I don’t own a lot of things. Mostly, I have a collection of books, records, and movies. I have some clothes—a few suits I bought for big occasions, a few T-shirts from high school. I don’t have cable, but pay for the Internet and stream everything I can to my TV. I own pretty much every Apple product imaginable. I like to think I’m a pretty typical 27-year-old. Except, I also own a house.
WHATEVER THE AMERICAN DREAM is, it seems to change with every generation. In the early '90s, owning a home was, for most people, the main thing you had to do if you wanted to be considered “middle class.” Today, it ranks well behind a steady job and health insurance in terms of middle-class signifiers.
I sometimes struggle with the fact that I’m grounded here in this house with a 30-year mortgage while my friends have the freedom to shift from one apartment to the next, switching roommates every year, living without chores or weekends dedicated to household upkeep.
Millennials have decided to continue to rent instead of buying—according to the National Association of Realtors, 62 percent of people 33-years-old and under rent an apartment, while 20 percent live with parents, relatives, or friends. Part of it is economic: More college debt than ever has hampered their ability and willingness to jump into the housing market. You can skip out after one year because you don’t like the neighborhood or the water pressure. But some of it also comes from what’s a mix of uncertainty and a desire to not be tied down. A 30-year mortgage is a long-term investment. The immediate payoff is great, but the longevity of it can feel daunting.
When my wife decided to look into buying a home, it petrified me. I was 22 years old and unsure of what to do next with my life. I’d just graduated from college with a journalism degree and was looking for my first real job, one with an annual salary and benefits. But this being the late aughts and the nadir of the economy, newspapers were shedding staff and I was doing way more looking than finding. My wife, though, is five years older than me and had a steady job as a math teacher at the time. She was all set on a path and ready to settle down. I didn't even have a car.
At the time, we were living in my childhood bedroom in my parents’ house. After a terrible experience with the landlord of her last apartment, she moved in with my family. We had only been dating for few a months at that point, but my parents didn’t object to having her move in. Under this set up, she didn’t have to pay rent and she was able to start saving money for a down payment on a house. She wanted a place all her own. I was terrified. I wanted to move to the big city and work for a daily newspaper.
I SOMETIMES STRUGGLE WITH the fact that I’m grounded here in this house with a mortgage while my friends have the freedom to shift from one apartment to the next, switching roommates every year, living without chores or weekends dedicated to household upkeep. There are weekends when I can’t go away because I need to finish a project on the house. I can’t just up and leave whenever I want to. I have to mow the lawn every weekend, lest we become those crazy neighbors with the wild prairie next door. And I can’t take a job offer outside of my area code without first thinking about this house.
This all frightened me when I was 22. But I met the woman I love—we got married last summer—and she wanted a house, so I went along with it. I knew I’d be happy, and I knew she’d be happy. Despite all it takes to maintain, I do enjoy having a place to call home. A tangible home, one I can see and touch. It’s a place where we have neighbors that know us and help us and have become part of our lives; they’re people we know will be there. Our neighbor across the street is in his eighties. I help him shovel his driveway in the winter and we share vegetables during the summer, and he cuts my hair every other weekend in the barbershop he’s run for more than 50 years. We have a garden, and we have a dog.
I still see my friends regularly. My wife and I still go on vacations. I still have the chance to travel. I can still just get up and go play pick-up soccer whenever I want. And I've realized we're not stuck here forever, either. Someday we can sell this home if we want. We can move. So outside of the existential burden of a mortgage and a place we can literally call “our own,” we’re still pretty typical.