September 20, 2016

How many family members sit around your dinner table each evening? Two, four, maybe six? How many people do you compete with for closet space? Three? Or are you squishing between a roommate or two (and their girlfriends) on the couch Tuesday nights when The Voice is on? Not me.

Where I live, my housemates and I can’t even fit around a dinner table. We’d need a double-decker closet for it even to be competitive, and I’ve yet to find a couch that can fit us all on it. I live with thirteen other people. We are fourteen unrelated humans that voluntarily reside together.

While members of older generations respond with looks of horror when I explain my living situation, I couldn’t be happier residing in a house bursting at the seams with inhabitants. And I’m not the only one.

I couldn’t be happier residing in a house bursting at the seams with inhabitants. And I’m not the only one.

Much like the growing trend of coworking spaces, “co-living communities” like WeLive and Commonspace are popping up across the United States. These spaces, reminiscent of college dorms, have competitive leases and provide residents with their own bedrooms that surround a common area with large couches, dining tables, and communal kitchens. And who is most likely to live with a mass of housemates? Millennials. We constantly hear about the Millennial generation being self-involved, so what is drawing this cohort to communal living arrangements?

The paradoxical effect of social media

With the widespread use of mobile applications like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, we know what each of our friends is doing in real-time. If you’re home on a Friday night and all of your friends are trying the new Korean fusion restaurant downtown, there’s no way you can make it through the evening without hearing about it. While technology makes us feel like we are ultra-connected within our social networks, it often leaves us feeling more left out and lonely than ever before.

Living in a house full of people can counteract this feeling of loneliness. As many friends as I have on Facebook (1294 last time I checked), living with just thirteen other humans has made me feel more socially fulfilled than ever before. In my house, it’s almost impossible to feel lonely—whether it’s a Friday night or a Tuesday morning, somebody is around.

We just can’t afford our own place

Student debt, low income, difficulty finding jobs, you name it—it’s hard for Millennials to tuck money away for big investments. Our finances (and love for experiences) push us to share cars, vacation rentals, and working spaces. Why not add a home to the mix? Stuffing a handful of people into a house is far cheaper than renting out a one bedroom studio to live in alone. In addition to the pure cost of rent, tenants can split utility bills, internet costs, and security deposits. More people under the roof, less money out of the bank.

Structured co-living environments provide a different economic benefit than a traditional rental home. While oftentimes as expensive as a one-bedroom apartment in the same city, just about everything is communal—in usage and expense. Utilities are included and tenants are provided with maintenance, cleaning, laundry, social activities, fitness facilities, and most importantly, beer. Paying a flat price for all of these amenities, diluted amongst the other residents of the home, can help individuals come out ahead at the end of the month.

Not ready to plant roots

As students and young professionals, Millennials move around. A lot. Most of my friends haven’t lived in the same place for more than eighteen months. Quite frankly, it’s easier to scour Craigslist for a single sublet room in a full house than to start from scratch with a new lease on your own. By the time we finally come across the perfect apartment, we already have a new job in a different neighborhood. As we move from one block or town to the next, it’s nice to have people at home as instant friends in a new place.

We also aren’t pairing off as permanently or as early as prior generations. Millennials are waiting longer than any other generation to get married, and many never plan to get married at all. While other generations moved in with their spouses in their twenties, Millennials don’t have these ties, leaving them on the search for a place to live and other people to spend time with.

Why it works, for now

I will be the first to say that I do not For now, though, it’s perfect—I’m saving money, embedding myself in a little community, heck, I’m even networking with my peers. In the age when digital “friends” are infinite and we “don’t have time” for anything, living with a group of others can help restore our need for human connection.

In the age when digital “friends” are infinite and we “don’t have time” for anything, living with a group of others can help restore our need for human connection.

“After a long day, I don’t always make plans to see people,” said my new housemate Paige as she helped me unpack. “It’s nice that my friends are always there to relax with when I come home.” She’s right—it’s the random, spontaneous moments with my housemates after a long day of work that make me happiest, that make squeezing onto an already full couch, worth it.

Our Millennial view series is not just for Millennials. Everyone can gain insight on these important workplace and life issues. Topics such as Finding a friend in feedback, Moving up, while dressing down, and When giving two week's notice is complicated impact us all, regardless of generation.

Sara Lighthall is a content marketing intern at Zendesk and a student of life. When she’s not demystifying the Millennial generation on Relate, you can find her with her toes in the sand and a latte in her hand. See what she’s up to on Twitter: @saralighthall.