Plenty of digital ink has been spilled over millennials and their so-called lavish, high-tech lifestyles. The cultural caricatures have been drawn; young, mainly urban creatives and professionals, who came of age first in the early dot-com boom, and later, toting wifi-equipped smartphones and using torrents clients, are portrayed as overgrown teenagers well into their twenties (and even thirties) all over this nation’s cities.
While these traits can certainly be found in many of America’s debt-laden young adults, members of this demographic are still performing the practice of adulthood, though it’s not through owning homes or cars, or getting married and having kids at the age their parents did. Instead, it’s more about the specific lifestyle they’ve chosen, and the tiny homes they’ve carved out for themselves in urban enclaves without necessarily behaving in traditional “adult” ways.
As a person in her mid-20s living in New York, people my age are seldom portrayed the way I know we realistically live; I’m a 26-year-old working in media who recently moved into a cozy Greenpoint apartment, and admitting I enjoy any domestic activities–whether it’s brewing my own Kombucha, searing pork belly, or even the simple act of grocery shopping and picking out a wine at the local shop–often earns me quizzical looks.
The media tends to focus on the Seamless-ordering, hard-partying, Snapchat-obsessed young personalities of today’s pop culture zeitgeist. But if you look a little closer, you’ll find many of us seek a calm, fulfilling home life just as eagerly, if not more than, your typical suburban or rural family.
“A lot of my friends from high school and college have gotten married, bought property and some have even gotten divorces,” says Lisa Cifuentes, a Miami native who has lived in Brooklyn for over 10 years. “Whenever I have conversations with them, I don’t feel envious. Even though I’d love to own a house, I think living in this city is a great trade off.”
To compensate for the lack of green acreage and two-car garage, Cifuentes ensures that every apartment she’s lived in over the years has been set up around the idea of hosting friends and family.
“My main priority in life has always been building community,” she said. “And having people over for dinner regularly, making a New York family out of my friends and family who live here, has really helped with that.”
Emmet Wilson, a 23-year-old Bushwick resident who works in marketing, echoes the sentiment about making the space you have about community. He said he chose his current apartment, and signed a two-year lease, based on the kitchen, which is great space for entertaining.
“You don’t need a fancy house or TV or pool,” he said. “It’s about finding that connection and bond with others. The beauty of this city is finding different spaces depending on the activity; whether it’s a rooftop for a party or backyard for a BBQ, there’s always somewhere to go in your circle to host a get-together.”
While space is and always will be one of New Yorkers’ greatest life hurdles, building an urban haven with the often necessary roommates calls for compromise and communication. But some are using their living arrangements to further help form a makeshift family while living away from their own.
“We have ‘family dinner’ nights and decorate for holidays together, so our household really has a homey vibe,” explains Luchana Gatica, a comedienne and actress who recently located from Los Angeles to Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. She adds that mutual respect and check-ins are what makes the multi-roommate communal lifestyle comforting and enjoyable.
Plus, housemates are a great way to get in touch with your familial side during holidays and cultural traditions.
“I recently celebrated Persian New Year and had my roommates take part in it,” Leyla Bahmanyar, who works in fashion and lives on the Upper West Side with her four roommates. “They helped me cook and even set up the meal. It’s the same thing with Thanksgiving, every year our roommate has a big Friendsgiving and invites anyone who’s staying in the city over to celebrate.”
Alternately, some young New Yorkers are finding that borrowing traditionally suburban, domestic habits is actually helping them cope with the expenses of living here. Rosemary Donahue, a 27-year-old writer living in Bed-Stuy moved to the city with her boyfriend and their dogs. She says their tight finances attributed to their newfound love for DIY home projects and chores.
“We had to create a home the millennial way–creatively, and on a budget,” Donahue says. “That meant doing things that felt ‘adult,’ but with a bit of our own twist.”
From building a bookshelf modeled after a high-end store version to learning how to cook creative, affordable recipes in bulk (with the help of a crockpot), the couple is finding new ways to maintain a household and become closer along the way.
Yet, some of the city’s young are choosing a version of domestic bliss for its simple pleasures, and to help unplug from the daily grind.
“My family calls me an undercover grandma,” jokes Adriana Suarez, a Greenpoint resident who works in video editing. “I like to do a lot of different crafts. I’m mostly into crochet and cross stitch, which my grandmothers taught me. On nights in, I like to have my girlfriends over to drink wine while I teach them how to crochet.”
Of course, we can’t forget the ubiquitous craft beer culture that’s overtaken everything in its path in the past few years; it’s even made its way into many tiny apartments. As Andrew Lowden, 26, of Ditmas Park, explains, brewing is a hobby he picked up in college, and has managed to keep up with despite the hassle of keeping the gear in his apartment.
“When space is at a premium it can get a bit tough, but I try to keep my domestic hobbies out of the way as much as I can,” says Lowden. As a home brewer, he often comes up with his own new recipes to try out and share with friends.
Despite all the conveniences, services and culture the city has to offer, many young people are still choosing to take these extra steps, without cutting corners, to cultivate an authentic home life in tune with the rest of the country. Not everyone is living paycheck to paycheck and heading out to take shots every night. Some millennials are even thinking about owning their own home.
For others, taking that permanent domestic plunge is about more than just a financial investment. Writer Alana Massey, who currently rents a 1-bedroom in Kensington, Brooklyn, is looking to buy property in upstate New York, not only to get more value for her money, but also to lay down permanent roots for a possible family life.
“I thought, I have enough money to put down a payment on a house, so why not?” she explained. “I’m terrified, but also excited at the prospects of owning a piece of land that’s mine. I started thinking about how much more of a home I can build without all the catering the city does for me, like Instacart, or a housekeeper, or TaskRabbit, or Amazon. All these things make it possible for me to not be out in the world and making a house feel like a home.”
Most young New Yorkers yearn for this milestone in the virtually exclusive real estate market, as the sentiment of wanting to make a place your own is the same for everyone, regardless of financial status.
And while Massey isn’t married with children at the moment, she stresses that the main reason for buying a home is for herself, as a sense of accomplishment and pride.
“I don’t really care about having a big house, but it will have things in it that matter to me,” Massey said. “Like a library with books I love, and a very beautiful long wooden table–which is a materialistic fantasy–but this is the place where I want to spend my time.”
While we may all have a different picture of what domestic life looks like, the long-term outlook–regardless of location or price point–almost always points in the same direction: a stable, inviting home.
“I’m all about being young and living in New York, but at the same time I think it’s important to plan for the future and lay foundation for something,” Wilson says. “Not necessarily for marriage or kids, but something permanent. So that if I wake up one day and decide I want to own a home, I’d be ready.”
As for me, despite inconveniences–like a 4-story walk up sans elevator, and lack of dining room–I do enjoy the slow process of making a mini home for myself at this stage of my life. Whether it’s video-calling my mom while cooking one of our family recipes, or commissioning an artist friend to make paintings for my apartment, the small steps involved in bringing a warm space together is what matters at the end of the day. Besides, everyone knows a two-train commute is well worth it if it means fresh bread for your dinner party’s cheese plate.