The Oak Leaf

College students’ survival guide for living at home

Riley Palmer, Staff Writer

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Olivia Mulligan

You unload an enormous backpack, shoulders throbbing and head pounding from another day at Santa Rosa Junior College. Before you can dart into your room unnoticed, your parents are already nagging about the FAFSA and whether it was your day to chauffeur your little brother to school and back.

Your mind wanders away from the kitchen table in the 900-square-foot, double-wide mobile home you share with them to the dream of your own peaceful, quiet apartment.

In my “College Fantasy Pad,” more than one person could fit through the hallway at time. The walls would be well insulated so I couldn’t hear my brother snoring. There wouldn’t be frogs taking their summer vacation in my shower. The rain wouldn’t ricochet off the metal exterior and wake me in the middle of the night. The entire house wouldn’t rattle when someone was doing a load of laundry.

But this is life if you’re me.

Like many SRJC students, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either I live at home with my family and do my best to focus on school, or I increase my work hours to fund crazy-high rent payments in one of California’s most expensive markets and sacrifice school to do it.

The average Sonoma County rental for a vacant one-bedroom apartment costs from $1,300 to $2,000 per month. So yes, since living at home means I avoid this bill, I can finally quit my complaining. I am lucky enough to live in an area where I can afford a one-bedroom apartment — it just happens to be one I share with three people.

With the increasing cost of housing, I know I am not the only SRJC student who feels this financial impact. Many students in the California community college system who don’t live at home face housing insecurity. According to the CCC Chancellor’s Office Basic Needs Reports, 35 percent of students were housing insecure and 14 percent reported they were homeless.

I love my family. They are all great people, and I have learned a lot from them. So, for the sake of my wallet, I’ve been living with them and figuring out ways to make this lifestyle work for the place that I am in my life. It’s not easy, but it’s less stressful financially, and there are ways to make this dynamic work.

Coexisting with your parents can be done, and I’m the proof.

So if you’re like me and truly don’t have any options, read on for five pieces of advice from a 19-year-old making it work.

Make your room your space.

I’ve been living in the same house for about 12 years; all my childhood belongings are stored in built-in cabinets over my bed.

At first it was hard for me to go through my transition to adulthood in a place I associated with playing dress up and reading Nancy Drew mysteries. It occurred to me that I needed some sort of change, so little by little, I rearranged my room. I hung art I currently love and am getting a more grown-up and less peace-sign-y inspired sheet set, both of which helped me feel my room is a space where I can mature. You can do something similar, something small, like getting a new bedspread, or changing the posters on your wall.

Work on your relationship with your family members.

It’s common for teenagers and young adults to suffer through stressful relationships with their parents, and living together can really aggravate the situation. But in an effort to make your living arrangements as manageable as possible, make an effort to evolve your relationship with your paRENTals.

I started volunteering to do dishes and set the table without my parents’ asking. Every family has a different dynamic, but showing you’re willing to participate in household duties as a fellow adult contributor goes far. It’s about more than the dishes. Your help shows you’re grateful to be living in a comfortable environment, and your efforts will create a more solid foundation with the people who raised you. Once they start looking at you like an adult, they’re more likely to start treating you as one, too.

Establish mutually-agreeable ground rules to avoid fights.

As with any roommate, ground rules are essential to keep chaos and arguing to a minimum. Deciding on rules together will ensure a democratic government in the household instead of a dictatorship.

During my first year of college, I learned the hard way that with ambiguity comes angry parents. One of our typical fights occurred when I walked through the door at 1 a.m., one hour past my curfew. Living in such a small place doesn’t allow for sneaking in, and my parents couldn’t go to bed with the thought of me in harm’s way, so I was constantly victim to the awkward “where were you” conversation. While I resented the idea of having a curfew at this stage in the game, I had to put myself in my parents’ shoes and make compromises.

My parents and I sat down and negotiated a time that works for all of us. They wanted me home by 11 p.m. and I wanted a midnight curfew, but when my parents clarified they weren’t being helicopter parents and just wanted their sleep, I understood.

We settled on 11.

Taking the time to sit down and tackle these issues with your parents is an active way to fix the problem. Being able to reach compromises can make all the difference.

And yes, there are nights where I completely ignore my curfew, but don’t get very much blowback, thankfully.

Olivia Mulligan

Get out of the house.

We all have different family dynamics, and while I can compromise with mine, you and yours might go to blows over everything from the silly to the serious. So if you have no other choice but to live with your parents, it’s time to get creative.

Think of home as your sleeping destination — your one-way ticket to dreamland. Train yourself to make the community your daytime home, and spend as much time as you can out in the world.

Coexisting doesn’t require you to be best friends with your housemates, it just means you can live in the same space in relative peace.

For the majority of my college career, I’ve gone this route; there’s more room to grow in 41.50 square miles than 900 square feet. From spending more time in the library to discovering new walking paths to practically living at a friend’s house, I have tried many ways to stay out of the house.

Once you take the plunge and get out of the house, you’ll never know how much the community has to offer.

Olivia Mulligan

Change your mindset.

While this isn’t the most transparent of tips, it is the most mentally beneficial. But it’s not easy. It requires reflecting on where you are in life, shedding your ego and refusing to feel self conscious about your living situation.

I have always struggled with comparing myself to others and their lifestyles. I thought I needed to move out and go somewhere else because I felt I was missing out on milestones my peers were experiencing.. When I started to spend more time with my thoughts, I began to take a step back from that, exclude all outside influence, and ask myself, “What makes the most sense for my lifestyle and my income?”

The answer was simple: I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

If I had all the money in the world would I be living with parents? No. Yet I am grateful for my parents and my brother and our 900 square foot double-wide mobile home. The older I get, the more I realize how much time I have to spread my wings; I don’t need to rush out of our house just yet.

And I still have so much more to learn about life, so who better to spend these formative years with than people who have already experienced this stage?

Although life in the 21st century seems to be immediate, growing up isn’t — and neither is moving out. And once I learned how to not only manage but appreciate my situation, I realized it’s the best fit for me.

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About the Writer
Riley Palmer, Staff writer

Riley A. Palmer is a nursing student in her second year at Santa Rosa Junior College. In her second semester at the Oak Leaf, she is an intern writing...

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College students’ survival guide for living at home