For millions of young Americans, the pandemic has been a time machine back to the early aughts.
By July 2020, 52% of 18 to 29 years olds, or 26.6 million adults, were now residing with a parent, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis — the highest number since the Great Depression.
In New York, some 300,000 left the city. Many of those people found themselves living in time capsules: lovingly preserved childhood bedrooms, plastered in posters and magazine cut-outs of boy bands and James Cameron blockbusters, and tricked out with décor from the Myspace era.
Many are still there.
Jess Cohen, 39, was one of them. She left her Manhattan apartment during the pandemic to move back in with her family in Fresh Meadows, Queens. Her modest bedroom hadn’t changed since high school, two decades ago.
A “Titanic” poster, a Barbie-sized Kate Winslet doll, the sign-in board from her Sweet Sixteen, stuffed animals and glass knickknacks from a school formal where just as she had left them.
The girlish pink walls were the cherry on top of what feels like a “Blossom” meets “Clarissa Explains It All” retrospective.
“I originally thought I would only stay for a couple of weeks, but with COVID still out of control, I just stayed, ‘Titanic’ posters and everything!” Cohen, who is a public-school teacher leading class remotely, said. “Thank goodness for virtual backgrounds on Zoom because teaching would be super embarrassing without them.”
Save for some nicer bamboo bedding that she brought with her, Cohen hasn’t updated her childhood bedroom at all.
“Once I have to return to my job in person I am definitely going back to my apartment, so updates didn’t really seem worth the effort,” she said. “Plus, the nostalgia is nice, reminds me of a simpler time!”
But “adulting” in one’s childhood bedroom is more of a mixed bag for most, and it’s spurring creative renovations.
When Deanna Kugler Gallucci, 31, a PR pro, and her husband Bryan, 32, a radio producer, gave birth to their pandemic baby last July, her parents urged them to move back into her childhood room in Massapequa, Long Island.
“My parents begged us, in a light-hearted but truly guilt-trip parenting sort of way,” said Gallucci. The experience was “nostalgic, chaotic, overwhelming, rewarding and fun,” she added.
While the furniture and décor had changed over the years, artifacts had remained trapped in time.
There were glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, a poster from Rome, Precious Moments statues, including one which holds a picture of her on her first communion, and “Laguna Beach” DVDs.
They got to work reorganizing the rooms with a dark cherry sleigh bed with a matching dresser and nightstand Gallucci picked up in college, a grey couch from their Manhattan apartment and even an oh-so-adult Peloton.
They updated nearly every detail in the room, from the floors (new rugs) to the walls (new curtains and décor). But one staple of a teenage room hasn’t changed: the overflowing laundry basket.
“There’s always laundry to be done and put away, which takes days. I hate laundry,” she said.
Geraldine Anello, 24, the founder of Handy Women, said there are some easy ways to update your childhood bedroom so the ’80s, ’90s or 2000s remain where they should — in the past.
For starters, she recommends organizing your bookshelf and getting rid of all those old titles you wouldn’t want to be caught with. She also recommends getting a proper desk, creating a “gallery wall” with your current interests and taking down all those Jonas Brothers posters.
“It will help you forget you’re in your childhood bedroom,” she said. “Over the years, you probably gathered many random objects. Keep the ones that match and donate the others to someone that could actually use them.”
Finally, if you’re feeling extra ambitious, Anello recommends investing in a sander to sand and stain furniture to give it fresh life and match your new color scheme.
“If your parents seem to be troubled by the fact you want to switch things up, be sure to push the narrative that it’s not their decorating skills,” she said. “It’s you wanting to enter a new phase of your life. The first step to feeling like an adult is looking like an
adult. This should start with your room.”
When freelance publicist Eric Rivera, 30, left his apartment in Williamsburg in July and returned to his childhood room in Hamilton, NJ, he discovered lime-green walls.
Convinced that Zoom backgrounds weren’t enough hide the shame, he tucked away the Beanie Babies and Good Charlotte CD collection from his emo phase, and traded in his childhood dresser and mirror for a more “adult-looking” set that he bought at a stoop sale in Brooklyn. He bought a TV stand that plays host to an elegant candle display, a full-length mirror and a rug.
Rivera also added dried palm leaves in a vase and some fresh artwork to the walls to complete the room’s transition from adolescence to adulthood.
“At first, I felt both sad and weird, as I haven’t been back except for shorts visits in 10 years,” he said. “Now I am grateful I am not waking up in my lime-green bedroom as that would’ve been quite the trigger.”