Millennial's tearful honesty about cost of living crisis in Canada goes viral

Sep 2 2023, 12:00 pm

A Canadian woman who recently posted a video to TikTok struck a chord with millions of viewers after asking one simple question: How are people affording to live in Canada right now?

Sydney (who requested to be referred to by her first name only) also goes by HomesteadingMillennial on social media and told Daily Hive that what pushed her to make the video was a build-up of feeling frustrated and hopeless about trying to survive in Canada.

And it appears her feelings connect to many others, as the video has amassed over four million views since first being posted in August.

Sydney said she moved to BC’s Interior from Calgary about two years ago. She currently lives on a rural property and shares a glimpse into her “homesteading” lifestyle — a self-sufficient way of life that often involves farming, home preservation of food, and small-scale textile production — on her social media platforms.

Before making the now-viral video, she had been struggling to find “safe and affordable housing for a long time,” she told Daily Hive via email.

In the video, Sydney can be seen in tears, talking to the camera about how life has gotten so expensive.

@homesteadingmillennial If anyone else is feeling despair over the current cost of living, I hear you. #canadahousingcrisis #canadahousingisbroken #ubi #taxtherich #eattherich ♬ original sound – HomesteadingMillennial

“I wanna know how the hell people in Canada are even living,” she says.

“I generally consider myself a positive person… While I know I’ll never truly be homeless, I have family to live with and… I have options. Like, I’m luckier than a lot of other people, but how the hell is anyone existing in Canada?” she asks.

Sydney goes on to explain that despite getting a good job that she’ll start in September, it only pays $40,000 a year.

“And it’s a job that requires… education. And even on that job, like, I still can’t, I can’t buy anything. I can’t afford rent these days… I’m just feeling so much despair,” she says.

Sydney emphasizes that she feels lucky that she has a “good family” who will support her if she needs it, and, as someone without kids, her expenses are lower.

But still, she says she feels stuck. “I can’t stay here. But I can’t move anywhere else,” she says in the video.

Sydney adds that part of her wants to just leave Canada altogether.

“At 33 years old… I was really hoping that I could, at the very least, afford… a small house. I don’t even want 3,100 square feet… I just want something small, 500 square feet, even less. And yet, it’s just… it’s so f*cking expensive. I don’t… I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”

A lose-lose situation

Sydney told Daily Hive that the video was a “culmination of years of being told (since my mid-twenties, really) that we just need to work a little harder, that we need a better job, that we need to start a side hustle, that we need to upgrade our skills, that we should have gone into a trade and so on.”

“It’s like we lose either way,” she said.

She explained a situation that’s common for so many across Canada: those who go to college or university run the risk of racking up thousands in student debt; however, if you don’t attend a post-secondary institution, it may lessen your chance of getting a higher-paying job.

“If we go to post-secondary and are drowning under student debt, then we should have gone into the trades,” she said.

“Both in my personal life and in the media, I was just flooded with messages of personal responsibility when no one wanted to talk about the fact that this issue is a systemic one. I’m all for personal responsibility, but there’s only so much personal responsibility many of us can take before we need to start talking about the system as a whole.”

Life in Canada “feels impossible”

Sydney, like many Canadians, has noticed how the cost of living has had an impact on her, as well as those she knows.

For example, in 2008 — when she was in her early 20s — Sydney and a group of friends worked as receptionists in downtown Calgary.

They had just recently completed high school and didn’t have a post-secondary education yet, she said.

“I made $15 an hour and could afford a fairly decent two-bedroom basement suite in Forest Lawn Calgary, which is a more affordable area of town. My friends all did the same,” she explained, adding that she doesn’t believe the same opportunity exists for young people anymore.

She noted that throughout her 20s, she felt that rent in Calgary wasn’t “too crazy.”

“As long as you had a full-time job, for the most part, we could afford stuff.”

Forward to today, however, and “life feels so impossible for so many of us.”

Back in 2015, Sydney said she started to notice the difficulties of getting into the Calgary housing market.

She was trying to save for a downpayment at the time and was paying close attention to home prices.

“I was keeping an eye on home prices in Calgary, which has traditionally been a bit more affordable than Toronto or Vancouver, for example,” she said.

“It had seemed to me that housing prices weren’t lining up to my wages in the same way that they had for my mother and grandmother. Even back then, I started wondering if I could even afford to buy a house. Saving for a downpayment was taking quite a long time as I was also paying rent while doing it,” she said.

State of unaffordability in Canada feels like “drowning”

Sydney isn’t the only person who has shared her thoughts about how difficult it’s been for the average Canadian to make ends meet.

Many are taking to social media to express how they’ve been feeling, and it’s clearly resonating with thousands of others across the country.

In August, Calgary resident Meelayna Moran posted a TikTok about how half of her paycheque goes to groceries. The video has since received over one million views.

Another video reacting to the country’s cost of living crisis — posted to TikTok by a woman who goes by Melanie Ann — also recently went viral.

@nkotbluver #lifeishard #losingatlife #manifesting #prayers #bankrupsy #moneymakestheworldgoround #roughdayonthejob #nogas #nomoney #sodone #workingfornothing ♬ original sound – Melanie Ann

Like Sydney’s video, the woman can be seen wiping away tears, talking about how she’s in disbelief that even though she makes $34 an hour, she’s still struggling to afford the necessities.

Sydney said these feelings of despair are comparable to treading water because you’re just trying to keep from going under.

“Are we getting ahead? Do we have emergency savings? Can we save for retirement? All no, but at least there’s food on the table. I can afford both spaghetti and rent this month,” she said.

“We’re choosing between heat and eat. We’re choosing to go hungry. All the while, we’re constantly being gaslit by the media that we’re just lazy or need to work harder or need to find a better job, a side hustle, we need to monetize all our hobbies and so forth.”

One can only tread water for so long, she added.

“If we are describing the physical sensation in our bodies, I think a lot of people would say that it feels like we can’t breathe – that we’re drowning.”

When it comes to finding solutions to this complex problem, Sydney said she’s noticing that many people are choosing to blame the current government, specifically Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The findings of three recent nationwide surveys found that a large portion of Canadians believe the federal government — and specific major policies that are directly under their control — are the leading factors for bringing Canada’s housing affordability and supply crisis to new heights.

However, she feels issues around unaffordability in Canada have been brewing for a long time.

“I don’t think people really understand that this has been decades in the making. Housing is a human right, but it’s also treated as an asset that makes money, creating a dichotomy that I don’t think takes up enough space in many conversations around housing,” she explained.

“If we are looking to our governments for accountability for the current state of the housing market, we need to look at all three levels: federal, provincial and local. All levels of governments have essentially washed their hands of this issue for quite literally decades.”

How are Canadians surviving?

Sydney said that since posting the video, she’s received thousands of comments and messages on social media from people all over the world who said they related to how she was feeling.

“I really thought, and continue to think, that if it’s so difficult for me to find stable, affordable housing, to be able to afford groceries and so on, what about those folks who aren’t as privileged as me?” she said.

Sydney said that as much as she was feeling overwhelmed by the current state of unaffordability in Canada, she was “feeling sadness on behalf of everyone else, too.”

“I thought that if it’s impossible for me, if you are on a fixed income, if you are Indigenous, if you are 2SLGTBQIA+, if you are living with a disability, then how are you surviving? Are you okay? Because I’m not okay.”

Simran SinghSimran Singh

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