As I sit at my desk, a few feet from my bed, it dawns on me (as it does regularly) that this isn’t exactly where I wanted to be when I turned 40. There’s no gold toilet, no indoor swimming pool, and no butler. Instead, I’m back living and working in my small, single-bed teenage bedroom with two seventysomethings as housemates.
I mean, it’s not the worst situation I could find myself in. I’m thankful I’m not homeless, and I feel lucky that my parents are from London and still live here. But at the same time, it’s frustrating and embarrassing to be stuck where I am. Quite frankly I’m astonished that I even have a girlfriend. “Do you want to come back to my place?” isn’t really as alluring when you have to preface it with, “Would you like to meet my parents?”
My bedroom is also my office. I’m a creative freelancer, which means I’m able to work from home, although that's not just a lucky coincidence; it’s actually something that’s come about from necessity, rather than an overwhelming desire to work in my pyjamas.
I’ve always found it quite challenging to work in an office environment – I could never deal with office politics, and found interactions with co-workers to be quite confusing, often leading to arguments or causing me to quit. When my last “proper” job around 10 years ago I fell into that deep dark hole they call depression, and was completely unable to work for a while. It was also around this time that I got diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which helped me understand why I had trouble holding down jobs and interacting with people at the office but at the same time caused me to completely rethink my life and my approach to my work.
I decided I was going to attempt to work for myself and go freelance, but there was no way I was going to be able to do this and pay rent, especially in London, and especially while attempting to pull myself out of depression. I wasn’t able to work full-time, and I didn’t want to sign on. So the only available option was to live at my parents' place while I attempted to get better and build up some sort of career.
Five years later, I’ve managed to shake off the worst part of my depression, and can now deal with my Asperger’s well enough that I’m able to masquerade as a normal person when I need to have meetings with clients or attend optional-but-not-optional social events. So why am I still living with my parents?
Well, as it turns out, buying a house in London is nigh-on impossible, unless you have a well-paid full time job, a large deposit, and a partner in the same position. Or you’re Bruce Wayne. I read a lot of articles that describe how hard it is for young people to get on the housing ladder, but in my experience it extends way beyond that demographic.
I’ve never considered buying a house in the city in which I was born as being a realistic option, and the older I get the less likely it seems. It feels like paying extortionate amounts for rent and having absolutely no security in your housing situation is all most people can plan to experience. You can expect to live most of your adult life as if you’re a student, sharing a house with five other people, queueing for the bathroom every morning like it’s a YMCA, and paying the majority of your income to a landlord who knows you won’t complain about the four-foot-long rat in the kitchen, because you’re worried he’ll kick you out on a whim.
I’m doing pretty well now. I’m healthy, I worked through the worst part of my depression, I have a great girlfriend, and I’m making a lot more money than I was a few years ago. Life is pretty good. But I still don’t earn anywhere near enough to be able to even contemplate buying my own place. Moving out at this stage would still be a struggle, and let’s face it, I’d only be moving to a room in a house, which is essentially where I am now. So what do I do?
The fact that I’m 40 and living at my parents' house isn’t something that I like to tell people, for obvious reasons. When you’ve finally run out of cunning ways to deflect questions about who you live with and people find out the truth, the most common response is, “Lucky you, I wish my parents lived in London!” In reality, I’d much rather be working in a full-time job and paying rent. Or, obviously, be able to afford a mortgage.
But how could I afford a mortgage and buy my own place? I could ask Oprah, I guess. But more realistically, the only way I can see it happening is by staying at my parents' place so I can save a deposit. Even then it’s going to be pretty hard. Banks don’t seem to consider freelancers to have proper jobs, even though being in full-time employment means absolutely nothing in terms of financial security these days. Prices are also rising so quickly that it might even be a completely futile endeavour, like trying to catch a balloon by building a staircase out of Lego bricks.
So as I sit here, at this desk in my bedroom in my parents' house, I think about how lucky I am that I’m not out on the street, how lucky I am that my parents still live in London, how lucky I am that they don’t mind having me around for now, and how lucky I am that I’ve had a base to recover from. However, I’m still none the wiser as to when or even if I’ll be able to buy anywhere, unless of course Oprah is reading this.
Buying a house should be achievable even on minimum wage, like it was when my parents were younger. It’s still considered an important milestone in life, and it’s a huge part of being able to live independently, so it shouldn’t be an option only for high earners, which is increasingly true. But the housing market has grown so ridiculously out of step with the reality of everyone’s lives that people are more and more resigned to the fact that they’ll be renting until they die.
The saddest thing is that the only realistic way I can see myself being able to afford my own place is if my parents die and I inherit money from the sale of their house. The very house I’m currently sitting in to type all of this. The same parents that have been gracious enough to let me stay here while life was dealing me lemons. And that’s wrong. It shouldn’t be this hard to be able to own a small cube made out of bricks that you won’t be kicked out of, that you can make into a home, and that you can walk around naked in without running into your mum.