Social Update: A Change in Lifestyle for Millennials



To this day, a massive indicator of wealth can be something as simple or trivial as the size of one’s home. The grander the building, the more elegant the design, the larger the front lawn or pool - these continue to often times be the signifiers of wealth and stability.

However, a recent trend has begun within the sphere of the younger, especially the millennial generation. A movement towards smaller, more affordable living has become more popular. This different living style allows people to spend more money on other things and have an easier time moving to a different city. A different reason for this trend though comes down to the mindset of people living in this style; the freedom to leave and go somewhere new in a matter of moments.

While living in say, a small apartment, wouldn’t necessarily allow someone to move out and try a new city in just a day, a more specific trend has appeared recently that does allow for people to sleep in a new place each night. This lifestyle goes by many names, but recently its been simply called “van life”.

This idea of “van life” has taken hold as a hashtag on Twitter over the last couple of months, and personifies the experience that people are seeking when they consider turning to life on the road.

Many of the pictures and videos that people post accompanied with the van life hashtag are pictures of starry skies, campfires, and various, beautiful sceneries. This idea of complete freedom and no restrictions on where one has to sleep or what one can see in the course of a day is one of the main reasons this van lifestyle has taken hold with the younger generation.

Another factor that has pushed mainly the millennial generation to spend less money on home goods and more on other things comes back to the period in which they were raised. It’s likely that many people now entering the work force and looking to possibly buy their first home grew up watching their parents struggle through the recession of the mid to late 2000s.

Watching parents go through money crises and even having to move to a smaller home can lead to people going through the same experience acting cautious about where they spend their money. Much of the millennial generation and those near that age range instead spend their money on more immediate concerns, like student debt from college, with the idea that living debt-free is more attractive than dealing with it while owning a larger home.

This had lead to an interesting dynamic within the housing industry. According to a report on CNBC, the sale of new homes went up 12 percent from June to July in 2016. While this does mean that people are still buying homes in bigger and bigger numbers, it also shows in the report that the majority of these homes are smaller, more recently built buildings.

This highlights a trend beyond that of van life - the general movement of young people to simpler, smaller living that allows more freedom from the restrictions of a stable, larger house.

This allowance for movement and spending on other things is important to people who take part in van life. Vans only necessarily accommodate the simplest of living conditions; they most likely will only have a bed, a small cooking station, and maybe a table or small closet built in. Beyond that however, the living is more about the experience.

It’s the experience of open road, of being able to travel from scenic place to scenic place, seeing things that one never would see in any normal style of work.

Another interesting aspect of the movement away from stable, long lasting homes goes back to the mindset of the millennial generation and the experiences they had growing up. According to a PEW research report, more and more of the millennial generation is staying and living at home in lieu of owning their apartment or house. This ties back somewhat to the appeal of van life - not because there is complete freedom, as there may never will be at a parents' home, but there is the lack of burden of other things that need spending on.

The lack of financial responsibilities may be one of the biggest reasons for the refusal to buy larger homes. With no student debt, less pressure to buy food for long in the future, and little restriction on coming and going and working, the lifestyle of living simply has become very popular.

Another interesting fact from the PEW report is that while there are those millennials that are traveling about in vans and by other means, many more are moving even less than before. This comes back to more people living at home for longer than traditionally people have, but it once again comes back to the idea of financial burdens. The avoidance of these is key for people joining the workforce right now after graduating from college.

While two different ways of avoiding the stress of what people went through with the recession, both have taken hold on the millennial generation. Living in van or in cheap housing has become popular for its freedom and lessening of financial burdens and the ease at which one can move from place to place. Living at home for longer lengths of time has also taken affect because of the lack of financial stress as well. Both offer young people the opportunity to avoid some of the stressful factors that their parents grew up while simultaneously allowing them the freedom they want.