Leaving home ain’t what it used to be

My son is leaving home – sort of. But for young people in 2024, this is not the simple process it used to be. Kindness and understanding are key…

When I was just 17, I left home.

Well – sort of. All I did was go to university in town several hours drive away from where I had gone to school, and move into a room in the safe environment of a residence.

We got three meals a day as part of the deal. There was a shared bathroom, and washing machines two or three flights of stairs upwards.

I truly can’t remember if we had to clean our own rooms, or if there were cleaning staff for the general areas only. Given that it was 1980 in South Africa, I suspect we had cleaning help.

So, it wasn’t really “adulting”, as they say now.

Sharing was caring

Adulting came later, once I moved to Cape Town to do my honours degree. I moved into a flat, shared with two other people. We bought groceries, cooked, did the dishes and cleaned. I lived in that sort of shared accommodation for years after that, moving into my own flat somewhere in my mid-twenties.

In all those shared spaces, and in my own flat, there generally wasn’t a huge amount of money to go round, but there was food to be eaten and (mostly) enough money to go out for drinks or coffee or a burger.

I’m not sure that my experience was shared by many of my contemporaries. Going to university was not something many school leavers did. But a fair amount of people living in the strange enclave that was white South Africa followed a path like this.

(And of course, it was not typical at all for my male friends and family: they had the prospect of enforced military conscription hanging over their heads).

Fast forward to 2024

I’ve been thinking about those days because our household is in the grip of a “leaving home” moment. We’ve converted a small garage into a studio flat, and my son and his girlfriend have moved into it.

In other words, my baby has left home. My nest is not as empty as it could be though. He has just moved across a small and rather untidy courtyard, and I see them both every day. (As a friend said: “At least he didn’t go to Australia!”)

What strikes me though is how different the experiences of young people are today – particularly economically. In my first, not-very-well-paid journalism job, I earned enough money at the age of 21, going on 22, to set up home in a flat with a friend, run a small, elderly second-hand car – and even acquire a kitten.

When I see what the potential earnings of my son and his friends are (assuming they can find a job) and measure that against the cost of living, I am sharply aware that the attainment of independence is not as simple as it once was.

Try a little kindness

No matter how much people in their early 20s yearn to set up their own homes (even just shared houses), for many it’s just not possible. Or it is only possible incrementally, over a long period of time.

For those of us privileged enough to have bought homes and (perhaps) saved a bit for our retirement, it’s best to suspend our judgements about “the youth of today”.

A careful look at what is going on in the world will tell us that things truly are different. For all of us, older and younger, “adulting” now means accepting that we need to make do and mend, to be content with what we have.

And perhaps, if we are lucky, get a kitten.

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Main picture: yousef alfuhigi, Unsplash

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