Since moving out of Dovecot Towers I’ve been staying temporarily in a shared house, which brought to mind the reader who commented here: “…how did this girl think she could afford to live on her own".
She probably didn’t mean to sound so snotty, but seemed to think that not sharing is haughty, wasteful and proud. I deeply resent the notion that anybody under twenty-five, indeed everybody, should be compelled to live amongst strangers.
There are various ways of sharing: as a lodger, for example or when good friends rent a house together. Just to make things clear, what I am discussing here are HMO’s (Homes in multiple occupation). These are increasingly let under the rules of those crafty ‘how to be a ruthless landlord’ seminars. In extreme cases, this means accommodation in the basement, attic, in tiny rooms divided by thin stud walls, with only one bathroom for up to eight strangers (and their overnight guests) and perhaps just the one cooker and fridge.
Should low pay force anybody to live this way, even if they feel intimidated, or where they are unhappy? Must people who work in the caring professions be condemned to live forever in overcrowded houses because they aren’t suited to a lucrative career in the financial sector? And what about older tenants?
I’ve shared with some lovely people, and have friends who lived happily this way for years. I also anticipate comments about how delighted other sharers are. While I’m glad for you, I declared enough is enough after one housemate was drunkenly sick on the carpet on the landing which led to my attic room. She covered the mess with a suitcase for weeks, until I wondered what the smell was (by way of explanation, she was a heavy metal fan.)
We all have horror stories. Another house-mate habitually waltzed out of the front door at night, leaving it wide open behind her. You just reach the stage, where – what with verucca plasters abandoned by the shower and the clamour when you just want some peace after a fraught working day – you can’t take anymore. Another friend regularly knocked on a housemate’s door to check she hadn’t taken the latest in a long line of small, non-life threatening overdoses. She was clearly very troubled, but he could only take so much.
Lovers of solitude are not divas, demanding rainbows and freshly laundered fluffy white kittens to order. Freelancers with insufficient job security to guarantee a mortgage aren’t profligate, arty-farty types without a proper career; but victims of outsourcing and mandatory employment flexibility. Why should they be compelled to live like teenagers? Wanting to live alone is a modest ambition (and these days there are definitely enough flats to go round, especially outside of London.)
Although now I think about, it makes sense for families to live communally. They could pool resources, even sharing childcare and household duties, like on a kibbutz. Imagine the money they’d save by cooking together in a canteen. What a brilliant idea; let’s billet unacquainted families together in one house.
Admittedly, there’s the lack of privacy as everybody sees your post in the morning; you know - hospital appointments etc. And you might not enjoy sharing a lounge with other families, voting on what TV shows to watch etc, stumbling over washing left to dry in the hall, having your food stolen, hearing private phone-calls, organising a rota for the bathroom (with hot water if you’re lucky) the daily challenge of other residents’ somewhat cavalier regard for hygiene, the screeching personal melodramas, petty vendettas and biological warfare in the sink, all set against the backdrop of a toilet which doesn’t flush properly.
You mean, you don’t like the sound of that? Well, guess what? Neither do I.