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July 1, 2011 / thatsarahdean

A room without a view

First published in Third Way magazine, July/August 2011. Guest article covering for regular columnist.

Room available in shared house: would suit quiet, tidy, non-weirdo with a sense of humour. Twenty-one year olds, the po-faced and people who go ski-ing and have friends called Joffe need not apply. It’s that time of year again where someone in my house with gets married and we the remaining housemates get to carefully craft an ad to recruit someone for the room. Ideally we’re looking for someone to join our happy household who for at least a year won’t go off and get married or be called abroad to help the poor otherwise we have to go through this palaver all over again.

I have lived in shared accommodation for the past 17 years. This is what comes of doing an arts degree, working in the charity sector and choosing to live in London. (The closest I have ever come to owning property is when I built that barn on Farmville.)  For the most part I have lived with christians, initially because I was a zealot, more recently because I am lazy – a church news sheet has less ads to go through than Gumtree.

I went to a talk about living in a Christian community a few years ago. The speaker said that she lived with two other christian women. They did not follow a spiritual pattern together, nor did they pool their money, although they shared the bills. Essentially she lived in a flat share. It turned I had been living in a christian community all along without even realising it. How very holy of me!

Still, placing our recent ad on a Christian accommodation website did make me feel a bit self-conscious.  Other ads talked about household bible studies and shared meals – the closest we get is two of us eating cereal whilst shouting at Andrew Neil on This Week.

Finding a flatmate or a place to live is an uncomfortable experience for everyone involved.  Viewing a room and hoping to be chosen is pretty horrible, ‘Please let them like me, Lord. This is the first room I can afford that has a window.’ (Call me unrealistic but I was surprised to discover that landlords in London think natural light is a luxury.)

It is not much better if you are the ones with the room to let (Ours has a window by the way). Our online ad has had hundreds of identical responses from potential flat mates, all saying how they will fit into the household because they are ‘so tidy but also laidback, bubbly but also very quiet.’ We’ve found the only way to cope with the onslaught of amiability is to become judgmental and cynical, and to make sweeping assumptions based on very little evidence. For example we are arranging a viewing for because well, so do we, but we will not be showing round, because well, not near us thank you.

This time next week, we’ll have a new housemate and no doubt this time next year we’ll be advertising again. I have our ad ready: Christian community member wanted. Must be cynical, unattractive and naturally callous person uninterested in marriage or mission. Must find Andrew Neil annoying.


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