I’m Still Living In My Childhood Bedroom & It Feels Like I Can’t  Get Past A Level Of Unpacking

I’m Still Living In My Childhood Bedroom & It Feels Like I Can’t  Get Past A Level Of Unpacking
Contributor: Alexandra Koster

I feel like I’m stuck in the breakup level of Unpacking in real life.

I carry an entrenched fear about the concept of moving house. As someone who has moved houses at least a dozen times, I’m pretty sure I’ve been lowkey traumatised by it. With every move, I’m forced to confront my overflowing wardrobe that’s somehow grown twenty new band t-shirts since my last move. I’ll need to make decisions about whether to cull or keep the assorted homewares I’ve collected (because this time, it really was home, right?). As I stare at the pile of, quite frankly, complete shit I own, I’m also forced to confront my life. At least, that’s what happened when I moved out of the apartment my ex and I shared and straight back into my childhood bedroom.

To say it was a sobering experience would be putting it lightly. This was the poster child for a bad breakup – and a shitty boyfriend. It eventually culminated in a call to my mum at 10:30 pm, crying and begging for her to take me back home. So right there and then, we packed up all my things from the apartment into boxes and moved back. By 2:00 am, I was tucked away in the bedroom I grew up in, sobbing into my childhood teddy bear.

Yes, it sounds dramatic and corny and cliche (I am all three of those things), but I also never realised just how much of a rite of passage moving home after a shitty ex was until I played Unpacking. Unpacking, the iconic puzzle game from Brisbane-based developers Witch Beam, only asks you to do one thing — pull possessions from boxes and place them into a new home. The protagonist is an unseen woman, and the story is told in one of the most creative ways I’ve seen yet – through items you unpack. A pink pig stuffed toy. A diploma. A sewing machine. A collection of figurines for the places she’s travelled to, steadily growing as each level progresses. Each item and location helps tell the story of the protagonist’s life, bit by bit. It’s meditative and zen and cute and fun, which is why I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that hit me when the protagonist moved in with her boyfriend.

Playing through Unpacking‘s shitty boyfriend breakup level, simply called ‘2012’, I could see stark similarities to my real-life experiences. Just as I struggled to find spaces for the protagonists’ stuffed toys or knick-knacks, I too felt like I’d been here before, desperately trying to find space for me amongst all the Him. Trying to squeeze my records in amongst his. Searching for a space for my uncool romance novels with tacky covers while his carefully curated selection of Penguin Books was on display. And, of course, dealing with all the grey and black decorations, furniture, and bedspreads. Seriously. So. Much. Grey. While I never explicitly had to stuff my hard-earned diploma under the bed like the protagonist in Unpacking, anyone who’s had a shitty partner can attest to their very own ‘diploma moment’.

The symbiosis I felt with the protagonist was only exacerbated by the time she moved back into her childhood bedroom. Now, I cry over most things (old people eating ice cream, dogs doing virtually anything, looking out windows in planes), but I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that came with seeing all of her boxes packed high in her old childhood bedroom. Immediately, an inexplicable wave of pride washed through me. While I didn’t know exactly what had happened between her and her shitty boyfriend, but I could read between the lines – she had a bad breakup and was recovering in her childhood room.

As I unpacked in-game, I had to reckon with the same decoration qualms I’d dealt with in my very own, real-life level of Unpacking. Just as I found space for her D&D gear amongst sports trophies from her schooling days, I found space for my Catan boxes amidst shelves filled with old books of mine. Playing through, I could feel that the protagonist was dealing with the same tension between their new and old self, just as I had when I moved home. Recovering in your childhood room isn’t glamorous by any means, but it’s also something so many of us should be proud of.

But as this happiness for her rocked through me, I couldn’t help but notice that I hadn’t offered myself that same compassion when I moved back home. As I unpacked every item she owned, I couldn’t help but wonder why I was so proud of this omnipotent character that I couldn’t even see, yet feel ashamed of myself for following her same journey. I’ve always seen my moving back home as an immense personal failure, especially as I watch each of my loved-up friends move into homes with their equally loved-up partners. I’ve even dubbed it my ‘deadbeat era’ – because the best way to deal with an embarrassing living situation is to simply beat people to the punchline. I’m still living in my childhood bedroom – and it feels like I just can’t get past a level of Unpacking.

I’m not sure Unpacking has been able to make me fully accept my living situation, but it’s certainly helped articulate the complexity and pain I’ve felt from moving back into a childhood bedroom after a breakup. It’s shown me that crying into teddy bears in your childhood bedroom after a breakup is a rite of passage for so many women. That there’s no shame in moving back home. That at some point, we’ll also play mental gymnastics as we try to find spaces for our new selves whilst honouring the child within us.

In a strange way, finishing the childhood bedroom level and seeing the protagonist move into her own apartment has given me some solace and understanding in what future awaits me (after all, it had so accurately captured my past). I know that one day I’ll be able to unpack my records into my very first apartment (that is, if Sydney’s rental crisis sorts itself out). I know that I’ll be able to buy the cute lamps that I’ve always dreamt of, or buy a bright pink rug (no grey, thanks!) without needing to consult anyone else. I know that I’ll have space for my childhood stuffed animals on my bed, and that they won’t need to compete with newer, shinier versions of myself. And if all else goes right, I might even have someone to play the ukulele with on my veranda, just as my protagonist did.

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