Unpaid electricity bills, damp towels, sour milk, the gentle thud of music played to – unsuccessfully – cover the sound of a one-night stand; ugly posters, encrusted cereal bowls, suspicious tissues stuffed between the sofa cushions; overdue rent, arguments over butter, stolen jumpers, cheap teabags, piles of washing-up lurking – cold and onion-spotted – below a film of orange, oil-stained water; uninvited pets, pubes in the basin, bad bedding and unwashed windows. Shared housing in your 20s can be about as fun as an ulcer. As photogenic as a blister.
The combination of poor hygiene, low income, unpredictable employment, erratic schedules, underdeveloped taste, and self-interest, make student living and its older sibling, the 20s flatshare, a hit-and-miss affair. In many ways, the whole concept of a shared home is wasted on the young. But flatmates in later life? Now that is a different story.
According to a survey published by Spareroom in 2015, the number of flatsharers aged 45-53 increased by 300% in the last five years; by 186% for those aged between 35 and 44. In most cases this is, of course, because none of us can actually afford to live alone in the place where we work. And as house prices soar, the prospect of buying an actual home seems about as remote and quickly fading as the northern lights.
Average rents across Britain rose by 10.5% last year. This, combined with stagnant wages, means we are getting ruthlessly and unrelentingly priced out of individual living. In fact, it may be more accurate to argue that the model of a single person, or couple, living in their own flat was but a momentary blip on the long march of history. We are now simply sliding back to the crowded houses recognised by our great-grandparents as the status quo.
We’re living for longer with our parents, we’re taking in lodgers, we’re renting out spare rooms, or inviting in friends, strangers and distant relatives to help cover the bills. Not to mention all those under- or unemployed workers who grind from hostel to unstable renting situation to short-term let.
For the lucky few of us, there is an upside to all this. Like many, I have spent my 30s living in shared flats – both in London and abroad – and can happily confirm that communal living in this decade is what houseshares were always supposed to be. There’s nice crockery, everyone cleans the toilet, you can buy slightly nicer orange juice; there’s someone to talk to when you get home from work, people go to bed early, there are books, the plants live for months at a time, you have coffee and nobody will smash your lamp if you go away for the weekend. Sure, I still steal my flatmates’ milk and borrow their clothes, but nobody actually writes their name on the milk bottles in felt tip pen any more and the jumpers are way nicer. My flatmates are considerate, kind, clean and quiet in a way I certainly wasn’t at 22. I have company, I have cereal bowls and I have a table to sit at and write this, none of which I had to buy myself.
The model of a single person, or couple, living in their own flat may prove to be a blip on the long march of history
Looking at my parents and their generation, it appears to me that living in a shared house during that post-divorce, post-children, post-full-time working haze of your 50s and 60s could surely be a welcome change as well as a financial necessity. Not only can you cover the bills without selling your record collection first, but you can also cook a proper meal, have someone to watch television with and maybe even ask you about your day. Of course it wouldn’t suit everyone – god help any lodger trying to work around their landlady’s ITV3 schedule – but surely the stigma and resentment of living in a shared house can be binned along with all those Pulp Fiction DVDs and Argos mugs, at the end of your 20s.
As for our 70s and 80s, I for one hope that if I make it that far I’ll be living in a communal house, surrounded by people I either know well or can’t smell through a shared wall. According to studies quoted by the Campaign to End Loneliness, isolation is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. If that really is the case, then I choose to make like the iron-girdled grandmothers of yesteryear and see out my final decades in a cloud of friends and fag smoke.
Who knows, by then we might even have cracked the great mystery of whose turn it is to buy loo roll.
News Source TheGuardianNews