The life-cycle of the housemate

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If, like me, you’ve always been fortunate enough to have a roof over your head, and sometimes that roof was not owned by you or your family, you almost definitely had to live with people we call ‘housemates’. Housemates are a strange breed, and quite a recent phenomenon. Up until the mid-1900s the only time a young person would share a living space with people outside of their family was at boarding school, college or university in dormitories and boarding houses. I don’t know exactly when house/flat sharing became the norm, but let me tell you that it is an experience like no other. Anyone who lived at home, saved, bought their own house/got married/was given a house can’t understand the bizarre, sinister and occasionally community-spirited practice of sharing a living space with someone you have no obligation to like or respect. I have heard many bad housemate stories, so I know that overall I’ve been quite fortunate, but the account that follows was, at the time, harrowing and stressful and only occasionally fun. Ultimately I’m glad that I spent close to six years of my life cycling through living-space-sharers, but only because it is now over and I (hopefully) never have to endure someone invading my space with rude notes, eating my food and refusing to pay their share. So I recount this with humour and only a little bitterness. Sidenote: None of these names are real, yet the behaviour and events described are all too real.

In house number one we had:

Lisa: she ate only Berocca and Milo, used the only bathroom for a full hour every morning, and didn’t wash the dishes (including, you know, the ones she used) for the four months I lived in that house. After I moved out I heard that she didn’t talk to one of the other housemates for five months because he asked her to help pay for a new washing machine. But she still used the washing machine. It’s a household item right?

In house number two we had:

Alfred: I lived with this person in the first share house that I put together, about eighteen months after moving out of home. I found two people who agreed to sign a lease with me, so  we were all equally responsible for paying for it and cleaning it. I had to argue with him to get him to pay his share of the rent, particularly when he went to Europe with his family and didn’t think he should pay for his room while he was away. He also refused to help pay for furniture, kitchen items, appliances like washing machine and fridge: he was happy to use them, but paying for them was my problem. When he moved out he tried to hold his copy of the keys ransom until I paid his bond out, then when that didn’t work threatened to get his lawyer father to ‘sort this out’. Very Draco Malfoy.

Chel: An old friend of the household’s, we got permission from our landlord for her to live with us when she was facing homelessness after being kicked out of a relative’s house. Our tiny duplex didn’t have enough rooms for four people, so we rearranged the house so that she could have a room made of furniture in the kitchen/dining room until she found a place to live. Her arrival led to the arrival of several others, and there were usually five people, excluding me, in the house at any one time. I was in the middle of exams when she moved in and made it clear that I needed less people around so I could study. Chel’s response to this was as casually cruel as it was uninformed. It went something along the lines of: It’s our house too and it’s unfair that you don’t want our friends here. It’s not our fault that you don’t have any friends and that you didn’t keep up with your friends from high school and we did. (And some other stuff about how sad my life was and how I couldn’t keep best friends apart, blah blah blah. I stopped listening after the first part).

After some consideration of her opinion, I wrote her a letter reminding her that she paid less rent than the rest of us as she living there temporarily and thus was not an equal member of the household. I told her that my friends didn’t come over any more because she and her friends were always there, clogging up the lounge and what little space there was left of the kitchen/dining room. I also reminded her that we had rearranged our entire house and sought permission from our grumpy landlord so that she could stay with us, and that if it weren’t for us she would have nowhere to go. She never apologised, but she moved out into another share house soon after, much to general relief.

Grant and Katie: these two I found on a house-sharing website and moved in after Alfred and my other housemate moved out, and they were not fun to live with. Grant mainly kept to himself, but when I asked him to move out after about six months because my foster brother needed somewhere to live he yelled at me for twenty minutes while we walked down the street. Prominent quotes included: “We’re a family! You can’t do this! You’re tearing the family apart!”, and “I spent all my money on furniture! What am I supposed to do now? Are you gonna pay me back for my furniture?!”

Katie was friendly enough, but had some disturbing habits, such as buying food and letting it rot so badly that the entire house stank of it and I’d have to dig through the pantry/fridge/cupboard to find the thing that was leaking and attracting insects. She was then annoyed that I asked her to clean it up.

Mona: She would spend hours telling me stories that were unbelievably dramatic. As in, actually unbelievable: I’m sure almost none of what she told was true. She took over the lease for that house so I could move out because, as you can tell, it was full of crappy memories and I wanted out. She then took the huff that I subtracted her share of gas, electricity and water bills from her bond because I didn’t trust her to pay me back for them. She was notoriously flaky in the few months that we lived together; there’s no way she would have paid me back and I was already broke. Then after I moved out she sent me a hilariously vicious message because I had forgotten to clean the oven when I left. It was pretty gross, and I did feel bad for forgetting to clean it. However, before I left I had to clean the entire house on my own in one day because I didn’t have any more time off work and she didn’t think she needed to help. You know, in the house that she’d lived in for several months.

House number three was really good: the only share house I’ve lived in that didn’t have any truly awful people in it. I only lived there for six months and I was friends with or related to all the people who lived there before we moved in together. Maybe that’s the secret?

In house number four we had:

Bob, then later Barry and Weavel. Bob was mostly alright, but never quite adjusted to leaving home, and moped around the house complaining that he had no friends and nothing to do, even though we regularly invited him to parties and gatherings where he did know people. He also hated paying for things – bills, rent, bond – and had to be reminded several times before he would pay anything. He also ordered pizza for dinner every night then complained that he was broke and fat.

Barry: I had a bad feeling about Barry when he came to look at the room, but he was alright for the first few weeks. Then he started leaving notes. It turned out he was a clean freak, and even after the first house meeting where all six of us agreed to try and keep the kitchen clean, as it was the only space shared by everyone, it still wasn’t good enough (yes, six people: it was a miracle the house functioned at all, but that wasn’t good enough for Barry). Every day after coming home from work I washed and put away every dirty dish in the kitchen, cleaned the stove and benches, emptied and refilled the dishwasher and emptied the rubbish. Every day. This still wasn’t enough, and soon there was a note, scrawled in permanent marker on the bare tiles above the stove that said ‘CLEAN UP!!’, which is exactly what you want to come home to at the end of the day. He took over the lease of the house when we left to move to Melbourne, but because of how it worked out (the rent went up for everyone who stayed because half the household moved out) he continued to squeeze money out of us for months after we left, as well as a few for rubbish removal (what rubbish?) and cleaning (we cleaned everything when we left, but that, of course, wasn’t good enough for Barry), and we only stopped paying him when the bond was transferred to his name. We’re pretty sure he had a new housemate to help make up the rent by then, but I’m sure our money went to something useful, like more hot pink metal spikes for his hub caps.

Weavel: He was pretty good, I used to chat to him a lot while we made dinner and we got on well. Then when we left I was trying to sell my desk because we couldn’t take it with us. He said he’d like it because he really needed a desk, so I said $40 for it seemed fair as I’d paid $60 for it and it was still in good condition. What followed was what can only be described as a tantrum: “If you want to get money for it then you can sell it online because I help my friend with his furniture removal business and I can get free furniture any time I want!” So I sold it online for $50.

This is not a complete account of the people I’ve lived with over the years, but it’s the low lights. I’ve heard horror stories of people trashing their rooms, stealing everyone’s stuff, selling drugs from the house, the list goes on. I’ve had nothing that bad, just a low level of respect and responsibility and a general selfishness that I suppose everyone works through when they’re young. It’s not easy living with people you don’t know, and even living with friends can be a big challenge.

It’s a learning experience and a big lesson in conflict-management and resolution, so I guess I can put it on my resume!

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