In 2018 basically everything in my life changed. A very long term relationship ended, I closed my small business, I changed my job and I moved into a house share with 8 strangers. You could say it was a lot to handle, but with my positive mindset I pushed heartbreak aside and threw myself into the new adventures.
I’m not going to lie, moving into a house share in my mid-30s did kind of feel like taking a backwards step in life. I had lived with a partner for almost 15 years and built a nice home together in a rental. It look me a while to rid my anxieties about ‘life stages’ and social expectations for someone my age. Financially it was pretty much the only option I had if I wanted to stay in the city centre. Cambridge is basically London prices for housing, eating out and drinking now. I’ve paid £10 for a gin & tonic and almost £7 a pint before!
I digress. In the summer of 2018 I packed up a 3 bed house, shoved a ton of stuff in storage, and agreed to rent an overpriced en-suite room in a converted B&B on a main road. It had been newly renovated and everyone was moving in at the same time. Advertised to professionals only (the Spaced reference there pleased me!) I thought it would be a good call. I felt I needed lots of company at that moment in time and saw having 8 new people around me as a positive to keep me going through heartbreak.
It was a surprising 18 months with a lot of laughter, frustration, stress and ridiculousness. There are people I will keep in touch with and people I won’t. In the last 6 months the turnover was pretty high with the letting agent relaxing his professionals only rule. It was more like a student house with lots of temporary 3 month lets and it became exhausting to keep welcoming new housemates only to have them leave again and be replaced. Here’s what I learned along the way…..
- Just because someone is an adult, doesn’t mean they know how to adult.
I lived with 8 people between the ages of 22-35. In some cases, the younger people were the ones who had more life skills and knowledge for taking care of themselves. We had one lovely Romanian girl who was the most awesome cook and her mother would send HUGE care packages full of cookies, wine, cheese and home made pastries for us all. There were younger lads who had their shit together and had impressive careers for their age.
With housemates from all over the world, we learned that in Greece and Hong Kong it is common for people to live with their parents well into their 30s, being cared for in every way. Because of this, some were more independent than others. I showed people how to use a washing machine and some helped others turn on the oven. There was a big stretch of life skills.
We also learned that some people are just incredibly lazy! We had a group chat with the letting agent to report issues and get news of new housemates. In this group one male housemate asked for a robotic vacuum. When I replied to tell him there was a Henry on the first floor he said “but that isn’t robotic”. He added that he wanted a robotic hoover because he was lazy. And that it was better if someone else paid for it…..he also asked us if we wanted to “pay a lady to do our ironing” because apparently that’s a woman’s job. *sigh*
Even the contractors employed to do repairs were incredibly lazy and incompetent. We nicknamed them the cowboy builders as so many incidents happened and so many things malfunctioned. Too many to list and so many hilarious conversations with the letting agent. Who mostly replied with eye roll emojis and grumbles!
The concept of putting the bins out and retrieving them was lost on most of the household and don’t get me started on people ordering takeaways and then not answering the door. Weird. If I’ve got a Deliveroo on the way I’m stalking the driver on the map as soon as it is on the way.
2. Cleanliness is not important to a lot of people.
Even though we had a cleaner once a week you can imagine what a kitchen looked like at times with 9 residents. We were lucky enough to have a huge island to prepare food on, but this often became one guy’s cooking experiment area where he would bake bread and explode the flour, cook elaborate dishes and guarantee to burn everything every time. He caught the oven gloves on fire, melted a spatula by leaving it on the hob and once burned batches of sesame seeds. 5.times.in.a.row.
We had incidents of noodles and food left in the sink for days, meat blood dripped on the floor and sink (GROSS), unflushed communal toilets and daily paper napkins left on the dining table after being wiped on mouths. Luckily I had my room as a sanctuary and cleaned the kitchen as much as I could to prepare my meals. At one point there was a ‘mystery smell’ which no one could identify, even after I cleaned all the fridges out and searched high and low for the source.
Our breakfast bar had a small area where we would leave some treats to share with each other. If someone traveled they added chocolates or sometimes nice things they had baked. At first it was great and people respected the area. Eventually it became a dumping ground with rotten apples, weird items people didn’t want to eat and generally just grossness.
You could suggest that I cleaned up after these people, but I lost my patience in the end and checked out! After all I was not there to look after them. In the end I chose meals that were minimal to prepare so that I could spend as little time in the kitchen as possible.
3. Common sense is a completely mislabeled phrase. It isn’t common.
Funnily enough there are too many incidents to illustrate the lack of common sense, but I was baffled by some situations. One housemate admitted they never cycled with lights on and one would park his car across the main road onto the pavement in front of the house in a diagonal fashion. No surprises when he received parking tickets for obstructing the bus lane!
The amount of times our front door was left open overnight was utterly ridiculous. It didn’t even stop when there was an armed drug raid a few doors down or when there were incidents outside on a weekly basis (it wasn’t a great street to be on). I was baffled how many people struggled to close a door properly.
4. Some people will literally consume anything.
3 day old chicken hearts, octopus from a tin, fish that has been cooked and then recooked for days, questionable meat that other housemates advise is off, mouldy vegetables, burnt food and I once found a pint of open milk (in a fridge I didn’t use) that was 3 MONTHS OUT OF DATE.
One housemate would use the oven as storage for whole cooked chickens. Then proceed to reheat day after day in a vat of oil. Sometimes you could smell the oil on the 3rd floor of the house at 11pm. Yes people cooked at 11pm. Goodness knows why.
Oh and throughout the 1.5 years and many housemates, we were always living with at least 2 Huel dickheads at any one time. It is a common diet for Cambridge tech guys – I see it at work all the time! One of them even made Huel pancakes and tried to share them…..we passed!
5. Group Whats App chats are worth muting for your mental health.
I think we probably all have that Whats App group chat that makes us feel a bit stressed. Mute it and only check it when you want to. It honestly helped me get through the last 6 months of living there.
Annoyingly, one house mate refused to join the group chat as he didn’t use Whats App, but I think he was onto something.
6. Self awareness is a spectrum.
Door slamming, stomping, shouting, some people just weren’t aware of the noises they made or how their behaviour affected others. Some were considerate and checked in to make sure their activities weren’t disturbing others, super nice! I did hear things I would rather not have heard and one person liked to iron in the corridors at midnight every week, slamming the iron down in between pressing.
I know I’m not perfect and there were times I could have been more self aware, but I think I naively assumed most people would be considerate towards others.
7. There will be some good times.
Some of the original housemates that were there for the first year were a lot of fun. We had nights out, nights in, shared dating stories, cooked group dinners, watched movies, went on holiday together and laughed a lot at some of the things we experienced – a Home Alone drinking game at Christmas was a highlight and watching the house fall apart around us and the letting agent’s attempt to assist was entertaining if nothing else.
I actually enjoyed living with guy mates again and also found a great friend in Emily who I now share a cosy 2 bed flat with. I made my room as homely as I could make it and it was so nice to have a space that was just mine. I think I hadn’t had that since my uni halls back in 2002, so it was a bit of a novelty that didn’t really wear off. No one to judge my houseplants or pink cushions or excessive toiletries and face creams in the bathroom! It was a good place to start single life again.
8. Living with strangers will teach you a lot about yourself.
I discovered I’m really an extroverted introvert (Ambivert?!). I really valued my time alone every day and also some time to chat with others. Even though we were a household of 9, it often didn’t feel that way. I remember when Jack used to visit he would comment on how empty the communal spaces were on some days. People were coming and going a lot.
Living on a main road was challenging. My anxiety levels definitely got worse and the constant super loud traffic noise and house/street disturbances contributed to my insomnia. Which in turn contributed to my lack of patience toward others. The relief I felt when Em and I moved into the new flat was immeasurable. A new environment was just what we needed. I know that I need a quiet home where I have control over my surroundings and where I can retreat for some calm.
I know that living in a clean and tidy home helps me feel better. I decluttered when I moved and purged a lot of belongings. It felt good. ‘Stuff’ just felt overwhelming and I have carried that tidy and more organised me into my new home with Em too. One of the guys that I lived with couldn’t believe my Marie Kondo folded t-shirt and sock drawers. A week after he moved out he texted me a picture of his neatly folded t-shirt drawer and it made me smile.
So to end this long ranty blog post, I can summarise by saying the house share was AN EXPERIENCE. Living with just one friend now is way less stressful and I couldn’t be happier with our flat! We have a nice view of the local church, the river close by and a lovely colleague is our upstairs neighbour.
Have you ever lived in a house share? I would love to hear your stories.