The Grim Reality Of Flat Sharing With Strangers

For the reluctant millennials among us, even more bad news hit us this week; up to a third of our unfortunate, shat-upon generation could end up renting all our lives. Just let that sink in for a second; a third of people born between 1980 and 1996 will never own a home. In London, that statistic rises to over half. 50%.

That means the constant uncertainty of year-long contracts, the risk of the landlord whipping the threadbare rug from under us and selling where we live, and the knowledge that we can’t even hammer a nail in to the wall to hang our wanky London map print without written permission from our Dubai-based landlord. And forget the dreams of painting walls in sumptuous shades of Tea-Dunked Biscuit and Redundant Steelworker Grey from Farrow & Ball; generic cream emulsion roughly slapped on every wall and ceiling is the life for us.

For those of us stuck in the rental rut, renting solo can be a pipe dream. Unless you want a studio flat in Peckham where you can boil the kettle whilst taking a shit and opening the front door at the same time, flat-sharing is a reality of life. Finding like-minded strangers to share the crippling burden of rent with in London is painful; the housemate interviews are only the first micro-step on the entire journey of signing up to share a home with people you’ve often only met for half an hour at most.

Most of us can easily recall some of the grim student conditions we lived in. It was part and parcel of the whole student package; if you didn’t live in a crap-hole house in the back to back terraces of Newcastle / Leeds / Sheffield, were you even at university? We all accepted it in the knowledge that it’s temporary, it’s part of the experience, it’s character-building and, most importantly, there’s an implicit understanding that once you leave you’ll never have to live that way again.

Fast forward five years. Everyone suddenly decided to move to London - it was never discussed, it wasn’t a long-term plan, people just naturally migrated here. Some people might have been lucky enough to move in with some old student friends, all arguments about splitting the gas bill long forgotten. Some people might have been smug enough to move in with their significant others, all doubts about long-term compatibility cast joyfully aside. When one or both of these arrangements go down the shitter, often you can be left with no choice but to cast your net in to the murky London waters, roll the dice and pray you end up with a set of half-decent human beings to cohabit with.

Oh, the naivety!

One of the benefits I remember thinking I’d get from a mature, grown-up flatshare was a mature, grown-up fridge share. I had visions of clearly defined shelf ownership, fresh vegetables on the daily, perhaps even - may the Lord open - respectfully shared communal items such as milk and butter. Instead, to my absolute horror, I was faced with an unprecedented catastrophe of a fridge situation.

Rather than the grim shared fridges of student days, where shelves would be crammed with cling-filmed furry beans and half-empty bottles of flat Frosty Jacks cider, the fridges of London millennials have a higher calibre of rotting foodstuffs. I once came across a luxury brown paper package with the distinctive green Harrods logo on; closer inspection revealed the curling, hardening edges of mortadella ham (yes, I recognised mortadella ham from just the edges and yes, I hate myself for even knowing what mortadella ham is). The issue here was that throwing out wrinkled baked beans is easy, but throwing out posh Harrods ham is borderline war-crime and can cause some very heated but politely unspoken British tension.

It won’t have escaped your notice that beards are pretty on-trend at the moment. In contrast to the wispy, unwashed beards of student days, the Beard of the Modern Man is exceptionally well-groomed; it has its own sandalwood beard oil and tiny little tortoiseshell beard comb, blessed be the fruit. The owner of the Beard of the Modern Man, however, appears not to have noticed that damp bathroom surfaces are a very effective magnet for beard trimmings. Sure, those of us with long hair are often responsible for the very irritating clumps of hair that can congregate in the plughole, but at least these are easily removable - what is not easily removable is a full, coarse beard which has attached itself to the mirror and sink, and when wiped merely moves itself from one side of the sink to the other.

After this there’s laundry etiquette - an unspeakable minefield. You wake up early one Saturday morning; the birds are tweeting, the sun is shining, you’re whistling as you tie your knotted polka dot headscarf on to do some chores. You gather your washing in your arms but when you get to the washer… it’s full. Someone else’s damp clump of washing is already in there, clean but stubbornly unemptied. Some flatmates are lovely, kind folk who will, when the washer is full of clean wet clothes that don’t belong to them, dutifully empty the washer and hang up the foreign articles to dry, thus emptying the washer and ostensibly making everyone happier.

However, sometimes at 7.30am on a Saturday morning, you really really don’t want to spend 15 minutes untangling bras or shaking out claggy boxer shorts that don’t belong to you. What if your flatmate doesn’t want you handling their smalls? Do you leave their washing to moulder in the drum, and resign yourself to a week of wearing the underwear that doesn’t quite fit and has holes in? Or do you send the pass-agg text to the house WhatsApp claiming to not know who it belongs to, but all you really want from life is to just wash your stuff? If you’re anything like me, invest in an Ikea bag to dump the offending washing in and get on with your day.

The cherry on top of this wonderful renting cake is the shared living space. You’ve had a long day at work; it’s all you can do to call in to the hated Tesco Express and grab some salt-laden horror of a meal, and you can already visualise yourself on the sofa with The Good Wife on Netflix. You get home, turn your key in the lock and... what’s that? Jazz music? It’s so dark... is the flat lit with candles? Ah, shite - your flatmate has her boyfriend round, they’re having a romantic meal. Looks like you’ll be having your dinner in your room again, propped on your bed streaming something on your laptop.

Yes, we’ve chosen to live in London - for a lot of people, it’s where the jobs are. For this, we pay the price, and that price comes in the form of extortionate living costs and dwindling prospects of getting a foot on the exalted property ladder. We’ve swapped home ownership for street food markets, bottomless brunches and smashed avo on sourdough - and you can’t get that everywhere... right? Right??

If you enjoyed this and would like to read more on how ridiculous life can really be, please check out my blog, London Ruined Me and give it a follow or get in touch with me on Twitter.