Before you move back home as a 20-something, read this first

After graduating college, I had grand, unformed plans of moving out and getting a teeny, though cozy and adorable apartment in nearby New York City, but instead, I found myself living in my childhood home, where I’ve remained since then. So while everyone else is busy decorating, saving, dealing with terrible roommates, I’m just trying to keep getting along with my mother.

Living at home was a conscious choice born from emotional reasons as much as from necessity, but that doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes difficult. My living situation means sacrificing some measure of independence, and while it’s a price I’m more than willing to pay for the trade-offs (like not going broke and actually having a relationship with my parents), I’ve learned some things in the process that I think will be helpful to anyone going through the same situation:

Establish your own personal space. The best part of getting that new apartment is getting to decorate and organize your first adult space! I didn’t quite get that, but I tried my best to morph my childhood bedroom into something I can enjoy as an adult. Also, around the house, I did little things like set spaces for my various belongings to make those spaces mine, even if it was something as simple as setting up my own coffeemaker on the kitchen counter. Your instinct may be to refrain from getting too comfortable at home, but for the time being, this is your home, and your mind will be happier if you nest a little.

Find some common ground and build an adult relationship with your parents. My father and I constantly have in-depth discussions about our shared interests; music, movies, and politics are constantly on our minds, and now that I’m a college-educated and working adult, those conversations went from one-sided lectures to an honest and open dialogue. I like getting to know my parents as adults, and let them get to know me as an adult. That relationship is invaluable to me, and I love that aspect of living at home.

Set boundaries for your parents. Sounds strange, right? My biggest problem with living at home is that my mother tends to treat me as if I’m still a teenager. She’s nurturing: cooking for me, asking question after question, offering mountains of suggestions about what I should do on a daily basis, and it’s all lovely and fine, but being an adult means being independent. I told my mom that I’d like to have as much independence as possible, even if it means making my own dinner when she’d rather cook for me. It’s definitely hard to make her tweak her habits, but part of the challenge is also changing my own. I don’t let her take care of me unless I actually need help, and in that way I retain some measure of independence.

Compromise. I try to make time to see my parents, even if we simply gather once a week for a meal my mother made especially for the occasion. Doing chores and favors grates on my nerves because it reminds me of the limits on my independence and makes me feel like a teenager again, but helping out with the housework—even if it’s cleaning my bathroom and making sure my shoes are put away—is part of the bargain for a rent-free existence. So when my parents ask me to stay in or load the dishwasher or to please, not take showers at midnight, I remember that they’re saving me from bankruptcy and that it’s their house, so I shut up and do it. Most of the time.

Don’t get complacent. Believe me, it is so easy to rely on your childhood home for comfort and forget to keep that ambitious spark alive. If you’re planning to move out soon and get that dream apartment (or even a nightmare apartment), set realistic, attainable goals for yourself, even if they’re small goals, to make sure you don’t forget about what you really want to achieve and where you’d like to end up. In the meantime, seriously enjoy your time at home. It’s a time in your life that you won’t get back again.

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