Lately there has been a not-so-discreet trend of college graduates begrudgingly moving back into their childhood bedrooms, forced to fall asleep staring at posters of N*SYNC and Britney Spears that had been plastered to the walls back in 2003. The job market is dead and Mr. Opportunity hasn’t come knocking since you tossed that ridiculous hat into the ceiling of your alma mater’s gymnasium. They are slaving away at their menial service jobs, constantly proclaiming “I HAVE A COLLEGE DEGREE!” whenever his or her intelligence is insulted. This is the plight of the postgrad, and I am currently suffering it myself. Sure, they’ve created a television sitcom about living with your parents, but it doesn’t begin to cover the postgrad’s sad predicament. I’ve created some guidelines, tips, helpful hints, or whatever you might choose to call it, to aide postgrads in dealing with the issues that are part of the “living with your parents” package.
Dorm Room to Bedroom
The postgrad is very accustomed to having his or her own space in a dorm room or apartment; though there are typically resident assistants and room mates in the equation, there are no adults trying to control every move. That changes when the postgrad moves home: unofficial curfews, food limitations, uncomfortable bouts of drinking, messy room patrol, and, most importantly, lack of privacy. These conditions take time to adjust to for the postgrad, and for the parents, too. How to deal with this? Try to live and comply with your parents’ rules and instructions as often as possible, since they are letting you live in their home and feeding you for free. We are adults, though, and if you disagree with a rule or curfew time or the level of acceptable cleanliness of a given room, talk about it with them calmly and provide reasonable evidence for your concerns. Just remember – you won’t be there forever (hopefully).
Our childhood bedrooms are typically smaller and more cluttered with nonsensical knickknacks than the standard dorm room (and in some extreme cases, like mine, this small cluttered space is shared with another sibling). One of the first orders of business upon moving back home is to clean house: get rid of all that junk that you know you don’t need but keep it for some reason anyway. Also, organize everything, literally, everything. All of your files of student loans and bank statements and transcripts and letters and resumes – all of it goes into a labeled system of your choosing. It will make life easier, I promise. Second order of business – redecorate. The Hello Kitty and Justice League bed sheets and aforementioned pop culture posters have got to go if you are going to feel like an adult at all. Find yourself a nice bed set, new curtains, and a new rug that scream “I’M AN ADULT.” Also, you can take this things with you when you leave! Always keep in mind that you will be leaving someday, as far away as that might seem, and live accordingly.
Another adjustment to living with your parents is the chore load. We are expected to help keep up the house beyond our hobbit hole bedrooms, despite the fact that we don’t spend much time out of said hobbit hole. Dishes, laundry, vacuuming, sweeping, dusting – we begin to feel like a modern day Cinderella, undeserving of this cruel way of life. Make the best of it – do your part when no one else is home, so you’re not constantly reminded of what you didn’t do on your day off of work. Blast your favorite music. Think of it as paying rent, but not actually having to fork over your hard-earned cash: you still feel like a grown up, but you get to keep your measly entry-level salary all to yourself.
“Quality Time” and other such Family Outings
Does your family all sit in the living room every evening at exactly 7:00 to watch Jeopardy! or the nightly news? Mine does, and if I’m MIA working on sundry projects for my graduate classes, I am called forth from my cave to participate in family game night every night. I get up from my desk with no small effort, peel my eyes away from my laptop, and trudge out the living room, only paying attention if the category is a good one. After the half hour is over, I trudge back to my desk and try to pick up my train of thought where I left off. Annoying? Absolutely. But some nights it can be a welcome distraction, and even entertaining if everyone gets into it.
Going out to dinner is another of my least favorite activities. In college, “going out to dinner” meant putting jeans on and hitting the local Applebee’s for half price appetizers and sangria. At home, it’s like getting ready for the gala. After coming home from a nine-hour shift at my ridiculous deli job, I have to shower, do my hair, put on makeup, and find a decent outfit, all so that my family isn’t embarrassed by my appearance. I try to think of it as “free expensive food,” and sometimes that works, but other times I would rather sit at home, be ugly, and eat a bowl of Cheerios. The tip here: go out if you want, but if you’d rather stay home and wallow, do that; you won’t be fun company if you don’t want to be there.
Ah, family parties: we used to be able to get out of them ninety percent of the time. “I have a paper due on Monday” or “I studying with so-and-so and I can’t bail on them” or “I don’t have enough gas or money to get home in time.” The laundry list of excuses is exhausting, but we’ve all done it. At home, it’s not so easy. Mom or Dad tells us weeks if not months in advance so you have no excuses for work or friends or anything – you are going to your second cousin twice removed’s Sweet 16 party, and you’re going to get dressed up and wear a fake smile all night long while secretly wanting to gouge your own eyeballs out just to be able to leave. My advice? Try to find a friend or cousin or sibling to pal around with all night so that you’re not your usual lonely, mopey self. It helps.
“I don’t have a problem – it’s just a habit” 21st Century Prohibition
Some of the first words we hear upon our homecoming go something like this: “If you think you are going to drink and party all the time in this house, you’ve got another thing coming.” Typically, parents are uncomfortable with the thought of their child being a drunken buffoon, especially in their own home, and as a result the postgrad’s drinking habits decrease significantly. I think I drank more in my last two weeks of senior year than I have since I’ve been home (one year to date). This is definitely an adjustment; alcohol was the elixir to all of our undergraduate dilemmas, and now we have to deal with our problems like grown ups – with words. Sure, you can go out every non-work night, but then you are subject to the ridicule and disdain of your family, with comments such as “You’re going out again?” and “Maybe you should stay home tonight, you’ve been out three times this week” and “The amount of vodka you keep in the fridge is unsettling.” We’ve all heard it, we’ve all ignored it. Eventually, we do have to be adults, but for now, just keep everything in moderation, wean yourself off of it. It does get better; you don’t want to be that guy every Wednesday forced by your family to say the words “My name is ____ and I’m an alcoholic.”
This is just a brief synopsis of the postgrad problems and some ways of relieving them. Keep your eye on the prize: your life will start one day. You will get a real job and spouse or partner, possible children. You will pay off your loans. You will get your own place. For now, just live life in the most adult-like fashion as possible. You can always tell people that you just have room mates.