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May 13, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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Down and Out in Aro and Hataitai

I don’t really know why I moved out.

I like to think of myself as a fairly rational person, yet for some reason I put myself further into debt* every week for no tangible benefit. My parents live closer to both Uni and town than I do, their residence is much warmer, and they have a cat. While I did live there, I had no younger siblings, a floor to myself, and lacked any parental restraints (privilege, checked). Why leave this all behind for a room in Hataitai with carpets the colour of vomit and windows that don’t shut properly?

I can at least take solace in knowing that I’m not alone. While many of you moved out necessarily to come to Uni from around the country, almost 45 per cent of incoming first-years are from Wellington—around 1150 students—and the University estimates that most stay home for first-year and then move out. Why? Asking around, I got three main motives: ‘independence’, sex, and of course, FOMO. Is it really that simple?

‘Independence’ is the answer you give your parents; it’s what you tell yourself you’re doing this for. Dr Magdalena Kielpikowski, a postdoctoral research fellow at Victoria’s School of Psychology, begins by taking the word ‘independence’ to pieces. “Is it, for example, financial independence, psychological independence, functional independence, or broadly understood freedom?” She brings up a good point—how independent are you if you borrow to live? Sticking to a strict budget is much more difficult than just waiting for your parents to buy more food, but it’s not quite ‘independence’. Money isn’t the only factor though: independence is a mindset, a reliance on self that is harder to reproduce in the house you were conceived in. For Kielpikowski, the ease of moving back home makes this independence somewhat hollow. “As long as there is a possibility of returning, [moving out] may not be of equal significance.”

So, sex? Even with soundproof walls and ex-hippy parents, explaining your living situation to a potential intercourse partner isn’t exactly a turn-on. Several interviewees mentioned sex as a reason other people moved out, but none admitted it of themselves. We all think everyone else is having more sex than us; do we think they want it more too? Of course, sex doesn’t necessarily mean courtship; some people just want to bang their current partners more often. Only one interviewee moved out with her boyfriend, and she advises against it, as she now shares a room with her recent-ex. She wished not to be named. “You become too dependent on them and you don’t learn the skills you would normally learn moving out on your own.” Given her current situation, she adds: “What kind of teenager knows whether they will stay with their boyfriend for an entire fixed-term tenancy?” Sex is an easy excuse, the kind of thing first-year Psych students feel super-smart bringing up, but it’s definitely not that simple.

Of the three reasons, ‘FOMO’, or Fear of Missing Out, definitely hit me hardest. Living with your friends isn’t consistently amazing, but it is different, and often fun. Living at home, one gets the feeling that flat parties are just glimpses of the antics a flat gets up to 24/7, however many of your own parties you may have cleaned up after. BA student Alex Hollis moved out in first-year, not wanting university to be a repeat of high school. “Most of my friends were going off to other cities for uni and I was staying here, and I felt like moving out would be a little like that—I would have new experiences.”

Of course, moving out isn’t for everyone. I spent part of my university life explaining how much more “convenient” home was; other Wellingtonians have their own reasons.

Second-year BA student Chrissy Brown remains at home, mostly for financial reasons. “I’m going to be in less debt, and I have all the comforts of home,” she asserts, and it’s hard to disagree. With youth unemployment so high and university costs soaring, an increase in home-dwellers is natural, but is there more to it? Kielpikowski observes a certain “postponement” of ‘adult’ events in our generation. “Young people are staying at home longer, get married later and have children later than their counterparts did in the seventies.” My father was married at my age; I barely made it through my one long-term relationship. Those of us who do move out often return after university, saving money for a house or travel. Flatting begins to feel more like a holiday from home than an actual new home.

One can easily go overboard when discussing ‘how it used to be’. Much of youth looks better through nostalgic eyes, especially eyes who went to university for free. Many of us grew up with relatives who constantly told stories about their flatting exploits, from Scarfie antics down south to LSD in the capital, but are any of our lives really this carefree? Personally, I’m shitloads more responsible as a flatter—nobody will feed me if I spend all my money on booze or taxis. Flatting, much like dorms, high school, university, and summer holidays, is part-myth. Sure, much of what you expect occurs, but its never quite how you imagined it, or quite how it was described to you. We willingly try to make these experiences feel more cliché, and whenever they touch the myth we shout it from our laptops. Just look out for the phrase “flat life” on Facebook.

So maybe we’re over-romanticising the idea of ‘moving out’. Does one really need a new address to become an adult? Hollis argues that it helps, but it isn’t needed. “I think making some sort of change in how your relationship with your parents works is a necessary step, but that doesn’t have to mean moving out.” Brown points to parents too: “it depends on who you are and your relationship with your parents.” Conversely, Kielpikowski believes we just assign it this importance. “It is not a needed step, but as a salient, discrete event it may be interpreted as the beginning of adulthood, especially retrospectively.”

Internationally—in the Western world at least—flatting at 18 is becoming a bit of an anomaly. Australians are much more comfortable living at home well into their 20s, as are Europeans. American students seem somewhat close—most college students move away—but their dorm culture is much more ingrained. Christine Li, who studies Restaurant Management and Music Education in New York, says people there move out for much the same reasons. “It’s just cool to have your own space and privacy. Also parties, duh.” Are European and Australian students pining after the same things, or does our culture just tell us what we want? It all comes back to the FOMO—would we want to spend all this money if nobody else was?

Nine paragraphs in, I’m still not quite sure what I’m paying $147.50 a week for. Is it carnal opportunities? Is it the fact that my best friend is sleeping in the next room? Is it so I don’t blush when someone enquires what my flatmates are like? Is it because all my friends have done it? Is it the small rush I get paying my own bills and sleeping in a bed I paid for? It’s all of those things. It’s more than those things. It might be a ritual we put too much weight on, but if you are going to do it you might as well enjoy it. Just don’t live in Hataitai.

——

*I also work two jobs part time, if you are readying your pitchforks.

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