I turn 24-years old in June. I graduated magna cum laude from a prestigious NESCAC school, have lived abroad and in New York City, and am lucky enough to have a rewarding, financially sound career.
And, I live at home with my parents--out of choice. I sleep in my childhood bed. My pressed business shirts are always a bit scrunched, because the closet they hang in was built for an 8-year-old's wardrobe.
At first, I was ashamed of my situation. It's hard not to be, when the internet is rife with lovely pieces that equate moving home with "losing at life." Or, remember that time Bloomberg made those nice e-cards that were supposed to "motivate" millennials to move out by bullying them? Probably not, since they've since taken down the microsite housing them.
We're conditioned to think that the 48.8% (yes, nearly half) of 25-year-olds living at home are lazy, unfortunate, unemployed, unadventurous, and underdeveloped. There could surely be no other reason for an act so, just, well, wrong, other than financial necessity, right?
Why do we never assume that living at home means a person is saving for a house down payment, supporting one's family, or curbing education costs, rather than "getting on their feet?" How has something that is so clearly financially prudent become synonymous with failure and stagnation?
I'd argue that, as with most cultural issues, the reason has little to do with what we're told, and a lot to do with what we see, read, and hear.
This isn't a personal finance problem; it's a narrative problem.
The Independence Myth
Think of a TV show, novel, movie, or other piece of media meant to embody young adulthood. Some of my favorites include: Broadcity, Girls, Coyote Ugly, Great Expectations, and The Catcher in the Rye.
With only a cursory look, it's easy to find commonalities: moving to a big city, bouts of funemployment, a comical lack of money, seasoned benefactors, thrill-seeking, and consistent, pervasive fails, rich with educational moments.
The struggle may be real for these characters, but so too is the unsaid fact that they are growing everyday -- "finding themselves," to toss in our favorite cliché. We look at Abbi and Ilana gorging on free shellfish despite allergies, or Hannah having an unfortunate Q-tip accident, and say "this is what attempting to 'adult' looks like."
The independent, up-and-coming struggler, is art's idea of adulthood in the 21st century--and Millennials eat it up like Sunday brunch. To question its dictation is, well, weird, because how else will we become adult-shaped things, if not through these (very few, homogenous) experiences?
Enter the snap judgement of the poor souls not fortunate enough to be out of their parents' homes--they're not independent, so they'll never become thriving, fulfilled adults. Perpetual childhood and life wasted, sad and sickening, tsk tsk.
And thus, we have an ideology I'm calling the "Independence Myth." Mostly just because it sounds cool and anthropological, but also because I believe like a myth, it is pervasive, explanatory, and mostly fantasy -- albeit derived from the half-truth that independence causes maturity.
We're led to believe that it's the rented apartment, the freedom and the struggle, the skipped meals, the bruised knees, and the big city that make us grow. That, truly, the maturity and functionality of adulthood is only attainable through complete liberation from one's roots, despite the unrealistic financial and personal stress this may cause. That growth is only possible through independence--take away independence, and you're left with stagnation, repetition, and dissatisfaction.
Life would be much simpler if that were the clean-cut formula. However, it's not. It's not because independence does not directly cause maturity. There is a lurking variable in that equation, and it is called life experience.
Experience comes from the lessons learned, not the lifestyle lived. When Abby and Ilana rethink their hilarious failures, or Violet Sanford risks her job for the quote-unquote more important thing, (the boy) that is when maturity blossoms. Where the lesson happens, and whether the student rents a Manhattan penthouse or lives in Mom and Dad's basement, are perfectly irrelevant to the insight itself.
Of course, when on one's own, it is so much easier to come across these lessons because so much of one's surroundings is unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar is perhaps the greatest engenderer of experience. When the world outside is foreign and at times hostile, it's almost impossible to step outside one's door and not learn something.
However, I'd argue that unfamiliarity is also, by and large, dependent on the choices of an individual. A 20-something living at home that goes out of his or her way to try new things is not much different than a 20-something living on her own in a big city. Except one probably relies far less on $1 pizza than the other, and perhaps has to try a bit harder to feel the necessary lack of comfort to change. Experience is attainable for either--the difference is in how hard the individual must work attain it.
End Home Shaming
Millennials and older generations shame those living with parents because the Independence Myth is so deeply embedded in our generational ethos, that to deny it is social sin. The act runs contrary to our (deeply) engraved pillars of young adulthood, all of which worship instability and transience to varying degrees.
Also, let's be real here--living at home is only a choice for a privileged few. Some don't have a choice--they live at home out of financial necessity. Others may have options financially, but may hail from areas where professional opportunities are few, thus prompting them to stake out on their own anyway. Some, still, may consider the thought of spending extended periods of time with their family as enjoyable as a transorbital lobotomy. The permutations are endless, and we will never know the details of each individual's circumstances.
Which is why the snap judgements, the blanket bravado "you MUST do this," the superiority complexes, and everything in between need to end. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to surviving adulthood--no amount of fancy brunches, museum Instagrams, or city selfies will ever change that. The more you compare your life to a television/movie/novel character, the further you stray from reality and into simulacrum.
Let's be nice to our fellow millennials. Because, really, we have enough people trashing us daily to deal with rather than waste time shaming each other.