This article originally appeared on VICE Austria
In one apartment in the Ottakring district of Vienna, the simple, tedious act of hanging laundry has taken on the feel of a party. Three young women dance around their living room while singing along to the German folk band Kofelgschroa's ode to laundry, "Wäsche". The flatmates take their time completing the task so that it lasts the entire length of the song: "The washing dries in the sun / The washing dries in the wind / The washing dries in the light / How beautiful is that?"
This weekly ritual is probably the most normal thing about their living arrangement.
The housemates in this flatshare have split up the rooms not by person, but by function – there's a small bedroom that they all share, a living room, a study and a sex room. This way, they can fit an extra person, or maybe two, into the apartment. In theory, everyone has their own wardrobe, but practically speaking they've all agreed to share clothes, as well as the contents of the fridge, and the shower. The apartment is also home to one person who has decided against the open arrangement and so occupies their own room.
For most people, a life without privacy would not be ideal, but it seems to be working for Anna* and her brother, Daniel* – who first moved into this ground floor apartment a year-and-a-half ago – as well as their housemates Marie*, Laura* and Paul*.
Recently, the group even managed to convince the people in the flat above to adopt their model. "Our goal is to take over the entire building," Anna laughs. "Our borders are fluid – why the hell would you live any other way if you didn't have to?"
Though it was Anna who convinced her housemates to adopt this lifestyle, it didn't come naturally to her. "I used to think it was completely crazy," she says. "I thought it was the type of thing only hippies or social anthropology students did."
But after months of travelling and spending every night in hostels, she started getting used to not having her own room. This sparked an idea: instead of wasting massive amounts of space living in a traditional flat-share, she'd put her huge flat to much better use and save some cash in the process.
"Before, we all had our own rooms and we never had a common space," Ann explains. "Now, we all have access to a study, living room and a quiet room." It took some time for them as a group to settle into this style of living and adapt their wider attitudes to the concept of ownership.
"It makes no sense at all to have three of everything," Marie tells me. "I had a hard time with it in the beginning, but it's much more practical to share." The only things they count as individual possessions are their laptops and mobile phones.
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This has been their normal since Marie, Laura and Paul moved in seven months ago – but visitors still find it strange. "The first question people always want to know is: 'How do you masturbate?'" Anna says. "And those who are too shy to ask want to know what we do when we bring a date home."
Well, the lower level of the apartment has a room with a blue door, which leads to their sex room. And when it comes to masturbating, that usually happens when no one else is home, they tell me.
Even though it sounds a lot like a hippie commune, they don't consider themselves to be one. "A commune is burdened with things that we don’t worry ourselves with, such as having sex with each other and sharing everything," Laura says. "Sure, we share a lot of stuff, but not everything. We do fit into some cliches though. For example, we recently all had nits," she laughs.
Of course, the main motivation in all this is the eternal quest for cheaper rent – a battle that's only getting more intense in Europe's most popular cities. Though Vienna offers relatively more affordable housing, average rent has increased by 43 percent between 2008 and 2016, which is disproportionately high compared to how much people earn. "If I had to pay higher rent I couldn't afford to study here," Laura says.
It's possible more and more young people could turn to this solution as a way of finding some sort of manageable solution to their country's respective housing crisis. At the moment, though, it's hard to know for sure how many people have adopted this model in recent years. In many situations, people are doing it out of necessity, without the knowledge or permission of their housing authority.
"Many people live this way without calling it functional," Daniel adds. "Couples, refugees, people who can't afford their rent."
But Daniel believes that, generally, it's young people who are most sceptical, as such arrangements were fairly common in past generations. In fact, studies have shown that shared apartments where everybody has their own room is a relatively new phenomenon – and, of course, millions of families around the world live in homes where multiple people share one or two bedrooms.
According to Austria's forecasted numbers, Vienna's population is expected to climb by 200,000 by 2026. It will become increasingly difficult for the city to facilitate housing for the influx of residents. The trend is pointing towards an increase in smaller, single-family apartments, of which there's currently a shortage. Commune-esque living could certainly become the norm once again, and Anna and her housemates want to prove that that doesn't have to be a bad thing.
"The increasing individualisation of society gets on our nerves," says Laura. "Everyone here has lived in conventional apartments before, and we unanimously believe that functional shared living offers a much more familial and communal feel. Above all, they make communication among roommates much better," Daniel adds.
That doesn't mean they don't face the same problems as in other conventional apartments, and don't argue over who hasn't done the washing up – "but in contrast to a lot of others, we talk about these things as a group", says Daniel.
For most of them, this flat has become their first proper home in Vienna, and it's an environment where they feel comfortable. "Honestly, we're just pretty normal people," Daniel tells me. "Maybe it would be better if you wrote about the really strange people – those who spend all their time alone in their room, isolated from everyone else."
*We agreed to change the names of the subjects of this article to protect their identities so they could speak candidly about the intricacies of their living arrangement.