In a high-rise New York City apartment, YouTuber Michelle Choi makes herself a bowl of rice with tuna for breakfast. She carries it over to her sprawling living room and eats it while seated on the floor, chatting to the camera all the while. She spends the day at home in her beautifully decorated one-bedroom, cooking and cleaning. The video has 4.1 million views. In a vlog with nearly 3 million views, creator annika’s leaf sets up a new couch, watches television with a friend, and makes spam musubi for lunch. The U.S. Census Bureau released a report in June 2023 revealing that 27.6 percent of households in the country were one-person households, tripling from 1940. “Overall, larger counties by population typically had greater shares of single householders ages 15-64,” the report stated. And online, a new content genre has blossomed to meet the shift.
YouTube’s slew of “living alone vloggers,” creators that romanticize the mundane tasks of living and being on your own, have risen in popularity over the past three years to become a solidified content genre in its own right. On that growing corner of the internet, influencers document the tranquility of buying groceries, cleaning the house, cooking and watching television before bed, all inside their studio apartments, set against the background of soft piano instrumentals. #livingalone has reached over 1.3 billion views on TikTok, and #livingalonediaries has reached over 429.4 million.
Its effects have toppled outward. Searches for one-bedroom apartments have increased 15 percent from 2022 to 2023, according to data provided by Zillow, and although rent growth has slowed over the past few months, prices remain high.
Mai Pham, a lifestyle and living alone YouTuber with over 3.27 million subscribers, tells Fast Company that she enjoys both consuming and posting solo videos.
“I even notice that I prefer watching people who live alone,” she says. “Watching YouTube can really feel like they’re having a conversation with just you, so it feels unnatural when a YouTuber speaks to someone else in their video — it’s like an actor breaking the fourth wall.”
In the comments, people share how they have been inspired to one day live the same lives as Pham, too. “Can I just pause for a moment and say that her room is just my DREAM ROOM,” one wrote. “seeing my favorite vloggers moving out of their homes and living alone and i know i kinda wanted to do that too,” another tweeted.
It’s a notable change in the influencer landscape. Years ago, content creator houses were the most surefire way to find viewers, from David Dobrik’s Vlog Squad and Jake Paul’s Team10 to the early TikTok houses, such as Hype House and Sway House. These influencer collectives set the tone of what was seen as desirable on the internet, sharing moments living in a high-energy household with friends, pulling stunts and pranks on each other for the fun of it. However, a slew of controversies hitting each one — from accusations of sexual assault to lawsuits over unpaid rent — caused many to crumble.
Julia Fei, a New York City-based YouTuber with 120,000 subscribers, tells Fast Company that from the content perspective, content houses have dried up in their appeal.
“Especially with the younger generation, there’s a really big sense of relatability [to living alone],” she says. “Living in a content house is cool but evokes a different emotion, like jealousy, or negative emotions like that, whereas living alone evokes an emotion like empathy.”
Pham says it’s inspiring to watch living alone vlogs, encouraging her to get up and get her life together, too. “Everyone always needs a sense of motivation in their life, and it can be very inspiring to see someone live their life so bravely alone,” says Pham. “There’s a special feeling watching someone do the mundane tasks in life on YouTube that makes it seem so fun.”
Of course, the housing market is always affected by myriad factors, but Lyndsey Casagrande, a New York licensed real estate agent, says that pop culture does have a long-term effect on what people are searching for. “Once a public figure or celebrity buys something in a neighborhood that may be up and coming, the area of or type of housing is given more press,” she says. “With more press, we can definitely see a correlation with demand.”
Zillow rental trends expert Emily McDonald adds that social media’s impact is just the latest iteration of entertainment servicing consumer demand. “While it’s tricky to draw a direct line from pop culture to rental market trends, there’s no denying the impact of cultural moments on our collective psyche,” she says. “Today’s ‘living alone vlogs’ might not pivot the market as a whole, but they do mirror a growing interest in personal space and independence, especially among young adults.
Indeed, more young people are hoping to buy their own places, and want to live their lives on their own. But as inflation and cost of living continues to balloon, it’s become a more untenable dream. Last August saw the biggest jump in monthly rent since 1991, according to Fortune. Living alone is no longer just a dream about growing past the roommate phase — it’s also now a signal of being financially independent in a time of economic hardship.
As a result, influencers are able to take advantage of this trend through solo-living, projecting a lifestyle of personal space and autonomy that is desired by those watching. Pham notices it, too. She tries to include certain keywords in her titles to ensure engagement and viewer interest, which often end up being specific phrases that evoke a sense of enterprise, such as “Living Alone in NYC at 21 years old,” “Productive Day In My Life,” and “Getting My Life Together.” Fei says she also tries to include“New York City” and “working in tech” to niche down for her viewers.
Fei isn’t sure what the future of this content genre will look like. “The idea of vlogging, in its whole concept, is to follow someone’s whole life or journey,” she says. “You can’t live alone forever, right? As the creators who pioneered this space move forward, they’ll have to drop the title, and I’m not sure if that will have ripple effects.”