Lazy Luddite Log

16.3.09

Sharing

I am considering some life changes that in turn have got me thinking on the topic of different models of household. I have only lived in two basic arrangements - as part of a nuclear family (which eventually experienced fission) and as part of share households.

As a uni student I became familiar with the practice of student share households in which an ordinary house is occupied by as many students as there are bedrooms (on average). The concept of sharing with friends and living independently of parents was very attractive. The way in which friends in such households opened them to friends to visit and sleep-over at was a part of what made the sharing attractive. Once I got the chance (in my case at the same time I graduated) I jumped at it. It can be a mixed experience. If one shares with friends it can test those friendships. If one advertises for housemates then it is very much a case of 'luck of the draw' (I have had both good and bad housemates drawn from wider society). Overall however I think it is a worthwhile experience. It has similar 'economy-of-scale' benefits as a family home (I have never owned white goods) while allowing for so much more freedom in personal life-decisions. Even if one has decent relations with ones family it can still be a worthwhile growth experience in terms of self-sufficiency skills and decision-making ability. And it can be fantastic fun.

I have noticed in the time since I have lived in share households that they have become more scarce among younger friends. It seems to take longer for a young person to move away from home and live independently. I am told that this is the result of rising costs of living (including property costs spilling over into rental costs) but I think there is more to it than that. Expectations of living standard have also changed. It feels more difficult now to be frugal. Discretional spending decisions are now made that focus more on possessing things than in having a life-enriching experience.

There are also cultural factors that limit how many of us will experience share households. It is deemed okay for uni students to do that kind of thing but is considered peculiar for older persons to do so. This is despite the fact that in past times the concept of (say) a family taking in adults to help cover costs was a common one. I think that the share household model may be a useful one for far more in society than currently utilise it. Even the elderly.

Consider the things that the elderly as a lobby lament most frequently - cost-of-living and loneliness. Understandably they resist getting put into nursing homes but in the process they live alone in huge homes they find difficult to manage. But an elderly share household provides company and minimises costs while staving off the need to be institutionalised. But assumptions of how one is supposed to behave at particular ages will make this a minority practice among the elderly.

There are other models I have never experienced such as living alone (except for as much as a month at a time while house-sitting) and living communally (except for as much as a week for the purpose of camps or conferences). And there is yet another - cohabiting with ones partner only - that will be a new one for me. And as I contemplate putting the share household practice behind me I think it a pity that many of my younger friends are missing out on something that has been very good for me.

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7 Comments:

  • In my experience, there are a couple of other reasons the new generation are not using share households as much. Families can disapprove (having your child in a share household can be frowned upon by their peers, especially in high income professions), and the difficulty of obtaining social security payments when under 24yrs old means that younger students have no safety net if they loose their job/become ill, making them afraid to branch out on their own.

    By Blogger Belinda, At 20 March, 2009  

  • Or, like myself, they accidentally ended up with an insane housemate on their first experience and are now unwilling to risk repeating it.

    By Blogger Belinda, At 20 March, 2009  

  • I know the share house system has been excellent to me. I was lucky, though - I had no choice but to leave home to go to uni, but I was able to stay in a residential hall at uni for a few years, and I made friends there who later became my housemates. So I was lucky to be able to move in with friends, and even luckier that they turned out to make good housemates as well! Our house has been stable for over three years now.

    However, before my whole friendship group moved out of college, we each made sure that we had somewhere to run away to - some other house with friends in it - in case our own houses went bad. This actually happened to one guy, who became our de facto fourth housemate for a while. We were cool with that.

    I think there's a lot of luck involved in the share house experience, and I can understand people hesitating before casting their fortunes to the wind. But I also think it's possible set up a decent fall-back plan.

    By Anonymous Lizzie, At 21 March, 2009  

  • I currently live in a share house. I share with a friend, and for about half the week his girlfriend is there.

    Before that I cohabited with my partner. Before that I was at home with my parents.

    I spent a long time at home with my family as they had the expectation that I would live there until I was fully financially independent, and preferrably on my way to marriage. I got out of home without the marriage, but ended up married anyway.

    I'm currently quite enjoying my share house experience - my husband and myself could not afford to be living separately in two places, so this is definitely about economy. Its also good to be living in a house with someone, as I tend to get lonely easily.

    All up, currently a win. I like it, but I don't think I could live with just anyone...

    By OpenID naturalredhead, At 21 March, 2009  

  • Three things:

    *I believe that the generation that has experienced share housing in their young adult life will find it more natural to form share households as they age. My parents, say, having moved from the home of their parents or relatives into their marital home don't have the cultural handles to "do" share housing without feeling that it is abnormal, but I certainly do, because I've done it before.

    *I have a surprising number of friends and relatives who have very recently (since the GFC) been investigating turning some portion of their home into a small flat to rent to students. Rents are high, they have space to spare, extra income would be nice... I know this theory is only supported by anecdotes, but it makes sense that taking in lodgers might be making a comeback.

    *The oft-visited conversation about setting up small cooperatives of three or four households has been cropping up more often in some of the circles I am part of. Given the state of flux that the economy and housing market is in at the moment, there is a faint chance that such a thing might actually happen. It isn't share housing as such, but key elements such as sharing certain expenses, tools (up to and including power generation equipment and cars) and labour is there.

    In places where the real estate is cheap and available in bulk, there appear to be some interesting possibilities, this NY Times op-ed describes.

    (So you don't have to register to read the article; handy link to NY Times logins.)

    By Blogger Jac, At 24 March, 2009  

  • In my view, living with other people is always a challenging experience. I have lived with my parents, in a share household as a student, and then with two wives/girlfriends. The interesting thing about my share household was that I brought a friend along and lived with four other people I did not know anything about at all. As it turned out, I got increasingly annoyed with what was supposedly a good friend of mine and over time preferred the company of most of the others. Some people just seem much nicer and more cooperative if you don't have to live with them! So it's an eye-opening experience. And even if you're in a relationship/marriage, the coordination of "household habits" is perhaps the most difficult and time-consuming part. I have now achieved cooperative and tranquil cohabitation habits with my wife, but I still experience certain advantages (as well as disadvantages of course) when staying alone in hotels, such as adjusting the air conditioner to 20C (rather than the 23C compromise I have to endure at home; my wife prefers 25C or maybe even higher).

    By Anonymous David Emanuel Andersson, At 26 March, 2009  

  • To Belinda

    The disincentives of government policies are a problem. The age-of-independence was once lower than it is now so that is a problem. The fact that one can be assessed on parental income even if one is supporting oneself is a problem.

    Parental disapproval extends back a long way. I remember getting a bit of "what is the matter with your home" stuff once I decided to move.

    And then of course there is the issue of problematic housemates and you have been very unlucky in that regard. By the time I had dodgy housemates I had already had decent ones so had better experiences to sustain me.

    To Lizzie

    You and I have both been lucky. I find the fallback plan an interesting suggestion. I guess for me the only fallback plan was returning home.

    To Amanda

    The expectation one stays home till partnering is a strong one - moreso for men than women and I also suspect moreso for persons of recent migrant origins.

    To Jac

    Yes the financial crisis might make sharing more attractive. It may also make staying with the family more attractive too. But they do say frugal is to make a comeback. Some of us never stopped.

    To David

    Thanks for stopping by and contributing to an ostensibly non-political topic. I agree with you and others here that sharing is difficult because we are all different and habits and preferences are important to us and compromise can be tricky.

    By Blogger Daniel, At 27 March, 2009  

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