In Singapore, young adults hardly ever think about moving out from their parents home after completing college education and starting their first jobs. It has
nothing not much to do with the attitudes and culture of Singaporeans. It’s mostly because rent and housing is bleeping expensive. Unless you have a car, which by itself is an expensive luxury to have in Singapore, or you were born into a golden cradle (or silver, take your pick because you have a choice), you’d very likely look for an apartment closer to civilisation downtown.
Which means, unless you have roommates you feel comfortable living with that you wouldn’t attempt to toss out of the window, you would be looking at spending an upwards of SGD$1000 per month on rent and utilities. That doesn’t seem so bad, if you’re fine living in a smaller shoebox within yet another shoebox, and if you’re earning a decent wage. (These are two “if’s” that most people can’t really realise, though.)
Regardless of your choice, if you’ve successfully moved out of your parents home in Singapore and into another home/flat/room as a single, working professional, congratulations. You are just about as crazy as I am. Or, perhaps we share similar circumstances that kind of almost makes moving out a requirement, not an option.
If we’re in the same boat, I feel you.
Personally, this experience of moving out at an early age in life has been nothing but a
painful agonising filled with self-doubt expensive rewarding experience. Over the years, this capacity for responsibility of every aspect of my life has grown tremendously. But the initial process, in retrospect, was not merely speckled with mistakes. It was more or less a complete and utter disaster (I’m not my worst critic, though.)
When I first moved into my ensuite room in a bungalow, with things in cardboard boxes still unpacked, I felt a surge of exhilaration. It was empowering and exciting.
I can finally chill out on my bed in my work clothes at the end of the day, with pizza and gummy bears spread across my bed, a glass of red wine in hand, and watch Netflix all evening. I could even exfoliate myself with the cookie crumbs I left on my bed the night before, yay!
Except, well, I couldn’t. I still had the same business to run, exams to study for, job to do, clients to entertain, and somehow find a way to fit “dating” and entertain the possibility of a “relationship” that would (with God’s blessing) lead to a marriage where I’d not want to douse my husband in bleach the second I’m in my first trimester.
What seemed like more freedom was really just an illusion. I signed myself up for an expensive, two-year long lease, way more chores, and not being able to come home to warm, cooked food prepared by my ever-so-loving mother. With each passing week, however, I managed to ease into this
nightmare idea of adulting and actually began to enjoy it.
Initially, though, I let simple, daily tasks accumulate. Starting with laundry. If you don’t know what a Laundry Chair is, grow up. Grow the heck up, because the Laundry Chair is part of every adulting experience.
Thing is, I only have one chair in my room. It started with tossing a jacket or two onto the chair, which I thought, hey, I could use these guys whenever it gets too cold in my room and I’m too lazy to reach for my AC remote situated a whopping 2 metres away from me.
In a short span of three days, however, it was no longer a chair meant to be sat on. I could hardly recognise my chair under the Mount Everest of clothes.
Next came food preparation. Thank the Lord (and the late James clerk Maxwell, Heinrich Hertz and Percy Spencer) for the invention of the microwave oven. It has saved me from potentially eating my own hair or starving myself to death on many occasions.
I love my mother’s cooking. She doesn’t have a particular style or cuisine. It’s just those couple of dishes that, no matter where else you go or however hard you try to replicate the recipe, you can never come up with the exact, familiar and comforting taste. Or warmth (literally, when without a working stove or microwave), for that matter.
On days when my microwave oven decided to take vacation days off, I was left with a slightly broken heart, empty stomach, and food delivery options.
Food delivery options in Singapore are varied and plentiful. Also, have I already mentioned how expensive it is to live like a millennial in Singapore? Probably not. So here’s my best shot at trying to describe what it’s like in three words in order of significance:
Whenever I find myself busting my food expenses budget (as always), I’d dabble with the thoughts of taking a 10-minute evening stroll to the nearest Hawker Centre (not sure what this is? Wikipedia has a page on what a Hawker Centre is. Click here!).
Usually, my thought process on the acquisition of my dinner goes as follows:
What do I want to eat?
How many calories does it (the entire meal) have?
Have I busted the max calories I can consume each day?
Have I busted my food expens—yes.
Do I feel too tired to walk to the Hawke—yes.
I end up going to bed hungry, 99% of the time, when my microwave is broken, or when I’m in my room, which is one long and tiring flight of stairs away from the kitchen (this is a serious consideration and determining factor on whether or not I will have food that evening, or not).
But the exhilaration of moving into my own place hasn’t waned. For a few times a week, I spontaneously decide I’m ready to be a real adult, knowing very clearly it could very well be my last attempt before I pick up the phone and dial “mom emergency”. But I do it anyway.
I begin cleaning every nook and cranny of my room, dousing it with chloroxylenol (antiseptic), removing every stain, every rust and every speck of dust. I would proceed to remove the covers of my bed, replace them with sparkling clean sheets, and send the soiled laundry into the washer, dousing with more chloroxylenol, some softener I grabbed off the shelf in a grocery store, oh and laundry powder. Though I believe I forget this, or one of the additions, sometimes. Anyway, adulting.
Schedules are drafted neatly into the day-planner I purchased. Fancy food stocked up because I also planned to somehow or rather mysteriously find time to be a master chef for myself and an imaginary boyfriend who would lick the plates so clean I wouldn’t need to wash them any more.
I was basically preparing for what seemed more like a How To Be A Housewife 101 Examination. I think I scored pretty well, even for a beginner. I’m Asian. I aim to score the highest grade in ANY examination and usually do. I cannot fail unless I wish to face the Asian vitriol back home, which is an unthinkable consequence.
Thank you Asian genes and culture.
During the first month of my moving out of my parent’s home in Singapore, the first day or two of my plans to become Grade A Housewife usually went okay. For pockets of time, I actually felt grown-up and responsible within my own home and while away from work (where I had to be grown-up and responsible every second).
And it felt great, a far better gush of pride than coming back to my parent’s, where my mother would instinctively clean up my mess for me, arrange my books in alphabetical order, and magically turn my soiled laundry into sparkling sheets of fabric in less than three hours. I started taking pride in my ability to adult, strutting around my own place with my head held up high, telling my cats, “I’m responsible too. Look at my fancy groceries, and clean kitchen.“
But that’s kind of a once in a month sort of thing. Eventually, I began gloating my own successful accomplishments a little too much. I started indulging in this adulting high a little too often. And with the daily, brutal onslaught of relentless work, I started to wear myself out. Somedays, I felt like I’ve earned the right to hire a helper. Somedays, I actually do hire a helper, so I could slack off and recover.
I’ve already exceeded the capacity of responsibility of maybe twenty Singaporean millennials combined, with such diligence my Asian parents would laud me for, I thought.
I could slack off this week. Just this once.
This is exactly when
it all resets the spiral into guilt and procrastination starts.
To hire a helper, I generally pay anywhere between SGD$20 – $35 per hour, for a minimum of four hours inclusive of ironing and changing of sheets (not sure why this was explicitly stated as an additional job, but whatever). Which means I was spending at least SGD$80 per week for someone else to clean up my laundry.
It doesn’t seem like much, except I forget that whenever the helper’s around, I feel a sense of urgency and need to actually be there to watch my helper complete my chores for me. Not only do I see someone doing my chores, I also see my bank account go down by SGD$80 that week because I’d rather pay to watch someone else do what I ought to be doing for myself. Guilty-spiral? Yeah, totally.
The pesky guilty-spiral doesn’t really end here, like I hoped it would.
It started seeping into every aspect of my life. The more I allowed myself to procrastinate on house chores, the more I procrastinated on things like emails and phone calls. All of this adds to the burgeoning mountain of guilt.
This intensification and deepening of guilt eventually became too heavy a responsibility to carry on my shoulders, along with the other responsibilities I already have.
I was reduced to two options: Call Mom, or Clean Up Mess.
So I stealthily reach out for a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, as if I didn’t want my responsibilities to catch me red-handed, and put Netflix on.
For most of the first year of living on my own, I relied on my Laundry Chair, prayed for my microwave to never fail on me when I needed to it to work, and somehow manage to restock my kitchen and cleaning cabinet with cleaning necessities in between my already cramped and busy work schedule.
Somehow, my freezer always has the tub of Ben and Jerry’s ready for these rather depressing days.
I got the hang of adulting eventually. It’s pretty dang awesome. You will too, eventually. Hang in there!
Somedays though, my chair starts to take a semblance of the old Laundry Chair it once used to be. But I have a larger laundry basket now. The chair’s good as it is.