Welcome to the real world

I moved out at 17 and bought my own home

4th July 2018

I bought a home at 17. That is to say, I put down a deposit on a house. A small house, but still. This isn’t one of those articles where I attempt to demonstrate that, despite what the rest of my feckless generation might attest, it’s actually really easy to buy a house — and then right at the end slip in that my parents paid for it. Let’s clear that up early: they absolutely paid for it.

I’m lucky. Very lucky. I should explain now — particularly for anyone who lives south of, say, Birmingham — that where I live, you can get a small flat that is perfectly habitable for south of £80,000. Meaning, the required 10-20% deposit is not the insurmountable financial mountain that so many first-time buyers are faced with today. I’m still very fortunate, though. Which is great, obviously.

Mine was the middle house

I left college early — my silly, youthful brain all hopped up on the first taste of independence — and found a decent-ish entry-level job. It paid pretty well, and my partner worked, too. Neither of us drove, so there was no car to pay for. I think I thought I’d settle into the grind of a mindless day job, and in my spare time balance endless hedonism with innumerable creative projects. Launch a clothing brand, a record label, perhaps write the suburban, white, late-adolescent, middle-class novel that precisely no one was crying out for, form a band and — under the cruel banality of mid-austerity Britain — write the next Unknown Pleasures.

Here’s hoping they invent time-travel soon, so we can all go back to 2011 and push my insufferable younger self in the dirt.

I left home in a kind of giddy daze, laced with just a little apprehension. Yes, I was already planning the Skins-style debauchery that each weekend, and perhaps the odd Tuesday, would bring, but I also wondered: what exactly is the process by which clothes get, like, clean again? What is pasta made of?

Not until you move out are you able to fully appreciate the amount of time, money, physical effort and did I say money(?) that goes into existing independently

Not really, but also kind of really. There are so many things you have to do in order to live in a house. Even a house that is often just a sad, barren husk, with the odd pile of t-shirts and some garden furniture strewn about. Aside from all the normal tidying and cleaning, there’s council tax, your TV license, the bins, shopping, insurance, utilities, wiping down skirting boards (???). It’s fucking endless.

Presumably this is where the, errm, food goes?

Before you move out, you think you know all these things — and in a lot of ways you kind of do, but in a much more real way, you absolutely do not. You’d be able to list most of them, probably, but not until you move out are you able to fully appreciate the amount of time, money, physical effort and did I say money(?) that goes into existing independently. Oh, and washing up. Fucking aeons of washing up.

For my parents, who’d both come from relatively poor, working-class families, found starter jobs at 16 or 17 and moved out, it didn’t seem particularly odd. But, it wasn’t until I was 22 or 23 that I stopped being the only one of my peers who didn’t live with their mum and/or dad.

As such, mine was always the designated afters-destination, and my couch rarely went more than a few nights without at least one inebriated friend passing out on it. There’s a part of you that wonders, when you’ve got your own place and it’s constantly filled with friends, how many are there because they want to be around you and how many just can’t be arsed sitting at home and like that you begrudgingly let them smoke inside. It can play on your mind a little.

I think my friends’ parents quite reasonably assumed that I was some kind of feral, runaway, drug-dealer type

Other people’s parents are often a little wary of you, too. I had a friend a year younger than me who would tell his parents (who are lovely) that he was going off to my house more or less every night, and he’d return late stinking of weed, or the next day, all wide-eyed and weird. I think his folks quite reasonably assumed that I was some kind of feral, runaway, drug-dealer type. Like you’d see on Hollyoaks (I assume).

I’d take weird pleasure from meeting them and dispelling this preconception. Nothing extra, just being endearing; giving the bloke-ish dad a confident handshake and casually saying something about The Football; being particularly polite and pleasant to the mum. I wanted them very much to understand that I wasn’t some scumbag. That I was a responsible adult, like them, but also their teenage son’s also-teenage friend. It probably didn’t come off how I hoped, in retrospect.

Independence is this x 10,000

The absurdity of the whole thing would strike me at certain moments when the jarring shift that had occurred from adolescence to supposed-adulthood seemed most stark and odd. I’d find myself spending the change in my pocket on penny sweets in the corner shop and then going back to the home I owned and doing something terribly adult like ringing the water company.

For the first few months, I’d accompany my couple-of-months-older-than-me partner to the supermarket for our big shop, then scuttle off and wait around the corner when it came to paying, in order to avoid being ID’d for a crate of beer or a few bottles of wine. At my very worst and most twattish moment, I maybe thought something like, “I bet you don’t own a house, and I do and I’m not allowed beer? You shouldn’t be allowed beer, because you’re not on the property ladder, Beryl.” Also BAD: after I’d turned 18, if I was out somewhere and didn’t have my ID I’d quite often show bouncers or shop attendants the mortgage account on my online banking, as if to say, “Come on mate, I may not have my ID or any facial hair, but I have property. I am clearly of age.”

Having your own home is not an indicator of maturity, good sense or decency

Contrary to what I hoped to have been demonstrating, these thoughts and actions only confirm that having your own home is not an indicator of maturity, good sense or decency.

You think that as soon as you move out, you become a proper adult. Overnight. But really, the relationship between becoming a fully independent grown-up and moving out is similar to that of driving and passing your driving test; you might have the paperwork and roughly know the rules, but you have no real idea what you’re doing quite yet.

Aside from a month here or there, I haven’t lived with my parents since I left at 17. Now almost 25 (weep for me and my lost youth) I would love to say that I am now a properly competent and functioning adult; totally unfazed by gas meters, home insurance and remembering what day is Green Bin day (just sign up for the texts, you fool!). But, I’m not.

The reality is that there’s no moment in life where you’ll be handed a certificate which says “Officially Grown-Up: Fully Qualified Adult”, and certainly not just because your parents put some money down on a little flat for you. Life is just an incredibly long period of uncertainty. The best we can hope for is to bumble and blag our way through it, without seriously harming ourselves or others, while keeping our heads above the water, and — ideally — the skirting boards relatively presentable.

Main image: Paul Sandham

4th July 2018