In fact, it was while looking after the cats for a fortnight last year that I finally appreciated how stress-free my life would be if I came back to Surrey on a more permanent basis.

Life After London

As with any move, it took a few weeks to settle in and realise that living out of boxes isn't the most convenient way to live, not helped in this instance by the astonishing amount of junk I had been hoarding in my bedroom, virtually untouched while I resided in London. Not that my parents or any house guests would have noticed during my three-year absence, as it was all roughly hidden away in the wardrobe and within the concealed storage compartment beneath my bed. As an emphatically organised individual, I was dismayed by the apparent disregard exhibited by post-uni Joe, something I conceded must have been evident in other aspects of my behaviour (hence the aforementioned tension).

It took me the best part of September to sort through all my belongings; donating unwanted clothes and knick-knacks to charity, shredding piles of bank statements, and cringing at soppy love letters from my first girlfriend. The process was hugely therapeutic, not only providing much needed space for my current possessions, but also removing traces of a past self with whom I no longer connected. I did keep the love letters, though, as a reminder that - while my first relationship ended in disaster and guilt - I was very much loved even as a socially awkward teenager, and I hope I can one day show someone just as much devotion as was undeservedly given to me.

Life After London

And as have my attitudes to romantic relations changed, so has my relationship with my mum and stepdad. As much as post-uni Joe would have liked to have thought he was a mature and responsible adult, it's clear now he wasn't. Three years away have done me a world of good, and it shows in how much respect my parents now show me, and in turn how much respect I show them. In the past five months, we haven't had a single argument, compared to the numerous, avoidable confrontations we had following my return from university.

In likeness to that time, however, I do on occasion still feel like a child, albeit more so in the sense that living in the family home reminds me I am my parents' child, and that I am dependent on them for my temporary living arrangement. Which, understandably, compels me sometimes to ask for permission whenever I make plans for myself. My mum then helpfully reminds me I'm my own person and that I don't require their consent. All I ever really need to let her know is when I will and won't be home for dinner, and if I'm doing my own food shopping when it's my turn to cook. My parents are even repurposing the garage conversion into a private a space for me to escape, blog, and watch my choice of television series in peace.

In short, life feels as normal as it can be. I have a regular working day, I sleep well, I have a healthy relationship with my parents, my stress levels have never been lower, and let's not forget about the 24-hour access to cats. It's true also to say that moving back in with my parents isn't the course I had planned on taking, but I'm very much content, and isn't that what matters most? To top it all off, I'm saving more money than I would have ever done had I stayed in London, which means I'll have the funds to buy somewhere for myself in the next two years. While my mum has said she loves having me back, let's not get too comfortable.

Life After London

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