By: Kelsey Danks
Social Studies of Gender, 2018 Cohort
Single person households with no children are the most common type of household within Sweden. Living by oneself is seen as the marker of independence and thriving in that state is a show that you have truly made it and are succeeding as an adult. So why is it that after two years of living by myself and a year of living with my partner am I returning to the idea of communal living?
Communal living is often looked back on with horror, something for young people to endure as the interim between living with their parents and becoming an independent single person household. It is usually filled with memories of hiding in rooms, waiting for someone to leave the kitchen so you can go in to make your own meal as quickly as possible, dirty dishes, loud parties which either keep you awake or put you in the disdain of those with a rigid sleep schedule and passive aggressive notes indicating in a not-at-all-subtle way that people should clean up after themselves immediately.
Why communal living fails
Communal living often fails because it is treated like a group project. That is, you are thrown together with people you hardly know and expected to work in harmony. Learning conflict resolution and compromising are part of the process and it will ultimately prepare you for ‘the real world’ where you might encounter people that you might not like. Except, of course, anyone who has participated in a group project would tell you that it doesn’t really work like that. More often it involves interacting the least amount possible with your group in order to get the work done and/or pushing the heavier load onto whichever person is the most desperate to get a good grade (or a clean flat). Given the higher stakes involved in a living situation, it is a huge gamble to put people who aren’t familiar with each other into a living situation and expect them to thrive in it.
Due to these initial experiences, we often start perpetuating this idea (if you are ‘forced’ to carry on with communal living) that you shouldn’t move in with your friends because you won’t be friends by the end of the experience. As a result, we often plunge ourselves into households with people we tolerate as opposed to people we like. Often resulting in continued isolation and continued subpar living standards. We continue to treat communal living as this “in between state” that we have to endure before we can be real adults. We feel ashamed for being in a financial or social situation which requires we live communally as opposed to independently. We envy our friends who have their own space and spend time there instead of our corridors with poorly chosen or assigned ‘friends’.
My case(study) for communal living
My partner and I moved in during August 2019 with two close friends whom I’d met through Lund’s Student Theatre. All of us weren’t high enough on the housing lists to find anything so we decided that a collective effort of finding accommodation might be more fruitful than each of us searching individually. We (very fortunately) ended up finding a flat in klostergården and settled quickly into our new accommodation. We had all been slightly apprehensive about the move, especially my partner who (as an introverted and tech minded individual) had his reservations about moving in with three loud musical theatre nerds.
However, since moving in we have found multiple benefits with the arrangement. Firstly and most pragmatically, we are all saving a considerable amount of money, the rent and bills are cheaper, the cost of bulk foods works out better over time, there’s also a decreased need to go out to socialise (which can be very costly in Sweden in the evening!). We quickly fell into a routine which left us with a very manageable workload, I cook and take pride in it, it’s not something which feels like a chore to me, I manage the kitchen and do the food shopping. My partner manages the electronics and fixes or automates things to make our lives easier, the other two have relatively divided up cleaning chores in a way that means they get to do the things which are less stressful or boring for them.
The ‘shame’ aspect of not being the clean one is also surprisingly useful! But aside from these practical aspects, we also found that we were more generally more responsible both for ourselves and each other. We would notice when someone had forgotten to eat or hadn’t been sleeping properly, we would make greater efforts to keep our own mental health in check knowing how easily it can spill over and affect those around us. During a stressful week in December (since dubbed “hell week”), we took turns to emotionally and mentally break down after experiencing personal and shared traumatic incidents and there was always someone put-together enough in the moment to help us get through. We find ourselves going to different people for different things: tough love, a pep talk, a hug, practical advice, a sounding board; which I found drastically improved my romantic relationship as I was no longer putting pressure on my partner to provide all of these things. Going into this knowing that we all want it to work long-term, unsurprisingly, has made it work.
The need for de-stigmatisation
The health detriments of living alone are numerous and well documented. If we continue to view communal living as a shameful situation which connotes not being an adult, independent or financially capable, we will continue to make people vulnerable to the isolation and health risks of a single person household. For those of us who can not have or do not want to have our own nuclear family units, there is a lack of socially acceptable options for living which will not disproportionately affect our wellbeing over time. Communal living certainly needs to be rethought.