I’ve talked about living independently in Karachi a few times on the blog so I’m sure quite a lot of you know about that already (never forget my glamorous living situations). The two sentiments that have continued to appear as a result of talking about all the living-away-from-the parents are: ‘I’d love to live alone but my family would never let that happen’ or ‘I wish I could be independent but I have to depend on my family because I don’t know otherwise’.
In our society, I understand that when there is no compelling need to move away from home (for work like I did, or education), it’s not something you can really fight for. Plus, living with your family is the absolute best and even though living alone (especially in Pakistan) sets you up for LIFE (there’s no better crash course), the longer you can enjoy the important relationships in life, why not? I don’t believe living by yourself is the only way to be truly independent and today I want to hand out some tips for being self-sufficient to the best of your abilities, even if you’re dependent on your parents, guardian – or even a spouse (because many women move from parents to husband and never really experience the completely ‘independent’ life). When you know you’re self-sufficient, you may not know how to do everything, but you passionately believe and trust that you’ll get shit done when you have to.
Disclaimer (what would one of my posts be without a sexy disclaimer or two): I know many women already do many of the things I’ll talk about, AND MORE, and the examples I’ll share for how I did things may sound like I imagine myself to be the shining, glorious pioneer of independent living, BUT. I can only share my experiences to elaborate a point, which I’ll do, I’m not going to be apologetic for what I know. These are for girls/women who’re not as confident, or have had a very sheltered lifestyle, or are just shy and awkward like I phenomenally was. And if you’re a Pakistani magical, self-sufficience centaur, more power to you. We’re not competing, we’re sharing. Share your wisdom too.
Disclaimer II: Any opinion piece/set of tips is always grounded in privilege. I had the privilege of a supportive family, good education, a great job which managed my finances, good luck. But I also worked my hardest, was smart about what was handed to me (which I realise now, I had no idea what I was doing then) and often shook up my own personal status quo, just because. Privilege and self-drive go hand in hand. You cannot subtract one from the other. Attributing everything to privilege is a disservice to someone else and attributing everything to self-drive is a disservice to yourself.
Disclaimer III: Exceptions will exist to everything I’ll say. No one can speak for everyone. Process this post like that. Okay, I’m done, let’s go.
Here are the 11 things I feel you can do to be independent while living right at home in a dependent relationship.
#1. Earn/Pay for yourself. Something you need to start doing as soon as you start working (or even earlier). This doesn’t mean paying for coffee dates with friends or new clothes. This means paying for yourself in entirety – any big purchases, travel plans, should be saved for and come out of your own pocket. If you don’t earn enough, then support yourself partially, but do it. If you’re not allowed to work outside or are not able to (stay-at-home mom, for example), pick up an activity that can potentially pay and start doing it from home. Write freelance, give tuitions, make something with your hands that you know you’re good at and sell it, find someone who’s always busy and ask to be their assistant (a family friend who makes clothes, take her orders? bring them more work?). Create your job, earn your own money, even if it’s a very small amount. I know finding work from home is tough but you have to go out and look a billion times before you find that one assignment that will pay you a tiny bit. It’s not going to fall in your lap. Your end goal needs to be to know that you have to earn and pay for yourself, entirely or partially. Making your own money is going to give you spirit and value for money that someone simply handing you cash is never going to give.
Personal example: When I was about 12 (?), I used to find myself free after school (even after my play/relax time). I begged my mom to find me a kid of a friend’s who I could give tuitions to. She found me someone and I made extra cash on the side. I had no reason for doing this, other than the fact that I wanted to earn for myself. Once on one of my internships at a bank when I was 18, I was nearing the end and still had two weeks of summer vacations to go, so I walked to the bank across the street and asked them to give me work. I didn’t expect it but I thought ‘why not’, but they actually ended up hiring me, so as soon as I got done with one internship, I started another. I was only taking calls at the reception and filling forms, but I learnt so much more (because both internships were different) – confidence in people interactions (I was painfully awkward and shy), professionalism, making myself useful, SO MANY THINGS. Someone could have come up with something better for that time period, but this is what I could manage to the best of my capability and I learnt to earn work for myself. You figure out what you want to do, you figure out your work with whatever time you have.
#2. Pay for your parents or a chunk of the household. If you’re lucky and making enough to support yourself and go beyond, pay for your parents. Even if they say no, pay for them. Entirely or partially. Pay the bills at home. If you can’t do them all, take responsibility to pay one specific bill and make sure you’re the only one delivering on that each month. Most parents always say no to a girl contributing and ask them to save for themselves. You can manage both if you try, so let them say it and do both (of course, exceptions will exist). A luxury of living with the parents for a lot of people is that your home and utilities are paid for – don’t let that make you less ambitious, leverage it and support them with what you can.
Personal example: When I did start earning at 21, despite living away from home, within a few months I was sending more than half my salary home for supporting my family. I started sending it of my own choice, they didn’t ask me to. It was my firm belief that I had to earn and take over from my parents; it was their time to sit down and chill. After I got married, a lot of people told me, ‘oh but it’s easy now because your husband can support you’. Okay sure, he can (though I want to support myself), but what about my parents? It’s MY JOB to support my mom before anything else, so I need to work (yes even if I have a brother). Even if your parents can manage, it’s important to support them in some capacity so let’s do it. Women underestimate and devalue their contributions themselves, just imagine the world depends on you and you can give birth to unicorns.
#3. Take over a project at home and execute it from the beginning till the end. If new plumbing needs to be installed at home, tell your parents/spouse you’ll manage it. A new paint job, home repairs, carpentry, anything at all that typically someone else would do, take ownership of it. Source the material, the manpower, the process. In our society, it may get uncomfortable in such situations for a female – in that case, bring along the person who would have originally taken care of the task, but you be the lead on it. Build the confidence to do something you don’t know how to do on your own, while managing people you’re not familiar with.
Personal example: When I was 14 (?), I noticed my dad going to our car and doing random stuff like changing the brake oil, etc. I asked him to take me with him the next time he was about to get all of that done and just teach me so I could do it the next time. No reason, I just wanted to explore new territory and do something I hadn’t done before. When in Karachi, something would break down at home (water pipe burst/painter, electrician or carpenter needs/blah blah), I’d literally head out in my car and just go to one of these shops and pick up one of their workmen. You often don’t have to know how to do things but you can learn if you pretend to yourself that you can do it.
#4. Take on home chores. Giving girls home chores is a desi household’s favorite occupation. But I come from a home where kids were not really given any home chores to do. Our parents were our minions and then we had house help. For people like that, just pick up any home chores and make them a habit. Adding responsibility to your schedule lets you be a more dependable human being, even to yourself. So many of us let ourselves down because we don’t take real responsibility and then live in doubt of our own capabilities. Pick up a chore at home and make it yours. Stay-at-home moms probably don’t need more chores to do, lulz, but for single women at home who’re not expected to work, make yourself responsible even if no one’s asking you.
Personal example: While I was never asked to do any home chores, other than pick up your shit, etc, I don’t know why I chose to do some things everyday just to help my parents out. I’d set the breakfast table, fix my uniform (and my younger brother’s, not because he was a guy but because he was the younger sibling) and polish our shoes every night before going to bed. No one asked me to do this, someone would have done it if I hadn’t, but I still chose to do it every night.
#5. Save up not just for a pair of shoes, but for something big. Saving for your small purchases is great, I mean, new shoes, that’s cool, almost necessary. But plan to save for something bigger than that. Help with a big family purchase like a car, pay off a loan for yourself or your family, save for your wedding or a sibling’s. At times, parents will push to pay for your wedding even if you have cash – don’t deplete their resources even if they’ve saved up for you (that’s what parents do). If you can’t manage it all, pay as much as you can. Parents will sell their souls to pay for your wedding, save their souls, bros.
Personal example: I was so lucky that my family paid for my education all through my life and then my college education. I was half on loan and scholarship in college though and in the five years after graduation, it was only my job to pay it off. I don’t think anyone in my family even remembers that I had to pay off my college loan. I never brought it up with them (because, not their problem) and paid it off when I could; it was my responsibility and I did it. The same for my wedding. I’ve said this before, I didn’t take a penny from my family for my wedding and I planned my wedding against my savings. I could have had much more action at my events (though I didn’t want to) but I didn’t plan for anything that was beyond my savings. My wedding, my responsibility. I saved for all of these while sending money home and paying my rent and combatting usual life expenses like feeding myself cheeseburgers and biryani. I didn’t even take a cent of my wedding salami, it all went to my mom – she’d have to give back to other people at their weddings because they gifted at mine and she deserved to keep it.
#6. Learn to drive and take yourself places. You might not need to, but learn to drive. Its a life skill, learn it. If your family would never let you drive or they don’t have a car, learn to go out alone by yourself (safely). Careem/Uber it (again, safely) and experience what it is to navigate your city without the comfort of moving with someone you know.
Personal example: My dad taught my mom how to drive once she got married for no reason other than the fact that she should be mobile on her own and not dependent on anyone. Being able to drive is honestly just operating a vehicle but the freedom it gives you in being able to learn something new and accomplish things without depending on anyone is fab. I learnt to drive properly once in Karachi and I practically would drive to places with only Google Maps by my side and had to stop every few minutes and check the path I was following (no voice navigation in Pakistan, remember that). I didn’t rely on known places only and I didn’t wait for someone to come with me, I just drove. When I didn’t have a car in Karachi, I’d schedule all my chores for one weekend, book a rental car and go do everything that needed to be done – I didn’t wait for a friend to come help me.
#7. Sign and understand contracts. Everyone typically has some contractual transaction happening at home – property papers, rent agreements, insurance policies, employment contracts of your own or someone you know (parent or sibling). Ask to be taken through any such document, understand the terms and go from the beginning till the end of the process. If you’re getting married, understand your marriage certificate/nikahnama and don’t let someone else do it for you. It might seem silly but processing technical documents gives you confidence that you managed something complicated (which they’re not).
Personal example: I had no choice but to manage my rent agreements when I was living by myself and I still do them now for us. But I remember reading my dad’s property contract papers for no reason when I was younger, just out of curiosity. I didn’t ask him to help me understand them so I didn’t know what was really going on but I do remember going over them casually – whatever you learn even if it’s just a new word, will up your overall approach to life, so get into everything.
#8. If you can, make an investment. Even if tiny, get started with one. You should make your money work for you and investments give you back without having to do significant legwork on them (unlike a salaried job). Even if you begin with a low-yield bond, it will be yours, so think about putting some money into even a low-risk investment to start with. Always, always enroll in your company’s retirement schemes, don’t delay submitting forms for things like Provident Funds, read policies and figure out where your company gives money back to the employee and register before anything else.
Personal example: I never made any investments actively when I was on my own but I did participate in my company’s share purchase plan which would double your money for your purchased, actualized shares so it was a great way to get extra money on the side. Now since I work for myself, I invest in National Bonds and you earn/invest quietly on the side and in just a few years you have this chunk of money that you practically had to do nothing for.
#9. Travel alone. Nothing better than navigating day and night entirely on your own in a new place with no one familiar to help you out with your movement or fears. If you cannot travel alone at all, try going with a few friends on group trips, there are so many now in Pakistan (and even outside). And if traveling with friends is a no-no too, use your family vacations for the same and do a small part by yourself to see how you feel when you’re entirely on your own. Either go have coffee by yourself early morning (even if it’s down to the hotel lobby), or a walk on your own (even if on hotel premises) – test yourself and see how you feel.
Personal example: I was super lucky to have traveled to many countries completely alone thanks to my job, or I would have never pushed myself to do something like that, I used to be THAT shy and afraid. Solo travel is legendary and brings you out of your comfort zone like nothing else so try it out, if you can.
#10. Communicate with the ‘controllers’ in your life. Part of being independent is speaking up for yourself. I know a lot of females in our society aren’t ‘allowed’ a lot of things by a parent or a spouse or guardian, so this is for them (it’s not right but it’s the reality). There are things that aren’t allowed to some of us and then there are things we don’t allow ourselves because we assume it will be a ‘no’, no matter what. For everything in life, my policy is to communicate and ask for what you want (while I was living at home, not anymore, I do what I want, lulz). If you communicate and are rational and resilient, a lot of times, people will surprise you and ‘let’ you do things (especially with parents, I know a lot of people don’t want to ‘disappoint’ their procreators so they deny themselves things preemptively). Ask for what you believe is the best for you, ask for it once, ask for it again. My parents weren’t exactly throwing confetti in the air and performing award-winning dandiya when I told them I’m moving to Karachi but I fought for myself and made them come around to the fact that I needed to live on my own. If you ask, it might not happen, but then again, it just might.
#11. Avoid victim mentality. There will always be someone who’ll be earning more than you or has a more supportive family than you or has more time than you or less struggles than you. We all have our stories. There’s no value in comparing and self-restricting by labeling yourself a victim. If you want something done, say no to whoever’s getting in the way, ignore the ones who make noise, tolerate the ones you can’t, figure out a way and get things done. For everything I’ve done, I’ve been given an excuse for why I could’ve done it and not the other person – I don’t care but I wish they did – your life, your take, your solutions. Whine, complain, cry but then make.things.happen. That is all.
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Do these things as a lifestyle, not as a summer camp experiment. Make it your priority in life to be as self-sufficient as you can be, even if someone is partially or fully supporting you.
Just because someone can pay for you, doesn’t mean they should.
Independence is a state of mind, more than a physical disposition. It’s entirely up to you how independent you can make yourself while being dependent on another human being. Self-sufficience is layered and can be financial or emotional or physical – you figure out your magic formula and then you make it happen.
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