I’ve always been indecisive. Unlike most kids running carefree through toy stores, panic paralyzed me as dinnertime, my cue to leave the store, inched closer. Sitting beside me, my dad put his hand on my back as I sat between stuffed animals. Each one had their own backstory, name and future adventure brimming on the horizon, but I could only take one home. For 30 whole minutes, my brain rattled with indecision. My fear of making the wrong choice ignited my anxiety, giving it a life force off of which to feed. Now, in a world flipped upside down by a pandemic, I continue to face tough choices as if I had never left that toy store.
However, instead of having to choose between two equally cute stuffed animals, now I find myself having to choose between an apartment and my parents’ house. Locked in contracts after what turned out to be a brief flirtation with independence, many college students are continuing to pay their leases while regressing on their parents’ couches. When faced with today’s housing conundrum, having to choose between remaining here or going “home,” I was confronted by the seemingly easy question of how to live.
Running through my daydreams, both while I’m in Isla Vista and away, I wonder what really is the right decision. Is it right or selfish to stay in I.V.? At home, my body sinks when I picture the money I’m wasting, but at school, I imagine myself craving family. In truth, neither answer is what’s “right.” After hours of fierce debate with myself, I’ve come to accept that in these times, the world is unstable and none of us should judge or compare where we go or how we cope.
As someone all too familiar with indecision, I came up with this list of factors to help me figure out where it’s healthiest for me to live. And most importantly, a way to remember that there is no generic answer for knowing how to live happily and well.
It is first paramount to prioritize your own mental and physical safety. Families can stick together in a crisis, but that’s not necessarily true for everyone. There are many people who can’t go home because their loved ones are on the front lines, home is unwelcoming or because they have already settled in Santa Barbara. If you have an unstable relationship with your former guardians, going home can hurt more than it can help. In these already difficult times, think about yourself.
After hours of fierce debate with myself, I’ve come to accept that in these times, the world is unstable and none of us should judge or compare where we go or how we cope.
Ultimately, it’s not selfish to live out your lease if leaving is better for others but not for you. In times of trouble, there’s an expectation to gravitate homeward, but deciding to stay in your Isla Vista home, with your Isla Vista family, can be the best choice. Everyone should be with their preferred support system. Your priority should be to get through your assignments without compromising your mental health. Conversely, if staying in Isla Vista would do you more harm than good, then don’t think of leaving as “wasting money.” If your family home is where it’s safest, then don’t hesitate to go. While it’s difficult, carrying guilt over seemingly wasted money shouldn’t be your responsibility right now.
It is also important to remember that money isn’t everything. None of us could have seen this coming. So while it’s easier said than done, don’t beat yourself up about whatever decision you make. The impact of COVID-19 will reshape how all future rent contracts work, but today, we’re already locked into pre-virus clauses. If that money is lost, remember that if the world wasn’t upside down, your I.V. home would be housing you. If the only reason you’re in I.V. is to justify your rent, please know that going home isn’t a defeat. Money will always matter, especially to those without much of it, but you matter as well. It’s better to prioritize your comfort, safety and sanity over saving on rent.
Continuing in that vein, trust yourself, no matter what your decision is. Amid this chaos, our lives remain our own. I compare myself to others all of the time. I look at people working more, in different fields or who are learning new skills, and wonder if my differences and lack of success make me less than. Have I made the wrong decisions? Where did I go wrong? Hearing about other people’s living choices during this pandemic has also left me in a state of fear. What do they know that I don’t? I haven’t shut down these thoughts, but I’ve learned to push them to the side, allowing them only to linger softly in the background of my mind like elevator music. We coexist, and in searching for my own confidence, I’ve learned to accept that I’ll never know if what I’m doing is right.
Being told what to do feels horrible, as if I’ve been deemed incapable. In the end, we are the only people who know, or can guess, what’s best for ourselves. And as such, no one should judge others for whatever living situation they choose. It’s difficult, but after sitting down and thinking about what you need, listen to what that little voice inside you says. In retrospect, I may regret what I choose, but like with the stuffed animal I left behind, it’s best to remember that we’re all only acting with the information that we have.
Hannah Morley is one confused third-year student who wishes everyone the best of health (especially to those on the front lines).