I recently had a conversation with some new friends about living arrangements and I realized that I have actually lived 10 of the last 13 years almost completely rent free. One girl was so shocked she immediately said: you should write a book!
I’m not so sure about a book, but since this is the DIY section of the forum, I thought why not post about it - and maybe open some people’s minds to thinking differently about ”freedom.”
I often hear people say things like ”I enjoy paying my own rent today; it makes me feel free.” I find this phrase really interesting; in that, signing a monthly commitment to pay a certain amount in order to attain some level of independence from one’s family is the determining factor of one’s freedom (in this case).
On the other hand, I recently hitch-hiked through Slovenia and stayed with a new friend of mine through Couchsurfing. He is 28 years old and his entire family still lives together (including his girlfriend most of the time), except for an older brother who literally moved out last week just in order to be closer to his job, which was 60 km away. I found this arrangement awesome. Furthermore, the family is open to and enjoys having couchsurfers pass through on a pretty regular basis. The father even included me in the Sunday afternoon family dinner, making sure to make vegan friendly food for me and my new friend’s girlfriend - which was so touching.
I think this Western/American obsession with space = freedom can be a really dangerous one. What ends up happening of course is that a small percentage of the population takes up too large a percentage of the space, overconsuming resources and living in god-awfully large houses with too much room and no idea what to do with it. In the end, we have loneliness, alcoholism, hoarding, what have you because these people literally have no idea wha tto do with what they have.
Then you travel into the cities, or higher density and lower-income areas and you have people sleeping 16 in one house, multiple families together, and somehow - it works (though of course, not by choice). Many of these people reported to me the desire, the dream to have a big house and big backyard - the grass of course always greener on the other side. Yet at the same time, as I hitch-hiked around America - it was always these people who offered me a small corner of floor space before those with the large suburban houses and so much more to ”lose.”
So how did I manage to avoid paying rent? Well, for 4 years I hopped trains and hitch-hiked, sleeping on the above floor corners and sidewalks, and park benches, squats, and under bridges - a lifestyle that is fun and exciting in your early 20s and very quickly gets old. I had a backpack with a sleeping bag and one change of warmer clothes that functioned as a pillow and that was that. Oh, and a knife for a front door when the other homebums got funny ideas during the night.
I guess in the end I did pay some sort of price for that life, but it turned out to be one that I was able to refund partially through Trauma therapy and my creative projects, which in turn became an investment in the future of projects such as this one, CP4P, where I could use that material to help others.
When I left the streets, I spent some time in an institution where the taxes of American citizens paid my rent, and later my parents for the rest of my time in the institution. After 18 months there, I found a friend who was pregnant and needed help at home, and moved in with the exchange of taking care of the kids, cleaning the house, and being generally a second woman around the house for food, gas money, and a room. That was an amazing first arrangement back into society. I know today that should I ever want a home for a short time in Eastern PA, this family is still a part of mine.
After 6 months, I returned to University - where I decided to pay rent in order to be able to run The Blueberry Shire, the only “clean” underground show house in New Brunswick, NJ at the time and to have to peace during my studies. Since I had the resources to pay, I decided to and to turn my house into a kind of community center with weekly art and music nights and monthly shows. Some local studenst even made a docu about that house: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QB35lfCc4fM
After 2 years, I received a scholarship to go study in Berlin and opted for a homestay with a German family. I moved into their attic, sharing a house with a mother, father, and two teenage German sisters. The exchange was planned for 3 months, and 2 years later I still have a room in their attic and still live part of my time with them. One of my german sisters even recently went to live with my parents in their nearly empty home in Pittsburgh in order to have her own cultural exchange and to get to know her other American siblings.
In September, I’m moving in with a friend of my partner’s mother’s - who is 85 years old and has recently put her husband into hospice. She lives alone with a cat and has a need for companionship. In exchange for companionship and help around the house and shopping, I will have a room and an office and the full use of the rest of the house.
So this is my experience, which I guess is somewhat unique in today’s world. It comes from my unwillingness to commit to capitalistic ideals of how I should live my life and what determines my level of maturity. My unwillingness to participate in today’s society brought a lot of pain into my life and the life of those who love me initially, because I was also unwilling to compromise. However, today, compromise invites amazing relationships and companionships into my life that enrich and further my personal growth.
Choosing not to have my ”own” place of course has its downsides, such as a limit on my ability to walk around naked (all the time at least) or to have sex on the kitchen counter (unless I’m at my partner’s ;)) or to invite friend’s over and stay up all night completely unphased about the time. It means I have to consider the others that I live with. However, in my experience, those small things are actually quite small and not so horrible after all. If I want to stay up all night, there’s my friends’ places or the clubs in Berlin - or camping in the magical forests of the world - or there are ways and places to do it that won’t disturb those around me.
Otherwise, I feel quite free, quite liberated (as does my money), and I know that at the same time, should my living arrangement discontinue to function for me or for those with whom I live, there’s a million or even a billion others out there, desperate for a co-living environment and some kind of non-capitalistic exchange and all I have to do is ask!