Can a home be a luxury?
July 6, 2007 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Can a home be a luxury? I want to know if you think it [is/is not] so. A lot

I'm a college student, now entering my third year. For various reasons, my family has moved around every 2-3 years since I was born, oscillating between [East Asian country] and the US. For high school, I left [EAC] and went to boarding school for high school, switched schools after my first year, and lived in the dorms (moved out every nine months). I came to a prestigious college in a different city (NYC) than my high school was in, and am also living in the dorms.

For me, 'home' consists of a vague idea of shelter and comfort, somewhat disassociated with family, and very disassociated with location or country. I visit my parents a month a year, if I'm lucky -- a week a year, if I'm not. I have no other family outside [EAC] save for my older sister, who will be on the West Coast for the next seven+ years.

I'm finding that I am more and more desireful about the prospect of having a small home of my own in NYC. What bothers me about college dorms is that most of the students don't perceive their rooms as shelter or a home, but rather a temporary resting-point while they are away from home. For me, that's not true, and I'm tired of feeling nomadic and itinerant all the time. Last summer, I lived in a sublet in NYC, and it felt great, comfortable, relatively like a home, someplace to hunker down and cook for myself, sleep in late on weekends. However, I feel like getting an apartment is an overblown luxury, that I should suck it up, as the other students do, and stay in the dorms for the remaining years. After all, I have the rest of post-collegiate or post-academic life to not live in a dorm.

My parents have been supportive and understanding of this whole idea, and have told me not to worry too much about the financial details. An apartment/room is pricey in Manhattan though, and my parents would pay $3000 more per year than the college dorms would require. (I'd pay the rest.) On top of that, they're paying for my college education (albeit subsidized by a significant amount of financial aid).

In short, I feel like a spoiled, ungrateful idiot. $3000 a year isn't an incredible amount to them -- but that's not the point. I've been incredibly blessed with the amount and depth of opportunities that I have, yet I feel like I'm not content with what I have when I should be. A part of me wants this sense of home, while another part says that I'm young, flexible, resilient, and that as a college student the dorms is the appropriate setting for me.

What do you think? Should I? Do you have any similar experiences? Am I spoiled? Is this overblown luxury?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total)
It is indeed luxury. It's not spoiled to want it, but you should not pursue it. Live in the dorms for a couple more years. Apartments will still be an option when you graduate.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:46 PM on July 6, 2007

It's definitely a luxury. Think of it this way: for many people, even living in the college dorms is a luxury requiring help from financial aid. And then there are many college students who live at home and commute to class. And there are many who supplement that with a full time job. Many never get to go to college.

But your question seems not to be 'is this a luxury' but 'why do I feel guilty about it?'

I'd say this: If you (that is, your family) have the means to afford it, and if it would make a significant difference to your happiness and your ability to study with a mind a peace, then there is no reason why you should not do it and be grateful that life has afforded you this opportunity.

I do wonder why though, if they have an extra $3K a year to put toward your education, they are not putting it toward tuition and reducing your aid package?
posted by Miko at 1:47 PM on July 6, 2007

Do you enjoy living in the dorms, yes or no? If so, continue to do so. If not, get an apartment. It sounds like you want an apartment. You could get an apartment share for cheaper than what you're probably paying for a dorm. I moved off-campus senior year in NYC, and that was fine with me- I was over RAH RAH college living. School was something I did, not somewhere I lived.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:50 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

If the finances aren't a consideration, I'd get out of the dorms. If you are in a more comfortable living environment, it might help you with your studies. It sounds like you feel that you "should" be living in the dorms to get the full experience of being a student, but you have not mentioned a single positive thing about living there.

I lived off campus for the majority of my undergraduate years, but I was one of the starving students and this actually cost less money than living on campus and being forced to purchase a meal plan. and I wasn't in NYC Most other students preferred to live off campus too. Those who did live on campus as upperclassmen had such noble reasons as being able to leave the TV on all the time and not worry about the electric bill, being to lazy to get to class otherwise, or liking the party atmosphere in the dorms.

You have to find some other place to live during breaks, don't you? I don't think it's extravagant to want a place you won't get thrown out of at the end of the semester. It is very luxurious that the other students in the dorms are able to have a home maintained for them somewhere else that they don't even use most of the time.
posted by yohko at 1:50 PM on July 6, 2007

It's definitely a luxury, but that doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't persue it. Fancy bikes and huge stereos are other college-student luxuries that people regularly indulge in.

However, I've found that I feel at home when I'm surrounded by my things. Maybe you could compromise by getting a single dorm room and decorating it to your taste. Give it a shot for another semester before moving off-campus for good.
posted by christinetheslp at 2:05 PM on July 6, 2007

Maybe I'm reading the question wrong, but I don't think the OP is asking: "Is it spoiled that I want to live in my very own apartment instead of the dorms?" but instead "I don't feel like I have a home anywhere, and I'd really like one. Is that terrible?"

Feeling like you don't have a stable home of some kind is pretty sucky. If you can afford to somehow provide yourself with a space that is yours and that you don't get kicked out of every nine months... I don't think that's a luxury. I think it's pretty ideal to have a home base, if at all possible.

In sum, you have my permission to get your own apartment.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 2:05 PM on July 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

I had some of these issues when I was in college -- my parents also moved every few years as I was growing up, they also lived in another country and I rarely saw them while I was in college, I also lived far away from any place that I've lived before, and I also desperately wanted to get out of the dorms and into a "home," even if that just meant a small and cramped apartment.

My parents couldn't afford to help me, even though I was in a much cheaper college town, so I didn't manage to wrangle it until my final four months. It was very nice. It was a little lonelier than dorm life, but still so worthwhile to have a private space to make my own, a kitchen, a full-sized fridge, more than just a little wall. If I could have had more time to make my own space in college, I would.

Sure, it's a luxury. Luxuries are part of what makes life wonderful, though, aren't they? If your parents can afford it, take them up on it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:06 PM on July 6, 2007

if your parents are willing to help you, get the apartment. it'll be a good growth experience, and i don't think having a permanent place to call home is a luxury. stability is worth a lot, especially in new york. also, college dorms are probably the most artificial, unnatural social environment in western society. getting out into the world and having adult neighbors is a good thing.

and if you feel guilty about the finances, find a tiny studio. there are plenty out there.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:10 PM on July 6, 2007

What bothers me about college dorms is that most of the students don't perceive their rooms as shelter or a home, but rather a temporary resting-point while they are away from home.

Speaking for myself, this hasn't been true for the past two years I have spent at college. There are others like us who look to the dorm as more of a home than anywhere else. I have a physical house and family to return to every vacation. But I feel much more at home in the dorm, even though I have to share a bathroom and kitchen, my room and bed are tiny, and I eat at the dining hall. It's all about state of mind.

At my "real" home, I am lonely and bored during vacation because my mother is at work and most of my friends from high school have moved or moved on. For now school is my home and my community, and I always feel at home in the dorms and on campus, and homesick over vacation when I am away. It doesn't really bother me that other people aren't as attached.

That being said, I go to a college with a proper campus. When I went to an urban school in DC freshman year, there was no sense of community in the dorms -- I might as well have been living in an apartment by myself. In fact there were many private apartment buildings that were closer to the center of campus than my dorm.

And whether I like it or not, I do go back to my real home for vacations, so I've never needed to get a sublet during summer or winter break. Living in a dorm and eating at the dining hall is just more convenient for me than renting with a yearly contract, acquiring furniture, buying groceries without a car, paying for high speed internet, etc. It's not really worth the extra space, privacy or sense of the independence to me. I'm assuming that many of these factors will be different for you in New York.

Really, it's up to you. If money's not a factor and you know you'd feel more comfortable living in an apartment, go for it. But know that it's not just the physical environment that makes somewhere feel like home.
posted by puffin at 2:17 PM on July 6, 2007

I feel that you should do this only if you feel like you couldn't invest that $3000 in something else. $3000 a year could pay for a lot of things in the future, especially if it's earning interest now. It could go soften the blow on the rent of your first apartment out of college if you're not in a high-income field, or to pay down any debt you might accrue, or to pay for your first car if you end up getting a job out in some non-public-transit-served suburb.

Alternatively, could you and some dormmates strike out on your own next term? Perhaps if you and some friends were all sharing an apartment near campus, you wouldn't feel socially isolated (which you don't talk about but which is something I felt, hard, when I left college), but you'd still have your nest, and perhaps at not such great cost; if your financial aid was anything like mine (and it may well not be), perhaps the money that's paying for your food and housing on campus now could be used to pay for off-campus food and housing as well - that's a question for the financial aid office, though.

Furthermore, if you living in the dorms is frustrating you in other ways - say, affecting the quality of your schoolwork, or making having an romantic relationship unfeasible - then perhaps you can't make the decision based on the money alone.

So then: while I don't think wanting a home is a luxury - $3000 a year is $250 a month/$8.33 a day, what some people spend on lunch, or credit card bills or car payments - I don't know that having a physical, building-type place is necessary to achieve a sense of home.
posted by mdonley at 2:20 PM on July 6, 2007

If it will make you happy, go ahead. (You might consider getting a roommate (if your parents can cover a bigger mortgage), so that you still "suffer" a little bit.) The money will create equity, so I assume you will get the $3,000 back. If you really think this luxury is too decadent, why not take up volunteer work and give back $3000 a year of your "time"? If you value your time at $20 an hour, you really only need to volunteer for three hours a week to make amends. In fact, you could stretch this out over a few more years, if need be.
posted by acoutu at 2:42 PM on July 6, 2007

The issue with this sort of question in general is that, unless you’re assimilated to the US to the extent that you’ll happily ignore what your family thinks where that differs from the US mainstream, Askme can’t give you an answer that reflects your own perception of how things are. I would bounce the question off some American Born [EAC]an/ese fora in your place.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 3:07 PM on July 6, 2007

This is really the last time in your life you'll be completely immersed with people in your particular age group. I know you're yearning for a place of your own, but seriously, there's more time in your 20's for that than there is to be in the dorms.
posted by effugas at 3:26 PM on July 6, 2007

Wow, this is an easy one! Get an apartment share with like-minded friends. An apartment with roommates will feel MUCH more like a home than the dorms, and it will cost the same or less.
posted by footnote at 3:32 PM on July 6, 2007

PS: I grew up in a homey home all my life, and I thought the dorms sucked and moved out after my first year. The college experience doesn't require continuous dorm living.
posted by footnote at 3:34 PM on July 6, 2007

I suppose that what is a luxury depends upon your frame of reference. The prospect of owning my own apartment still feels like an unatainable luxury to me (I'm a post-doctoral research scientist in London, UK - an expensive city).
I know what you mean about dorm room accommodation not feeling, or being treated by others, like home though. I felt the same when I was an undergraduate. I had a better time when I escaped the dorm system (after a year) and found accommodation in a shared apartment. I shared with friends from university and it really did feel like home. It actually worked out a little bit cheaper than living in the dorms and it was a blast learning to live with people that weren't my family.
So - consider sharing an apartment outside of the dorm system with friends, and make it into a home.
posted by jonesor at 3:48 PM on July 6, 2007

Luxury isn't living in an apartment instead of a dorm; luxury is spending a lot of money. In NYC, depending on where you want to live and what school you're going to, an apartment may actually be cheaper than the dorms, and will almost certainly be larger.

For example, I lived at one of the cheaper NYU dorms, which cost around $870 a month, and I had to share a tiny room in a suite of 5-6 people. When I graduated, I moved to Brooklyn and got a pretty large room of my own in a 3-person apartment, for only $800 a month. The commute to the NYU area (where I worked) was still only 25-35 minutes, depending on the time of day. I sure felt like an idiot for having wasted money on the dorms.

So if you want to move out, I'd say go for it, and don't be afraid of leaving Manhattan. You can get a much much better deal in Brooklyn or Queens.
posted by equalpants at 4:03 PM on July 6, 2007

IMO a HOME is not a luxury, and everyone should have one---a home is wherever you feel safe and with your family and loved ones. A house, more of a luxury.

I believe personally that McMansions and in general houses over 1500 square feet are unnecessary and utterly worthless for a family of under 5.

HUD defines "substandard" as any living arrangement which takes more than 1/3 of your total income---and there are a scary number of people who live in "nice" houses who are substandard by that definition.

I believe that everyone should be able to afford a simple, affordable place to live. I don't believe that anyone needs fancy furnishings, appliances, or adornments, but to each his or her own.

Summary: House != home.
posted by TomMelee at 9:46 PM on July 6, 2007

You seem to be overlooking the possibility of living in the outer boroughs. I left the dorms of my NYC college for an apartment in Brooklyn, and the result was vastly lower expenses. Depending on where you go to school, it should be possible to find a room in an apartment in the outer boroughs or upper Manhattan for $600-700 per month, and I can't imagine you're paying less than that for dorms.
posted by boots at 11:12 PM on July 6, 2007

we're exactly in the same situation. parents have been moving around abroad. i don't have a place to call home for the past four years, other than the brief visits to my parents' places.

i don't think a home is a luxury. it's a necessity.

$3000 is not a lot to pay for feeling safe, comfortable, relaxed and having a place you can sleep in on weekends. dorms and sometimes even rentals with roomies will never be the same as a place of your own you call home. the extra 3k is small change in comparison to the rest of the tuition bill anyway.

if it makes you feel less spoiled, my parents are going to pick up my entire rent and bills during my studies. they are not surprised that given no home, i want to rent a place rather than live in the cheap dorms in school.

your happiness is probably a lot more important to your parents than spending more money on clothes or vacation.

you can drop me a line - my email address is [redacted]
posted by ye#ara at 6:58 AM on July 7, 2007

If having your own place is going to make you feel significantly happier then go for it - if not don't. It really is as simple as that. It sounds like your parents understand where you are coming from on this and are willing to support it...which speaks for them.

If you are thinking of sharing - choose carefully...personally I am now sharing a place with somebody who is not my partner for the second time. The first time was a disaster and this time it works really well.

The first time I was sharing with a friend I had known for years and the person turned out to be impossible to live with. I felt really miserable sharing with her and could not wait to get out - I never felt that way in halls of residence and I have spent four years in them.

Currently I am sharing with my step cousin - we did not grow up together and I had not seem him for ten years and only spent very little time with him before he moved in with me last autumn - he was pretty desperate and I felt charitable at the time. Turns out that we get on really well and have become really good friends in the last 9 months...
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:08 AM on July 7, 2007

I couldn't stand living in the dorms at college. For me it was less a feeling of temporariness and more feeling like I was living in a fishbowl -- I hated always being surrounded by people who expected me to interact with them at any time of day or night. (I was also weirded out by having other people come in to clean our bathrooms.)

I finally moved off-campus with my roommate senior year, and it made a huge difference to my peace of mind. Having a place that really felt like "home," rather than a large noisy temporary residence hall, made everything else seem much more pleasant and easy.

I definitely think there are people for whom a pleasant home base is hugely important. I know there are tons of people who can couch surf for ages, or live in teeny places in order to spend their money on other things, but I long ago realized that I wasn't one of them and that in order to stay mostly sane, I should expect to be putting a fair amount of money into rent. It's better than being anxious and depressed all the time!
posted by occhiblu at 10:17 AM on July 7, 2007

Assuming you're at NYU or Columbia, are you really aware of how much more it's going to cost you to get an apartment? Your folks who are willing to chip in $3000 won't even cover two months rent. Dorms are heavily subsidized - you're paying something like 25% what the equivalent space would rent for - and to me, it seems dumb not to take advantage of it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:47 AM on July 7, 2007

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