How to live like a hermit crab: feeling at home in shared space

February 13 | Guest post by Stephanie Diederich

Reading Between DogsMy name is Stephanie. I am a graphic designer in official capacity only when I'm employed. You see, I'm 25, and I am financially and habitationally dependent upon my parents. I am not only living once again in my parents' house; I am living in my sister's (former) bedroom. It's a situation I've tried to make peace with since I graduated from college in 2008.

When I moved back into this house, my sister's bedroom was hers, and my bedroom was nonexistent. The room I needed to live in had decorated walls and shelves, furniture, clothes in the closet…I felt like it wasn't my home, like it was temporary. And that worked for me until I began to realize how detached it feels to be living in someone else's space and calling it your own. When I didn't get a job right away like I'd hoped, my assertion of independence was overshadowed by disappointment. My efforts to make the space seem impermanent backfired and made the permanence of my living situation less bearable.

Mirror Collection

One of the first things I did to make my space more like home was to add personal touches, like hanging a small collection of gilded mirrors I bought at a flea market. It made the space seem more like my home and less like my sister's room. Gradually, I de-cluttered the room, carefully removing my sister's possessions, asking her what she wanted done with them, and doing that. Small things, over time, massaged the room to reflect my personality and tastes more than my sister's.

Daybed

Then I assessed my space. I wanted to be able to do everything necessary for daily life in my room. So I moved in some multi-purpose furniture, including a day bed, a folding table that can either be desk or coffee table height, and some folding camp chairs. This step made the space mine; I didn't have to do my work in the kitchen, or try to relax in the living room while someone was watching tv. It helped the transition for me from apartment life — with all my spaces comfortably combined into a large bedroom and communal spaces rarely occupied by roommates — to living with my parents, in my sister's tiny bedroom.

I think that being able to live comfortably with your parents as an adult hinges a lot on your mindset. I've tried to make outward changes, but really, the wealth of my growth in the past four years has been in my outlook, rather than in my room's decor.

I had moved in originally with only necessary items. The rest of my things were kept in a storage facility, there being no room to put them in my sister's space. Then, they were moved and kept in storage space around the house. Up until recently, I didn't have enough room in my bedroom to keep all the things I kept in my apartment in college. Moving in my books, records, and miscellaneous other personal possessions has made a huge difference in my comfort level. I feel more like I'm living in a communal house with my parents as roommates than an adult living with her parents.

One of the most difficult things I've had to deal with as an adult living in my parents' house is the condition of my home. I wrote an article for Offbeat Home in its beginnings entitled Ditch the magazine: Improving house-esteem. Truth is, I've always tried to lead other people in ways I can't lead myself, because blazing a path altruistically is a lot easier than working up the courage toCord Wrangling do something just for me.

I've learned that sometimes the best solution isn't the prettiest solution. For example, my media setup hinges on a cable organizer clipped to a drawer handle that looks very dicey, but works (and moves easily if I need access to that drawer). And that applies to living situations too – it may not be glamorous to live with my parents, but I love spending more time with them, and I'm glad that I can live with them, because otherwise I'd be living on the street and I'm just not ready for that level of living the bohemian ideal right now.

I think that being able to live comfortably with your parents as an adult hinges a lot on your mindset. I've tried to make outward changes, but really, the wealth of my growth in the past four years has been in my outlook, rather than in my room's decor. Even though making your room a nice place to live is great, you have to be able to live in the house and the world outside of it and stay sane. That's how I see it, anyway. Until I move, living with my parents is great — because it has to be, but mostly just because it is.

To all you other adults living at home: good luck, hope this helps, and may the force be with you.

  1. As someone who just moved back OUT of my parent's house, I really appreciate your attitude! (Sometimes it sucks, but our own attitude has power to influence our experience).

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  2. Such good advice and a good outlook. It's true that feeling at home in any less-than-ideal place requires both effort to make it yours and gratitude and optimism about your temporary home.

    I love what you said about the power of bringing your own items into any space… it makes such a difference. During a recent (unexpected) stint at my parents' house I was not happy to be there. At first I wanted to bring only the bare essentials because I knew it would be a short stay. But slowly incorporating my favorite things (like my towel that was fluffier than any in their linen closet) made me a lot more comfortable. And it's not like it created much more work for me when I moved back out.

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  3. I had to live with my now ex-husband during the entire time we were divorcing (not seeing things the same way with respect to custody, so neither of us was going to move out). I did have my own room, and I can attest to the validity of all your points. During an unbearable time, that room was my sanctuary–the only part of the house that didn't feel like dangerous, hostile territory. A few personal possessions and the ability to do most of what you want to do is what makes a space home and contributes to sanity.

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    • I'm so glad to hear about someone else who has been through this situation! I have been roommate with my ex for a few years too, he refused to sell our house because we would have owed the bank a penalty neither of us could afford. So we toughed out the couple years left to our mortgage-rate term, as roommates. There was of course an unspoken rule that when one of us found a boyfriend/girlfriend, we would go to that person's place, not bring them home. Using a curtain, I had divided my room into a bedroom and den, with furniture I had mostly inherited from my grandmother, flowery wallpaper and lace curtain, it had a shabby-chic neo-romantic feel to it. Yes, being roommates with my ex was very awkward, and at times very hostile, but I still have good memories of my time living in that room. It was my refuge. I would spend my week-ends in there, cuddled up with my little dog, watching TV series like Six Feet Under, Rome, even Twin Peaks. I'm glad this is over and that I now have more socially acceptable living arrangements, but still, those years were my single years. Let's just say that in casual conversation, I refer to that time as "my single years, living with roommates" and don't go into details.

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  4. Having only recently moved out of the in-laws' basement, this article hits close to home and it turns out I was following this advice all along! There were times where the only thing keeping me from loosing my shit was that fact that I still had this little piece of space to call my own.

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  5. I moved back in with my parents for 18 months when I was 20, and it was terribly difficult to reclaim the room I grew up in as 'mine' again. I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful boyfriend who really understood the situation and worked with my parents to help smooth the transition. My parents took me away for a week as soon as I moved back in, everything was still in boxes and I don't believe my bed was even assembled! While we were gone my future husband and future brother-in-law painted the room, assembled everything, hung some of my art and arranged the room. They left my clothes for me to sort out, but the rest was pretty much done. As I also had to downsize back to a single bed, bf/fh had bought some simple but lovely bed linen to match the paint job.

    I understand that not everyone is going to have someone who will do this for them, but I would recommend a fresh paint job to anyone put in this situation. Changing the paint job that you've had since you were 11 helps make the room 'new' and easier to reclaim. Get a group of your friends to help you out, 'upgrade' your old space in a weekend and your mood will lift – promise!

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  6. Thank you so much for posting this. My tumultuous 3 year relationship came to a brutal end about a year ago, forcing me (I'll spare you the long store) 1100 miles south to my parents' adorable tropical ranch. The same parents who always encouraged me to be myself to be unique, adventerous, and colorful now chide me for my childishness, strangeness, and refusal to normalize. It's made this a very rough year, and, when home, often find myself isolating to my room like a bomb shelter. thankfully, I've made it my own by covering it with all my "disgusting erotic" art, odd quirky touches, and of course, my cat. it's made this all bearable.
    It's so difficult to establish yourself as a mature, independant adult and then watch peoples' faces as you try and reconsile it with "….aaaaaand I live with the 'rents." Good to know I'm not alone.

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  7. Thanks for this post. My husband and I (recent recipients of our master's degrees) live with my parents at current, as the job market is highly competitive and we just haven't gotten properly-paying jobs yet. We make sure to contribute around the house (and a little financially, though we don't actually pay "rent"), so we aren't just freeloading, and in many ways, it's been a lot of fun living here and developing a new, non-child relationship with my parents. We make do with a lot of things in storage and hope to move soon (aka, whenever we get better jobs and can actually afford a true rent and all of our own grocery costs), but for now, like Stephanie said, it's way better than living on the street!

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  8. Oh Heavens, this is timely. My partner and I are moving in with his parents sometime in the next few weeks, due to Mom's cerebral palsy/diabetes and Dad's cancer/diabetes/heartdisease. We are losing half the space of our master bedroom to move into their guest bedroom, and the run of the common areas. On the up side, we have been given permission to claim the garage as a "rec room/bar" area, so that's cool.

    I don't think we're going to end up having time to paint our bedroom, though fortunately it's a nice bright shade of green that we actually like. But the deeply religious decor will be removed and replaced with things a little more of the rock-and-roll sci-fi geek stylings. My curtains are going up, and the delightful fancy mattress is going on my bedframe to replace the crappy futons. We're really trying to make the best of the situation, and I think having the rec room will help–we will be able to get away from the stress of the situation without leaving for hours and never being home, and we will be able to have guests over without disturbing the 'rents.

    I was taking care of my grandma for a couple years, a while back. Having my own sitting room in the basement really helped keep me sane, if I wanted to have guests over without just hanging out with Grandma, or having to curl up in bed (which was literally the only thing in my bedroom, the room was that small). Having My Own Stuff around really helped make it feel like home.

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  9. My husband and I are moving into my moms house by the end of the march. This will be the second time in our 3 yr marriage living there.

    Thank you for writing this, I think we will spend next weekend redecorating my old room to make it us instead of mine! The last time we were there it was very stressful and hard, hopefully this will take the edge off!

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  10. After breaking my foot last September and getting married six days later, my husband and I had to move in with his dad and brother since we could no longer afford to live on our own. It really is stressful, and I was depressed for a good few weeks after the initial move… but after taking similar steps, I think we're managing a lot better than we were.

    On the off chance that someone may benefit from this:
    One thing that has kept me sane is becoming obsessed with minimalism. It's obviously helped keep the clutter down in this little bedroom, but I think that the best part about it is that I'm finding out what's most important to me in life. It's helped with my depression and the identity crisis I had after the move, AND life is much less stressful now. Definitely worth the many hours I spend reading blogs on it. :D

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  11. Thanks for all the great feedback guys! Glad to know I'm not alone :) just to add, that book I'm reading is Little House on a Small Planet. I recommend this book to anyone trying to make themselves at home in the world. It details the social, practical, and spiritual aspects of living large in small spaces.

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