Will Paying Rent Buy Me My Independence?
- Current Affairs
Two weeks ago, I dreamt that I was 50 years old and still living with my parents. In a city where moving out of your childhood home often demands either marriage or a large salary, a nightmare like this is shared by most young or single adults.
Whenever I imagine what it’s going to be like when I get to live alone, it’s always the same idealistic impressions that surface. I see myself going grocery shopping twice a week and doing my laundry every Thursday night. On Sundays, I vacuum and mop the floor, and give every visible surface a wipe down. Every morning, I make myself breakfast.
I fantasise about how having my own space will free me of all the pre-occupations that encumber me when I live at home now. I’ll lounge in the living room in my underwear, and walk circles around my kitchen as I drink beer and struggle to write my next story. In this freedom and independence, I think to myself, I’ll finally become my own person.
The incredible thing about this vision of my future life is also that as long as it never happens, I don’t have to face up to the fact that, well, reality might be slightly different. For starters, I’m not someone who needs to go out every few days. I do pretty well without the regular exposure to sunlight and strangers that most normal people crave.
A lot of us like to think of adulthood as some kind of overnight transformation.
In the past, I’ve spent weeks on end devouring books and movies in my PJs, making the occasional venture out of my room to rummage through the fridge. Where I live, there’s always food. All it takes is a little creativity to throw a meal together.
Now that I’m a little older, the idea of independence has begun to grow on me. During dinner at a friend’s place last week, I basked in the absence of anyone above the age of 40. I marvelled at the luxury of blasting jazz and heavy metal at 9 PM in the evening. We cooked, did the dishes, and proceeded to get drunk on too much whisky and gin. As we took a quick tour around the house, a door was hurriedly closed on a room housing an ironing board protesting under the weight of freshly clean clothes.
“Yknow, life,” was all that friend said, with a snigger. I nodded and smirked right back. Of course I knew what’s it’s like to live without a stay-at-home mum. I’ve done it before for stretches at a time when travelling overseas.
And if this isn’t adulthood, I thought, what is? A lot of us like to think of adulthood as some kind of overnight transformation. You get married, buy a house, and all of a sudden you’re doing yoga 3 times a week and juggling a full-time job with two other personal projects.
If only that were true. Instead, what it really is is a constant struggle. And that’s what I want. I want to be hurled into the deep end of the pool, to find myself suddenly in an empty apartment with bills to pay and a leaky toilet to fix. I want to know: In a situation like this, what kind of person would I become?
On some level, I’m convinced that it’s only when I’m living alone that I’ll be able to take both myself and my life more seriously.
Living at home with my parents is a comfort I appreciate and relish every day of every week. At the same time, it’s hard to think of myself as an adult while I’m at it. It’s strange to look in the mirror and watch myself ageing even as I don’t have to worry about cooking dinner. How is it that I’m planning my next career move while not even having to wash the toilet that I use on a daily basis?
The problem with living with my parents is also that it’s made me complacent. It’s put me in a place where I’ve become reluctant to consider the very practical dimensions of my future. Home, with all the trappings of comfort and convenience, has become this safe space where I no longer experience any kind of urgency. It’s become the place I step into only to end up thinking to myself, I’ll worry about this life thing some other time.
On some level, I’m convinced that it’s only when I’m living alone that I’ll be able to take everything more seriously. After all, knowing that there’s someone at home to clean up after me makes me feel like I haven’t really grown up—that I don’t really have to grow up. It makes me feel like I don’t need to think about things like insurance policies and utility bills.
It’s almost inevitable, being Asian and living in an expensive city, that this situation resembles a lot of our lives. But if I don’t believe that this experiment in adulthood will be the change I need in my life, I’ll never get to make the mistakes I’ll eventually end up making anyway. At least if I make them early, I’ll finally get round to learning to make my first lasagna. This is assuming, of course, that I have enough money for food after paying the rent.