I’ve always thought of myself as an independent woman. I’ve lived at home my entire adult life but I made my own money, paid rent, ran errands, helped my parents out, and so on. It’s very common in my culture for women to live at home until they get married or, you know, shrivel up and die, so even though I got some side-eye from non first generation people I didn’t feel too weird about it. My family’s living space was small: we had a one bedroom apartment and my sister and I shared the room while my parents slept in the living room (I know this is the part where others raise their eyebrows but trust me, parents in the living room and siblings in a room is a super standard immigrant broke-fam arrangement). It wasn’t excruciating and it saved money so I was happy for a couple years, but something shifted.
Every birthday, I have an existential crisis. This isn’t new. I’ve been doing it since I was a tween stressing out about the transition from 12 to 13. It isn’t about looks or wanting to be young forever; it’s essentially about me hitting benchmarks I’ve set for myself because we’re all going to die oh my god my time is running out more and more every day. Anyway, 26 hit me particularly hard because I’d just been promoted around my birthday, and suddenly I was working a more challenging job surrounded by older people and everyone had their own place and fancy adult life and here I was talking about what my mom made for dinner last night.
I felt like I was less of an adult. I know that’s bullshit and my own internalized prejudice, because having an apartment does not make you an adult, nor does it make you independent. In fact, more than one in five adults live at home, and it doesn’t meant that they don’t have their lives together. And as for those that do have their own place, I personally know plenty of people who could only afford their own apartment right out of college because their parents were paying a big portion of their rent. Those people are not more “adult” than those living at home, especially when a lot of people that live at home help their parents out financially. Even then that doesn’t matter, because finances do not equal maturity; that kind of thinking is classist and that’s a whole other mess. It took a lot of energy to not violently roll my eyes every time I got a condescending comment like “Now you can be an adult!” when I mentioned possibly looking for my own place. Like, screw that. I’ve worked way too hard for that shit. I’ve been an adult.
However, after turning 26, suddenly the insecurity was coming from me, and I couldn’t stop it. It was nothing personal against my family; I just wanted out, and thankfully I was in a financially stable enough place to do it. And so I began looking and found my perfect place within a month. There’s a roommate because it’s 2019 and Los Angeles and I don’t make a million dollars a year, but it’s close to work, in my budget, and has garage parking (this is a big win for me). I expressed interest, and soon I found out I could move in in just a couple weeks. So I did! Boom! Life decision made!
It’s now been about six weeks and I’m still settling in. There are a lot of perks: this place has a pool, it’s ten minutes from work (as opposed to my old 40 minute commute), it takes me two minutes to park and walk to my front door. But of course there are also negatives: the main one is that I am broke. Brickity brackity broke. Brokezilla. I’m a Brokémon.
I am building my cookware and furniture collections from scratch (I have a desk but no chair so I am permanently borrowing a dining table chair), tampons cost a fortune, I am scraping by, oh and I have overwhelming guilt that I’m no longer helping my family financially. But I’ve been more broke and I managed, so I’m not dying. I’ve been the kind of broke where I entered scientific studies for a quick buck, and I don’t see myself landing back there again (knock on wood). I still have financial corners that I can cut like walking to work now instead of driving and using up precious gas, and falling back on my old gig of delivering food on weekends. So I’m feeling the pressure of being broke, but I’m not so poor right now (Talia Jane has a great piece on that distinction, read it, share it, huff it). Honestly, overall, I feel great. Again, I love my parents, but I’ve been able to sit down to write this piece with my music playing softly and no one interrupting me every ten minutes. Can you believe it?
My family’s getting by pretty well, but I do feel selfish for leaving. In a show of The Worst Timing Ever, my mom’s chronic health issue flared up literally three weeks after I moved out and she had to quit her job. I’m glad she quit because her health is priority, but I feel pangs of guilt every thirty seconds about not helping them out with rent anymore. However, I’m also comforted that if they need money, they will not hesitate to reach out. That’s the great thing about immigrant parents: they’ll call and be like “I sacrificed for you! Give me $200.” Or is that just my parents? Regardless, I hope they speak up if they’re struggling. Maybe I should call. Goddamnit. What was the question?
I am also quickly realizing that in some aspects, I actually am a baby. For example, my garbage disposal is clogged and my roommate’s out of town and I scratched my head about it for two days, tried to fix it for one day, and then realized, duh, landlord. It took me three whole days to come to the easiest conclusion. I’ve also never felt smaller than when I looked at a heavy trashbag and realized, “Oh, I have to take that out, don’t I?” The most recent example of my babiness is, and I wish this was a joke, Googling the best way to clean a mirror. I swear I’m a smart person.
Another unforeseen issue has been that this complete freedom has made me face my lack of discipline. You know what I did the other day that I had nothing to do? Do you think I spent that time writing? Exercising? Learning a new recipe? No, I spent two hours making a YouTube video of our family dog Colin simply because I could!
Back at home, I knew there were eyes on me so it made it a little easier to stick to my schedule of writing and staying active by walking Colin. Now I have to keep myself in check and remind myself that just because I can lay in bed and watch Netflix all weekend, it doesn’t mean that I should. It’s a little harder to get out of bed without someone bursting in and saying “Elizabeth you’re still in bed? It’s 11am!” I’m not super proud of it but through a series of new alarms on my phone and sticky notes above my desk I’ve been able to slowly establish a new structure for myself.
Essentially, I’m such a baby that I didn’t realize I have to be my own mom.
I’m gradually moving from baby to toddler, though. I’ve learned more about cooking in the past month and a half than I did in four years of college (shoutout to meal plans). I dust my things now. I research the best and cheapest product now before I buy it. I order takeout waaaaaaaay less and use leftovers waaaaaay more. I’m figuring it out. I’m broke right now but honestly, what else is new. It’ll be fine.
Maybe I’ll call my mom and see what she made for dinner today. I also need my dad to look at my car headlights. It’s baby steps, you guys, I’m only human.