Even before we moved to New York City, John and I had a lot of conversations about how long we’d like to live here. It was not a foregone conclusion that we’d be lifelong New Yorkers.
Now that we’re here, it’s both maddeningly expensive and difficult to imagine leaving.
We recently visited our home state, Michigan, which renewed intense discussions about longing for more living space, and for me, outdoor space where I could garden and have a grill and maybe even a dog.
Then the New York Times ran a story this weekend headlined “The Buddy System: Sharing a New York Apartment by Choice.” It tells the story of New Yorkers who opt to live with other people as a lifestyle decision.
For the fresh-out-of-college transplants eager to make New York home, living in shared quarters is a rite of passage. What with the monthly tariff for a studio as high as $2,777 in Manhattan and almost $2,600 in Brooklyn, according to the real estate appraiser Miller Samuel, the young and the nestless often must resign themselves to a term of communal habitation in a cozy one-bedroom that becomes a two- or three-bedroom with the aid of a drywall partition. Peace and privacy are about as likely as a Viking stove, and many tenants count the days and dollars until they can sign a lease that’s theirs, all theirs.
Yet some whose W-2s easily qualify them for a place of their own — the standard metric is a salary that is 40 to 50 times the monthly rent — nonetheless want to share. They’ve found that the advantages of living solo — guests are entirely of your choosing, the mess entirely of your making to be cleaned up (or not) when you’re good and ready — are outweighed by the benefits of living with others.
That got me reminiscing about the month we spent living in San Francisco. We lived in one bedroom of a five-bedroom apartment, sharing a beautiful home with five young people who very likely could have afforded to live solo but instead chose a more communal approach. I enjoyed sharing meals with our smart, welcoming roommates, and was surprised how much privacy I still felt since our bedroom included a couch and coffee table for when we didn’t want to be in the common space.
John and I both initially resisted the SF shared space, figuring we were way too old for roommates, but came to realize that it’s different living with responsible grown ups who can afford a cleaning service.
This weekend I started looking around at real estate listings, both rentals and places for sale, and wondering if we could pull together a group of three or four creative people who might spend about $2,000 a person for something dramatically different from what you can get solo. Yes, you have to share a kitchen and cooperate on use of the living room, but you could also have a backyard, as well as some other intangible perks.
John and I don’t plan to have children, so creating an intentional community could mean coming home to other people interested in hosting spaghetti dinners and living room shows, art shows and film screenings. I envision less of a boarding house and more a creative hive.
I got excited as I imagined having some of those things we gave up when we left the Midwest while still being on a subway line.
My heart started racing when I pictured doing that by creating a creative cohousing collective.
I love the amenities in our current neighborhood. We’re just a few blocks from the East River, where we walk in the new Brooklyn Bridge Park nearly every morning. Just about anything we could ever want in the way of restaurants, bars, grocery shopping, clothing shopping, you name it, is within about a 10-minute walk.
But could we give up some of those considerable niceties and move deeper into Brooklyn if it meant a better quality of life at home? It seems an awful lot of our friends are already doing that already, so maybe we’d just be part of the wave of middle-aged yuppies pushing to the other side of Prospect Park.
“I saw so many of my friends in their 40s living alone and becoming so maniacal and neurotic,” she said. “I didn’t want that for myself. I want to be the kind of person who could live with people in my 70s and be fine with it.
“When I’m that age I want to live in the house of ‘The Golden Girls,’ ” she said, referring to the old sitcom about a quartet of cohabiting senior citizens. “That’s what I look forward to. Sharing an apartment with Jorge is definitely my first step there.”
Does the idea of living in a creative community house appeal to you?