The Evils of Share Housing
9 September 2007
Apparently it's back-to-school time overseas with their whole convoluted mid-year school system. That means a whole bunch of fresh-faced teenagers and young adults moving out of home for the first time. Thus I feel now may be the most appropriate time to make a sort of community service announcement about share houses. These high school graduates are currently all blindly enrolling into colleges and signing up for shared accommodation with only the sweet lies of Hollywood as any indication of what their lives will soon be like. This is a grave injustice. They need to be warned! There�s also a serious lack of other compelling topics to write about at the moment.
Those leaving the nest, take note: I am relatively confident that anyone who has ever stayed at a share-house can attest to the otherworldly weirdness contained within. Normal social rules do not exist in share-houses, and something about them drives even ordinary people to edge of sanity. There are, of course, a number of people who actually thrive in such environments, but for the most part these are outwardly normal but secretly demonic people who, believe it or not, still walk our streets with outright impunity. The only comfort you have in cases where you are living with one of these people is the fact that most share-houses have relatively short flatmate turn-overs, though the completely unfair forces of the universe will usually dictate that the worst of them will always be the very last to leave.
That�s the thing about share-housing and college living. Nobody really wants to live in that situation, but everyone puts up with it because they're:
-Losers with no friends to flat with
-Country kids whose parents don�t trust them to live on their own
-At the very bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder
Logically, this explains how you can wind up living with a core of passive psychopaths casually destroying bond money as though it were compost. One particularly legendary share-house party resulted in the house - an old Queenslander - actually being carried off its stilts. Those flatmates who were not already intoxicated merely packed up their meagre belongings before the entire house crumbled under the stress and left that night, simply accepting that there would be no return on bond money and that it probably wouldn�t hurt to put some distance between themselves and the scene of the crime before the neighbours woke up the next morning to find out what happened to their fence. Assuming the neighbours could sleep through the act of a house being carried off its stilts. Apparently the police couldn't find the address in time, which was interesting because about five hundred odd other people managed to find it no problems. For that matter, who exactly would the police arrest and hold responsible for the house coming off its stilts? It was clearly a group effort. Can you really charge five hundred people on the one count of destruction of property?
That's all beside the point though. Basically, share houses are not like how they are portrayed in movies � unless that movie is 'He Died With A Felafel In His Hand'. No, share houses are more like Big Brother sets without proper food or cameras or the intervening voice of authority to restore order when the housemates start to go a bit psycho. The only voice of order in a share house will usually be provided by whichever person happens to be the biggest neat freak. And usually the neat freak only holds up for about two months though before they too resign themselves to living in squalor. Cleaning will become more a contest of wills rather than a hygienic routine. From personal experience, there was once a plate of pasta that fell facedown onto the floor in front of the fridge, which stayed there for two weeks. A cold war was ensuing between the person who had actually made the pasta and put it in the fridge, and the person who�d opened the fridge door next and had the precariously balanced plate of pasta fall onto the floor. Third parties were not allowed to intervene - though no one wanted to anyway because, well, it looked nasty. Especially after the first few days when it started to turn hard. I think when the mould started to grow, the lone surviving neat freak got up in the middle of night and finally removed it, though there was an odd stain on that patch of linoleum forevermore. So essentially, if planning on living in a share house, you can kiss goodbye all forms of order, hierarchy and hygiene. Cleaning rosters, though well-intentioned, will be ignored by at least half of the household. Expect to be wearing footwear in the bathroom. In fact, go buy bathroom slippers and start your practice runs, so that you�re in the habit before you move in.
In regards to college dormitories, one thing new students should be aware of before making their decision about where to live is the fact that dorms are required to host fire drills on a regular basis, given the notion that if there ever really was a fire, some people might not be bright enough to get out of the building without practicing it a few times first. In the end, though, I believe the fire drills caused more damage than any good. It's a boy-who-cried wolf scenario. The smoke detectors usually go off about once a week anyway, due to the number of fresh students learning how to cook who are capable of only charring or smoking their food. Once you add the fire drills, the smoke alarms running out of batteries, and not to mention the rampant pranking to this, you'd be effectively holding fire drills every other day. If there ever was a real fire, everyone would roast alive.
In fact, the fire alarm eventually becomes an almost background neighbourhood noise in campuses, not unlike dogs barking in the distance or the sound of traffic and car horns. During my stint in a college dorm, there were even some of us who managed to learn how to sleep through it. After all, even in the cases of a real fire drill, no one ever really knows who is home, and it isn't as though anyone is going to bother breaking down doors just to check whether or not you're either sleeping or just stubbornly holding onto your little cubicle, armed with buckets of water and blankets to protect it from the perceived fire.
Sleeping itself, especially to the point where one can even drown out the fire alarm, is a fine art among share houses and campuses alike. Any kind of share house is naturally always noisy, regardless of the time of day. If you are a light sleeper, be prepared for permanent insomnia when moving into a share house. Any residence containing more than four people is almost guaranteed to contain a diverse enough range of sleeping patterns to ensure that every hour of the day is covered. Being of the nocturnal persuasion myself, it once took me several weeks to meet a new flatmate, simply because they were early birds who got up at four at the morning and went to bed at eight at night, whereas I preferred to invert that timeline by getting up at four in the afternoon and going back to bed at eight that morning. Few people can achieve this, requiring a strong ability to sleep through any ruckus and amount of sunlight - though admittedly it does destroy any effort of acquiring a tan, and if you ever want to go shopping it can be rather problematic if your sleeping pattern doesn't agree with most stores' opening hours. Once again, hwoever, that is beside the point. As this perfectly exemplifies, there is a good chance that during every hour of the day at least somebody will be awake, there to make noise. This is where sleeping is changed from a normal necessary bodily function to an art form.
The third element that turns share housing from a convenient money-saving solution for accommodation to the ninth circle of hell is, obviously, the odd habits of your flatmates. Oh sure, but it can't be anything worse than leaving their shoes by the entrance where you'll trip on them, or general messiness, or playing their music too loud, right? WRONG. Your perception of normalcy will be constantly challenged by the people you live with. To exemplify exactly how far from normality their habits may stray, allow me to provide you with a few non-fiction examples from my own flatmates (names, changed, of course, not that there's ever a risk of them finding out.)
Let's start with the most normal one: Sarah. (At least, depressingly normal compared to the many other so-called human beings who descended from whatever planet they were originally from to share rent.) Sarah had this thing for towels. She had about ten of them. If this wasn't disturbing enough, she had only just left home - was a complete fresh-faced flatmate rookie, who still cried whenever she spoke to her mother on the phone. I had already been living out in the 'real world' - if you call what happens in the dimensions of college dormitories and share houses 'real' - for three years and only had three towels, one of which served as a bath mat, which even then was a recent addition. So the very concept of ten towels, all to yourself, was very much fascinating and mind-boggling to any destitute student who couldn't even afford dressing for their salad.
However, aside from a morbid fascination, you wouldn't normally think much more of Sarah's unusual towel fetish. Except that she never kept any of them in the linen closet like you'd expect. Oh no, every single one of those ten towels was draped around the house as though they were decoration. She had three in the bathroom, two in her room, four draped on several chairs miscellaneously throughout the living room, and I think one took up permanent residence in the kitchen somewhere. Every night when she went to have her shower, she appeared to select one at random and use it that night, then go and drape it over some other usually important article of furniture to dry (the television is not a clothes line already!). This went on constantly. As far as house-mates go, I was pretty tolerant, quite probably from need if nothing else, but when you already can't use the kitchen table because it's perpetually covered with empty beer bottles, having towels lying all over the place severely reduces your already cramped real estate, and that little habit becomes immensely irritating, to the point where it's all you can think about, all day. You will soon consider this little habit as sufficient cause of 'justifiable homicide'.
As far flatmate idiosyncrasies go, though, Sarah's was pretty mild. There are worse ones. Take Sebastian. For some reason, known only to him, Sebastian kept his shoes in the fridge. We asked him why, but he'd just shrug, and then point out that he wasn't going over his allocated fridge space, so what did it matter? Of course, having a pair of worn joggers in the fridge half the time is a little gross, and as it stands your average share house fridge certainly doesn't need any assistance in the gross factor, so usually they'd get taken out again. Every day, without fail, though, they'd reappear. When we'd leave them in there, he'd come in, take them out, and put them on before leaving the house. It continued to baffle us until he left, though the popular theory wound up being he was just doing it to mess with our minds. Sebastian, if you're out there somewhere, I'd like you to know that you succeeded.
Then there's Jimmy. Jimmy was collecting coke cans and stacking them in a pyramid against the wall. He got to seventy-three before someone - probably whoever the current control freak was at the time - threw it out. There was fights and yelling over that. Jimmy, seeming to lack the normal standard of modesty, also spent a lot of the time completely naked - whether he was heading to a shower, coming to the kitchen for a drink, or it was just a really hot day. It might be worth pointing out that this was co-ed place. In Hollywood or anime, this would be either an example of fanservice or the basis of hilarious shenanigans. But a distinct difference between Hollywood and the real world, however, is that there is a good ninety percent of the population that you NEVER want to see naked, because the picture isn't exactly pretty. After several instances of screaming and thrown items and various exclamations of 'pervert!', he at least made sure he was usually wearing shorts, though numerous hippy-esque debates ensued. Democratic vote - perhaps the only time democracy has ever worked in a share house situation - eventually saved the day. Several months later, though, after people had become used to far stranger things, he occasionally resumed his nudist practices, and no one could bring themselves to care enough to kick up a stink anymore. The girls just managed to adopt mental blinders and became quite adept at automatically never looking at him. It does make you wonder if he ever did that when he was still living at home, though, and exactly what sort of family would find that normal.
If that wasn't enough to deal with, there's also the alcoholics. It's important that you know about them before moving on campus. This is one thing that films and television has at least somewhat accurately portrayed. There's a good chance that no matter which share house or college dormitory you wind up in, at least half of the inhabitants will be in one of three following states: drunk, asleep, or hung-over. Having permanently intoxicated flatmates just contributes to the casual destruction of personal property and utter unpredictability. Sure, it sounds fun for a while, but what you really need to know is that it sort of loses its allure when you start to automatically step over the unconscious body in the living room every morning. Actually, it would probably take a depressingly long time for anyone to identify a dead body in a share house.
Hmm, that's probably enough to dissuade anybody who is considering share-housing or dorm-living, even though I haven't delved into any of the REALLY horrid stories yet, and besides, go on any longer and this site really will become a LiveJournal. I think I'll save those stories for a part two. Or better yet, if people have some stories of their own share-housing experiences they'd like to share, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org with 'The Tomes' somewhere in the subject heading, and I'll put it on the website. Yeah, I don't actually expect to get any, but I'll keep trying. I know some people look at this website, you know - there is a hit counter. I'll find a way to involve you eventually. You may consider that a threat.
Or you know, there's probably some sort of website that already has all sorts of share housing horror stories catalogued somewhere. It's the internet, after all. And if such a site does not yet exist, steps must be taken to rectify this.