Nov 2010 02

by Matt Dunbar

Bankruptcies and bailouts. Widespread unemployment. A once booming and diverse economy now exclusively based on the production of Shakeweights and whoopee cushion Smartphone apps.

The so-called “Great Recession” has created a new normal in many aspects of day-to-day American life, ranging from unexpected “leisure time” and delinquent mortgage payments to convincing VISA, MasterCard and Manuel’s Easy Credit Anybody Qualifies Loan Shop/Korean Barbecue that you’re legally deceased. But perhaps most alarming of all these changes is the completely unnatural, perverse and depressing phenomenon that many in our generation (read: humanities majors) are currently experiencing – moving back in with our parents.

I’m stricken with a curious sense of obligation to share the lessons I learned from spending half a year residing with my folks at the not-so tender age of 24. I do this primarily with selfless motivation, since many of you may soon be forced to endure a hell similar to the one I’ve only recently escaped from. After reading this, I hope you might be able to avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made, or at least have fair warning of what’s in store. In the words of my father, “Do as I say, not as I do – but definitely don’t do anything that costs retail.”

[Noir in Laziest Days]

A Six Step Guide To Moving Back In With Your Parents

Lesson 1: Wear pants

I list this lesson first because of its importance and because of how relatively easy it is to implement. Our generation’s parents are baby boomers, and despite their increasingly bizarre flirtations with our own hip, progressive trends (iPhones, organic food, Wii, etc.), they nevertheless are instilled with the same “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality that beset their parents during the Great Depression. Thus, despite their better instincts, they are often offended by overt signs of “laziness” – such as, say, a 24-year-old asleep on their leather sofa, surrounded by a half-dozen Powerbar wrappers and a chocolate-stained L.A. Times sports section, wearing nothing but Pink Floyd boxer-briefs.

DO NOT FIGHT THEM ON THE NEED FOR PANTS. At first, I made the mistake of insisting the lack of clothing was a generational and cultural difference, that the people who work at Google never wear pants and they seem to get shit done, that the important thing is that you’re wearing underwear, which for most of college was optional. Just put on a pair of jeans at some point before mid-afternoon (save the khakis or tube skirts for when you ask for money), and you’ll save yourself a good deal of grief.

Lesson 2: Say the phrase “Well, in this economy” at least 40 times a day.

It’s best to incorporate the phrase into a fully-articulated sentiment, such as “Well, in this economy, I’d be lucky to just get an interview in the next six months, let alone a job.” However, this is not completely necessary. I’ve found that by simply saying “Well, in this economy….” aloud as many times as possible and trailing off, parents will typically ease off on questions about cover letters, resumes and other time-consuming activities that distract from Dr. Who marathons and fantasy baseball. For added affect, be sure to leave out relevant reading material about how the global economy is collapsing in on itself and how we’ll all be carrying our currency in wheelbarrows sometime next year. I kept this cover of the New Yorker from October of last year in my parents’ living room for months, often retrieving it from our recycling bin weekly.

Lesson 3: Make yourself the household IT specialist

When it comes to technology, most parents suffer from a severe autoimmune condition known colloquially as “I swear this is not how it worked before” syndrome. Induced primarily by small, unanticipated and essentially meaningless changes to software or hardware, symptoms include rapid mood swings, uncontrollable sweating (if hardware is involved) and irritable bowels. Do not be reluctant to exploit this to your advantage.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that your mom’s phone somehow mysteriously changed from a 16th century text messaging format where you have to input each letter individually to T9. After accidentally text messaging your sister that she should “remember to fork her mousework,” your mother will inevitable turn to you to fix whatever has gone horribly wrong with her phone. It is important to pretend that the problem is more severe than it is before resolving it, both to make your parents feel less technologically inept and to implicitly enhance your own IT specialist value. I recommend saying, “This could be a virus…” before miraculously touching the minimize icon.

Lesson 4: Incorporate your parents into your drinking regiment

This is a tricky lesson, and I only advise attempting it if you’ve been living at home for at least three months and have established relative detente on other fronts. Once again, understanding a generational rift is essential to successfully executing this lesson. For most of us, college was an all-out shitshow of Popov, projectile vomiting and emergency contraception that we are still in the process of recovering from and likely never will. For our parents, college was about “experimentation.” They took a hit every now and then to see if their Steely Dan record would say anything cool when played backwards, but binge drinking was rarely the de facto recreational activity it is for us.

Thus it’s of little surprise that when downing a Mickey’s with dinner, one would encounter looks of bewilderment and confusion from parents. However, if properly discerned, those looks will also betray a certain reluctant curiosity. Upon reflection, the explanation is surprisingly obvious: Your parents are old, they are just as unhappy that you’ve moved back in with them as you are, and, thanks to the likely state of their own job and/or marriage, they are in way more desperate need of escapism than you are. If they haven’t tried abusing alcohol yet, you can be that gateway.

Lesson 5: Pretend to not enjoy doing “nothing” half as much as you really do enjoy doing nothing

The syntax may be confusing, but the lesson is simple. I put quotation marks around “nothing” to signify that one person’s definition may differ from another’s. For example, one person may consider watching all of NBC’s offerings on Hulu a highly productive endeavor, while others may call it “really pathetic, Matt.” Sadly in this case, your own definition of “nothing” is irrelevant.

There are several tactics you can adopt to achieve the pretense that you somehow prefer waking up at 6 AM, commuting, and staring at your Outlook inbox for 9 hours to not doing any of that. The easiest is to simply manipulate your facial expressions whenever your parents are around to reflect a deep, brooding discontent. I like to call this, “unemployment constipation face.” Copy this archetype.

When your parents ask what’s wrong, simply tell them “Ahhh, nothing. Its just I thought I would be out of the house by now.” They will naturally sympathize, and will secretly be relieved that you’re not enjoying yourself and that your stay will indeed be temporary, thereby allowing your stay to indeed be prolonged.

Other options include emailing them Craigslist job posts that you are highly overqualified for, with a subject line “Think they’ll take a college grad for this?” Or spending 3/4 of your day at a coffee shop “job hunting” – I recommend Panera, they have free wi-fi and won’t directly confront you about not buying anything and raiding free samples for at least a month.

Lesson 6: Avoid timetables, timelines, and time travel

I would say avoid the concept of time entirely, but this is an incredibly difficult feat to execute without Rod Serling showing up in your living room and turning your entire family into pig-men. Paradoxically, the best strategy here is to initially propose your own timeline, but make sure it is obtuse and convoluted enough so that you have enough maneuverability later on: “So, if by May I’m not out of here….which really I should be, considering my constipation face…anyway, that will be my trigger month, where you can initiate rental payments on a pro-rated basis and keep those payments in escrow until September, when I’ll file for arbitration. But be careful, they may Rule 5 my ass and I could end up playing for Kansas City.”


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