Living with your parents after a certain age has long been the butt of jokes. Depicted as lazy and dependent, the archetype played out in films like Adam McKay’s Step Brothers reinforces the idea of the home-dweller as someone who has failed to mature into adulthood.
But while men often bear the brunt of this ridicule – a trope underlined by toxic masculinity and the assumption that men are supposed to be breadwinners – returning home has long been synonymous with “hitting rock bottom”, regardless of gender. In the 2011 film Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig’s character Annie sits teary-eyed on the sofa after moving home, and her mum says, “Hitting rock bottom is a good thing because there's nowhere to go but up,” confirming that that is in fact where she is.
It’s easy to laugh at what we’re afraid of. Beyond the comedic there’s often a sinister edge ascribed to the home-dweller: the basement conspiracy theorist (it’s dark down there at rock bottom), incels, people who spend too much time on the internet. And then there’s the “it could happen to anybody” fear, too, that at any point we could “lose it all”, having fallen foul of a Black Mirror reality where, god forbid, our productivity fell short of an invisible threshold.
If living with the parents is seen as the archetype of ultimate failure, bravely moving to the city – usually London – is the classic story of success. As Bob Mortimer’s Train Guy exemplifies, London is or was the “opportunity knocking shop”, the “win-win-count-me-in city”.
I did it. I moved there in 2018 with very little money or contacts out of a bewildered urge to “be successful” – and while I moved back to my university town after a year of misery for work and to live with my partner, I now visit home often and would move there in a heartbeat if I didn't have a life here now.
Now there are mass redundancies and a crumbling economy, millions are returning to their parents – at least 10.5 million Brits, according to finder.com. Two-thirds of respondents in the research said they expected the move to be more permanent and have no move out date in sight.
The numbers speak volumes. It’s time we stopped viewing and depicting moving home, whether to your hometown or childhood home, as life’s ultimate nadir.
The benefits of moving home are numerous. The sudden pause the coronavirus pandemic has put on many people’s lives exposed the contradictions inherent in the mentality that moving away equals success. Many of us have been given the opportunity to step out of the rat race and have had the space to question what success is, and what it means to us.
The pandemic enabled us to reclaim community, rather than value the borough or region where we lived by its proximity to the capital. Forced to stay within our own few square miles, “commuter” towns became towns again in their own right.
Satire like Train Guy exposes the fallacy we have all chosen to ignore: that it makes no sense to spend upwards of £800 on a single bedroom or to commute in sardine-tin trains every morning. For many office workers, at least, there will be no mourning of the “Pret economy”. Instead, we have been vindicated in our long-held belief that some jobs don’t need to be tied to a geographical location and could instead be done remotely.
Moving home isn’t hitting rock bottom. For millions, moving home is expressing resistance to a way of life that, for many people, wasn’t satisfactory.
Bloomberg’s Sarah Holder succinctly describes why this may be: “Stuck in small apartments with roommates whose risk-taking they can’t control, stripped of the mobility and fun that urban living advertises, untethered to a physical office and still learning basic adult survival skills, some young people are eager for the familiarity of family.”
For those lucky and privileged enough to have a stable family home to return to, or even just a more affordable hometown, coronavirus has reframed moving home less as a defeat and more a reclamation of control.
Now, moving home is saying “no” to the establishment’s prescription of success and a refusal to go back to how things were before. That if there’s a different way of life available, we might just dare to take it.
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