Here’s the current portrayal of my generation in the press: a bunch of blue-haired no-hopers languishing in moldy share-houses well into our thirties and beyond, too entitled and pie-in-the-sky to ever wonder why our gender studies degrees and drum circles aren’t generating enough income to put down a deposit on a house. We squabble over who ate the last bit of clingfilmed halloumi in the fridge. We cling to the signifiers of our waning youth pathetically, spending meagre salaries on limited edition trainers and adult colouring books. If we don’t have everything our parents had at our age, it’s because we aren’t prepared to work hard enough for it.
Our inability to buy property is cast as our defining characteristic – “Generation Rent” – and things aren’t going to improve any time soon. The decline in ownership among 25- to 39-year-olds is set to fall substantially further in the next decade, to a projected 26 per cent. Homeowners will become the exception rather than the rule. It will mostly be those with the ability to be gifted or lent the cost of a deposit by Mum and Dad who will be able to take ownership for granted. The rest of will be learning to adjust our expectations about what adulthood looks like, starting with who we’re looking at over porridge in the morning.
Housemates are a much maligned category. We tend to hear them crop up in association either with horror stories (the woman who made off with the entire house’s rent instead of transferring it to the landlord) or mundane acts of daily passive aggression (Post-it notes spiked with violent exclamation marks laying claim to milk, dirty dishes stacked against the offender’s bedroom door). It’s fair enough, really – the basic concept of housemates as it exists in most cities is a pretty perverse one. How could you possibly be expected to get along in close quarters with four assorted strangers with nothing in common besides a somewhat similar economic status?
In all honesty, I expected to be living alone at this stage in my life. I didn’t grow up with any earth-shattering financial ambitions, but I assumed at some stage I would naturally arrive at a point where I could afford my own place. I imagined a clear, clean space where I would work calmly all day and retire late at night after whatever unimaginably sophisticated soiree I had been quaffing at. I’ve been a very – some would say compulsively – social person since I was a teenager. I go out a lot, and travel a fair bit, and see people most evenings of the week, and this means that I need the counterbalance of a space I can completely power down in, a place in which I don’t have to be charming or “on”.
If my life never ends up looking like what I thought it might – whether that’s owning a home, or being married, or having children – the alternative is not loneliness and destitution
Of course, as it transpires, the realities of the gig economy and London rent mean that living alone is an impossibility for me at 27. When I moved here I expected to reluctantly tolerate housemates, to regard them as economic necessities and little else. But now, more than two years later, I can honestly say I wouldn’t live alone even if I had the choice. This year in particular, living in my current house, has proven that rather than being just a functional requirement of being able to afford London, housemates can be a fundamental part of how a city like this becomes home.
My housemates are all kind, gentle, considerate people. They’re cool, and funny, and their excellent haircuts are dyed truly incredible colours. They are also queer. This is partly why they are so good at making a home together (and why their haircuts are so excellent). It’s a fact that queers are better at making non-traditional households – they have practice, after all. The term “chosen family” is often used to describe this – when individuals create familial support structures and intimate relationships which in some respects mirror what we most commonly associate with biological relatives, or nuclear family units. These are born out of necessity at times, certainly, when a queer person is rejected or alienated by their blood family. But chosen family is a positive, affirmative concept too. It’s not a consolation prize for not having a husband and children, it’s celebratory. It’s about having imagination and openness about what family can mean to different people.
While I would never negate the totally justifiable outrage many people are feeling about their dim home-owning prospects, I would like to take a moment to appreciate what I’ve learned this year about housemates. It gives me a little hope, when I worry about my future, to know that if my life never ends up looking like what I thought it might – whether that’s owning a home, or being married, or having children – the alternative is not loneliness and destitution. This year has reminded me that there are all sorts of ways to live, all sorts of ways of being with other people. I’ve realised now that what I felt when I wanted to live by myself was not a desire to be alone, but simply a desire for a space in which to be myself. And I’ve found that with my housemates.