Hmmm, where do I start? In reality, we have neighbours from the moment we are born. We don’t call our family ‘neighbours’ but living with fellow humans in any proximity is the beginning of the neighbourly experience. If we discount family, then for some of us, our first ‘housemate’ experience might have been boarding school i.e., during secondary education, or at the University. In my boarding school, we were approximately forty students between the ages of ten and seventeen, in a massive room. You had a bunkmate, as the beds were 6-spring Iron bunkbeds, and you had 2 or more side mates, depending on which corner you got. While boarding school opened my eyes to a lot of experiences, we all looked forward to the University life, where there would be no rules and no seniors or prefects to chase you around or punish you for what you did or did not do. I certainly couldn’t wait to find out what kind of adult I would be in a world where I was in charge.
I lived in university accommodation during my first year as I had moved to a new town and I didn’t really know anyone. It was mixed so we had both guys and girls sharing a kitchen and two bathrooms, but everyone had their own bedrooms. It wasn’t long before I realised, I couldn’t stay there more than that first year. Food items were ‘borrowed’ without return, people got drunk often left the kitchen in such a mess that even the cleaners refused to clean the place; but the worst thing was when people set off the fire alarm in the middle of the night, and everybody had to get out of the building until the fire service would say we could go back. That was really the height of it for me. I started making plans on how to move into private accommodation for the reminder of my undergrad years. I had made some Nigerian friends who were also Christians. We attended the same church and spent a lot of our spare time together, so it seemed natural for us to live together. We found a beautiful 5-bed house, with two bathrooms and one large kitchen, which was a 5min walk from our campus, and we were all happy with the rent. I was really excited. Now I would have a peaceful place to call home for the next two years and I could focus on my degree.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any major fight story, but for reasons I couldn’t really explain, things just weren’t as smooth as we had hoped. Firstly, one of the girls made it her duty to terrorise the landlord! She called the man almost everyday to complain about one thing or the other and I honestly couldn’t see why she was calling. For example, the Landlord had provided a vacuum cleaner which used disposable bags. When the initial bag got full, she phoned the landlord for weeks to get us new bags. I just went to the shop to get them and continued to use the vacuum cleaner. Then there was the cleaning of the house. We had a rota, but she had a standard, so if the cleaning wasn’t up to her standard there was an issue. Thankfully we didn’t cook together but we shared certain household items like washing up liquid. Another girl in the house would get the new bottle of fairy and dilute it. That act irritated me so much that I actually yelled at her one day. She explained that the liquid was concentrated so it needed to be diluted, according to her understanding. It took a while for me to explain that it was intentionally concentrated to last longer. Gradually our friendship was hitting the rocks and we didn’t do many friendly things again. We still attended the same church and even served in the same department, but things on the home front were getting sour.
We couldn’t really live together any more and the landlord couldn’t wait to get rid of all of us. We gave the house a thorough clean before we left but I guess the Landlord had already made his plans. Out of our £200 deposit (each), I received the highest amount back – £5.43 – by cheque!!! The others got about £2 each. I actually blamed the loudest girl as I was really looking forward to receiving that money. We didn’t speak for months after that. The following year I moved in with two brothers and I had the best time ever. I had full responsibility of the kitchen and I handled most of the cleaning. We bought all our foodstuff together and I had genuine peace. In fact, our flat became a hub for our friends to visit regularly as there was peace and food! My previous housemates had decided they couldn’t live with anyone again so their parents bought a house for them – they were sisters. It took a while to recover that friendship just because we lived together. No one stole anyone’s boyfriend or poisoned the cat, but somehow the friendship could not handle living together.
I learnt some lessons from that experience though. No matter how well you think you know a person, there is so much more to learn when your personal spaces collide. Ask any married person!
I also bought a house eventually, and I had many housemates while studying for my Masters programme; but I didn’t live with friends anymore. Some housemates eventually became friends, but no friends were allowed to be housemates anymore. Once bitten, twice shy.
That my side of the story anyway. Lol.