If You Haven’t Moved Out After 35, Can You Really Call Yourself an Adult?
Photographs from interviewees. 

A friend, who should really learn to mind his own business, once asked, “When are you getting your own place? You’re not an adult until you move out of your parents’ home.”

For many of us, having our own place is the final checkbox in our quest to become a full-fledged adult. Never mind that we may have a flourishing career, are able to provide for our basic necessities, and independently foot our own bills.

Owning a home is arguably the most enviable status symbol.

Having a home can be seen as an embodiment of one’s individual, self-forged identity. When we no longer have the immediate safety net of family to rely on, this mandatory sense of self-sufficiency forces us to mature and grow in ways that might not be possible if we didn’t have our own space to create a life we wanted for ourselves.

But for those above 35, the issue of home ownership is less centred around attaining aspirations of independence that they had when they were 27.

At 35, the pressures to own a home feel more ‘realistic’. One should no longer just aspire to move out; they are expected to.

It’s now a question of why these people still live at home when they are eligible for a BTO under the Single Singapore Citizen Scheme, especially if they can afford one. There is an unspoken pressure to stop being a ‘burden’ and relying on one’s parents for shelter. Moving out after 35 is therefore viewed as a necessity.

As such, many of us get married just for a place to call our own, and many singles in Singapore feel as though they’re not able to be their own person till they’re 35.

Angeline Koh believes that having her own place would give her the personal space and freedom she needs to finally live her own life. Up till now, she is still living with her parents.

Yet the single 40-year-old never looked for one earlier, because it’s a “big investment” and she “needed time to look for the right flat”.

“I don’t think many of us are going to be financially ready to commit to such a big investment. Honestly, who wants to stay in a two-room flat? I’m also not much of a taker right now for shoebox flats. So singles need to pay more for a resale flat to get something that’s a decent size, as well as not out of the location we are looking at,” she says.

“Plus, if you want to get married later in life, and have already purchased a shoebox flat, the hassle of reselling it to get a bigger flat just gives me a headache.”

Logistical nightmares notwithstanding, Angeline still wants and needs her own space. To cope with the lack of it thus far, she compromises by trying to be content with designing her own room. She’s also thankful that she lives in a relatively big home right now.

Still, she tells me that she has recently bought a flat.

I get the sense that her concerns are shared by a significant portion of singles here. There is no shame in living with one’s parents past 35, when one is of legal age to apply for an HDB flat, but there is no denying that having one’s own place is still intrinsically tied to our sense of identity too.

“I don’t feel like I’m Singaporean. I can uproot and leave [my family home] anytime I want, as I have no financial commitment here.”

That said, the age limit imposed by the government on home ownership isn’t one of Angeline’s main frustrations. Instead, she wishes that first-time (single) owners had the ability to “get a home that they want at affordable rates without having to pay for it for the bigger portion of their lives”.

She adds, “Are singles not paying taxes as well? Are we not, in our own way, contributing to society?”

Echoing Angeline’s thoughts about the relationship between self-identity and personal space, American Sociologist Eric Klinenberg finds through research that “if we can afford to live alone, then we do, seeing it as ‘a mark of distinction, not a social failure’”.

This is especially so for those who choose to remain single.

Yet as important as one’s individuality is, there is also no room for that in land-scarce Singapore. Our lack of space therefore informs our pragmatic choices, including deciding to stay with our parents way past the age of 35.

Cenydd Tan, 39, used to rent a room in his late 20s. But he eventually discovered that he was never really home, and the rent he was paying was more than the amount he forked out for utilities back home with his parents.

So he moved back with them to save money.

“There is no change to my independence. My parents are okay with whatever I do anyway, so there is no issue with bringing people over to my place. I don’t face peer pressure to own a home either, because my friends and I are all very practical people.”

Besides, he says, his parents are elderly, so he wants to be around them for health reasons.

Although Cenydd empathises with the natural desire to seek independence and move out of one’s family home nearing the age of 30, he also realises that singles are in the minority. As he gets older, this desire starts to make way for more realistic perspectives.

From the government’s point of view, he believes letting singles own our own home more easily would mean affecting their projected population growth rate.

Then there are singles who genuinely have never thought of moving out. They want to continue living with their parents, not just for practical reasons.

Jonathan Chan, 40, is one of them. Unlike Angeline and Cenydd, he has never felt like he needed or wanted his own space, so he has never sought to get one. He claims that he never even considered HDB’s Single Singapore Citizen Scheme before I bring it up in conversation.

However, for him, it’s not about a lack of money.

In his parents’ home, Jonathan already has his own private space. Like Cenydd, he shares that he’s also never home, so there’s no issue with having his parents breathe down his neck or encroach on his personal time.

“Moving out and having my own space to decorate is not really in my sights. Keeping the family tight is more important for me, because I’m an only child. Besides, the sense of freedom is still there.”

He also readily admits that he’s happy being with his parents, so the lack of home ownership doesn’t affect or bother him, despite any Western cultural narrative that insists living with one’s parents isn’t ‘cool’. In fact, he shares that once when he was abroad, he found himself missing home.

For him, this deep bond with his family overrides any dream of being an independent home owner.

As someone who relishes and heavily prioritises freedom, and has always wanted nothing more than a place to call my own, I anticipate turning 35.

So I find Cenydd and Jonathan’s perspectives particularly refreshing. To choose to stay with one’s parents, especially when one can finally afford to move out, is a foreign concept.

In my opinion, moving out doesn’t mean a child stops caring for their parents. It does, however, mean exploring a new part of who you are and not being able to rely on anyone for anything. No doubt self-discovery and self-growth can be challenging and intimidating, but that’s precisely why it’s so exciting.

Nonetheless, I concede that perhaps it’s tougher to continue living with parents as a female. No matter how old we are, we are still a child in our parents’ eyes. While this may have been endearing at 20, it’s plain irritating when you’re nearing your 30s.

For instance, a single female friend says that her mother still treats her as though she were 15, such as by inadvertently implying a curfew exists and prying into her social life. This friend is almost 40.

Not only does behaviour like this disregard the boundaries we should be allowed as adults, it might also result in resentment for parents being the main driving force for eventually moving out.

Frankly speaking, living with our parents also does zero favours for our sex or dating life.

And so, setting aside the possibility of marriage, there are few things I look forward to as much as spending my 35th birthday at HDB.

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