I’m one of those millennials who’s always trying to convince my friends to join a commune and live with me. I’m a a social person, and building community is important to me. My dream is that one day we’ll all buy a plot of land together, build our own small homes and gather outdoors for bonfires. Of course, none of us has the money for that right now.
When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, I was living alone in an apartment in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, which I bought in 2015 for $230,000. I’m an extrovert, so it was hard to be isolated away from friends and family, and after three or four months of living alone, I hit a wall. I decided to temporarily move into my parents’ home in Abbotsford, where my uncle and brother were also staying. I felt almost a physical relief to be back in a full house with others. Throughout the pandemic, I would go back and forth between my apartment and my parents’ home. It became clear that living alone was overrated.
I started talking to other friends about my co-living dreams. Soon I learned that my best friend of 12 years and her husband were feeling the same way. They were living in a nice but cramped two-bedroom condo in Vancouver’s West Side, and isolating had been hard on them, too. At the end of 2021, we started talking about potentially moving in together. It just felt right: we had all been friends for so long, and I was even the emcee at their wedding. We started a group chat called “Modern Fam Jam” to coordinate everything. We were like, “Let’s do this!”
At the beginning, it seemed like we agreed on everything. Privacy was important, so we looked for a place with at least three bedrooms and outdoor space. My friends had a toddler (they now also have a newborn), so we wanted a space that was big enough for the kids to run around. The only thing we really differed on was location: I wanted to live in East Vancouver and they preferred the West Side. In the end, they won out—the only places big enough for the five of us were on the West Side.
We only viewed three homes before finding one we loved. My friend is really good at the whole Craigslist hunt thing, and she found a four-bedroom house for rent for $5,000 a month. By mid-March of 2022, we were moving. It was a whirlwind. As for the costs: both me and my friend already owned condos, and we didn’t want to sell them in case co-living didn’t work out for us. So we rented out our places; the rent we received was enough to cover the costs of renting our new home. I pay $1,500 in rent, and my friends pay $3,500 a month.
The house is glorious. There’s one bedroom and a bathroom downstairs, where I live. My friend and her family are upstairs, where there are another two bedrooms and a master bedroom with an ensuite bathroom. When you walk in the front door, there’s a small living room on one side and a larger family and dining room on the other, which is attached to the kitchen. These separate living areas mean we can all be on the main floor but not necessarily feel like we’re in each other’s faces.
Most days we’re all just doing our own thing: I work as a managing director at a theatre, so my schedule changes a lot. I usually leave for work before they’re even awake and often have plans in the evening. If I’m home at night, we’ll hang out together while I make dinner. My friend has a pretty consistent routine of dinner, toddler bedtime, and exhausted parents’ bedtime, but most days we cross paths after work. We also do family movie nights when we can. Our last one was about a month ago; we watched Sing 2 and ordered pizza. Afterwards, my friend’s toddler put on a performance for us. It was super cute.
For chores, we have a “do them if you see them” policy. I’m intentional about vacuuming downstairs to manage my cat’s shedding. My friend and I alternate taking out the recycling, compost and garbage on a weekly basis, and her husband mostly does outdoor chores like cleaning up the yard and gardening. We clean our own bathrooms, and we split monthly “deep cleans” to get the kitchen and floors done. We divide household finances in a similar way, picking stuff up for each other as we need it. Little issues come up, like who’s shovelling the snow on what day. But we’ve been able to talk everything through.
We’ve traded some freedom for this family style of living: I can have a romantic partner or friend over whenever, for example, but neither of us can just plan a party without checking in on the other first. That tradeoff is worth it: I have a loving chosen family I come home to every day.
—As told to Adrienne Matei