Those who moved back to their childhood bedrooms during quarantine are finding more than just N’Sync posters.
When Meera Parat decided to leave her one-bedroom apartment in Seattle and return to her childhood home in Palo Alto, Calif., she figured she would be staying for a few weeks.
Three months later, Ms. Parat, 25, a data scientist, was still taking video calls from her childhood bedroom, which is decorated with elementary school participation trophies and notes with inside jokes. “It’s probably exactly the same from when I left it in high school,” she said.
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that roughly 20 percent of U.S. adults moved, or know someone who relocated permanently or temporarily, because of the pandemic. The study found that higher income and education played a role in who was able to move.
Some moved to reduce their risk of contracting the virus; others, because of financial instability or a fear of quarantining alone. Many left cities and returned to their smaller hometowns. Staying with their families, many slept and worked in the rooms where they grew up, describing that it felt like visiting a museum filled with relics of their past selves.
Chinazor Offor, 25, who works in e-commerce at Bustle Digital Group, was hesitant at first, but when the pandemic hit and her hours were cut in half, she realized she couldn’t sustain living in New York.
She decided to move home to Senoia, Ga., at the end of April to ride out the rest of quarantine with her parents. After being away from New York for nearly two months, Ms. Offor said she found herself being less distracted by the hustle and bustle of the city. She started practicing guitar regularly, after playing in high school.
“I don’t know if I could go back after feeling like I can actually pay off debt,” Ms. Offor said. “I can actually save for the first time.”
Boundaries With Parents and Adult Children
“Being back here is like a time capsule,” said Sonia Sakhrani, a health care professional who relocated from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to her parents’ home in the Forest Hills section of Queens.
Ms. Sakhrani, 31, said that while she no longer has a curfew, the restrictions of not having the freedom to go out because of quarantine “evokes the same feeling that you had as a teenager.”
Kendall Ciesemier, who drove 13 hours from Brooklyn to her parents’ home outside of Chicago, said that in some ways, being thrust back into her childhood environment meant reverting to dynamics she had with her parents growing up.
“Navigating the world from my childhood bedroom is like some weird dissonance between-like feeling,” said Ms. Ciesemier, 27, a producer at a nonprofit. “I finally hit the point where I’m very comfortable. I finally made it out of the hole of entry-level jobs and the early parts of post-grad life.”
Sometimes, being in her childhood home makes Ms. Ciesemier feel as if “maybe I haven’t really grown up.”
“The weird thing was having to be like, this is my room and if the door is closed, you knock,” she said.
“I’ve been on a FaceTime date and my mom barged in because I told her I was talking to my best friend from college,” Ms. Ciesemier said, laughing. “I was just humiliated. It was horrifying but really funny.” Ms. Ciesemier, who is immunocompromised, initially made the decision based on her health. She is now back in her apartment.
Other emotions and old teenage angst have resurfaced as people have been using their time back home (sometimes voluntary; sometimes not) to go through the closets, boxes and drawers containing treasures from the past.
“Being back definitely brings up a lot of insecurity you had as a kid and as a young adult at this house in particular,” said Delaney Huesgen, 21, who graduated from Kent State University in December, moved to New York City in January and moved back home to Seattle a month later when the fashion public relations firm office where she had been interning closed. “We moved here when I was just starting high school so there’s lots of those weird, kind of awkward feelings.”
For Ms. Huesgen, the decision was not initially financial but then became so as time passed.
“I realized that being home and saving money on rent, although I was still paying for my apartment in New York until June, was going to be really beneficial in the long run,” she said. “It is kind of nice now, though, because I know that any money I make is simply being saved for when I get back on my feet in the city.”
Rediscovering Your Inner Child
“The first week I was home, I decided to clean out my childhood bathroom,” said Tess Koman, 28, an editor from New York who had been quarantining at her parents’ home in New Jersey until recently. “There is Jewish memorabilia all over the place in my room, menorahs I don’t remember accumulating, books on Jewish teenager-dom I have no recollection of having opened, hamsa necklaces I absolutely never wore. And I am 100 percent bringing them all back to my apartment with me, as I want to delve into all of that now.”
Ms. Koman, who is immunocompromised, decided to leave New York City based on her health.
“Now my bedroom from high school (which I’ll be moving back into) is a glorified storage space,” Ms. Offor said. She is back in Brooklyn but plans to go back to Georgia once her lease ends at the end of August.
Though she is uncertain how long she plans to stay in her home state, she said the past few months have only illuminated the immense income inequality so many Americans like herself experience.
“I’m really into the idea of Black financial empowerment, and I genuinely think that in order to take a step forward, sometimes you have to take a step back,” she said. “One of the biggest things is that money is power. Financial wellness is power, and it allows people to create generational wealth.”
While some people have embraced the experience of being in the rooms that shaped their formative years, others have been more reluctant. Lisa Caravelli described her childhood bedroom as not only unchanged but “worse.”
“My parents took my old room decorations from when I was a toddler, like everything Minnie Mouse and bubble gum pink and did the room as if l was 4 years old again,” said Ms. Caravelli, 26, who works in advertising software sales in Chicago.
The Minnie Mouse revival was for her two younger nieces, who occasionally sleep over. “I’m thankful for Zoom backgrounds because otherwise it’s a big bow headboard and polka dots.”
But more than Disney décor, for many, certain memories from the past have emerged as unexpected opportunities for self-reflection in terms of how they’ve changed throughout the years, and the ways in which they’ve stayed the same. When going through her old diaries and notes passed during classes, Ms. Caravelli was surprised to find how the concerns she once had about her romantic life are similar to the ones she has today.
“These conversations are not that different from ones that I just had last week with some of my friends that are also single,” Ms. Caravelli said. “The way that it’s like, ‘I don’t know if I like him, does he like me?’ ‘Should I wait to text back?’ made me realize how far I’ve come as a person and have really changed through different moments in my life. But oh man, in so many ways I’m still that same middle school girl wondering if her crush likes her back.”
Jacob Brian Wilson, 34, a publicist from Manhattan, has also been reconnecting with his younger self as he quarantines at his parents’ farm in San Miguel, New Mexico. He said that through certain items, like forgotten poetry he had written at age 17 or photos of him as a young swim coach, he sees someone he’s “lost touch with.”
“Looking at these photos reminded me who I’ve always been, and highlighted how I have tried hard in some instances to push that truth away,” he said. “How I’ve neglected what I’ve always liked doing, like writing little expressive poems.”
Alex Rose, 33, a producer quarantining in Austin, Texas, by way of Los Angeles, has uncovered her childhood postcard collection and has been using her free time to send mail to loved ones.
Ms. Rose recalls her stepfather, who was the mayor of Austin during the 1990s, frequently traveling with her mother to cities around the world. Because she was in school and couldn’t join, her parents would bring her back postcards from places like Russia, Germany and South Korea.
“It gave me a little project to write friends with these old postcards,” Ms. Rose said. “I found one that I had written to my dad and had never sent when I was like 7, so I mailed it to him. I think he got a kick out of that.”
Though some are itching to get back to pre-pandemic life, others, like Mr. Wilson and Ms. Rose, have decided they aren’t in any rush.
“I’m fortunate to have a job where I can work remotely, and instead of sirens I now wake up to the soft sounds of birds and my mom’s rooster crowing,” Mr. Wilson said. “Do I miss my friends and old way of life? Absolutely. But I’m using this time to make space for thinking about what it is that I want to create more of in my life, and want to make an effort to see less of as well, moving forward in this new chapter of life we are all entering and the new normal.”
For Ms. Rose, being back in Austin has led to rediscovery. She has been accepted to graduate school in public policy in her hometown, a city she had not previously considered.
And while Ms. Rose said she feels lucky to have the means to move home, she feels that “luck” isn’t quite the right word.
“It’s privilege,” she said. In a world where there’s “systemic injustice everywhere,” Ms. Rose said that this experience has helped shape where she wants to put her energy next.
“This is not where I expected to be in 2020, but it is exactly where I’m meant to be,” she said.