10-minute interview with Val
1. How long have you shared a house with other people?
On and off for over 20 years. I have lived in several different flats and houses, all in central London. It’s so dreary living outside London and I can do so much and meet so many interesting people here.
I actually own a one bedroom flat myself but it’s too small to share so I let that out and share larger flats and houses with others. My cousins and family think I am mad but I have tried living alone and just hate it.
2. How did you meet to other people to share with?
My first house share was with friends, so I didn’t need to find anyone. I let my house in Hampshire and came to London to live with friends in Wood Green. Then, when I found a job near Harley St, I wanted to live more centrally and I did what everyone did in those days and looked at the section at the back of the Standard.
I still look in the papers but now it’s more of a struggle and it’s more online, so that’s why I was pleased to find Cohabitas.
3. Where were you living before you decided to share?
I was living in Hampshire until my second marriage broke up and I was made redundant from a job in estate agency. I fancied doing something different for a while and friends said ‘great go for it’, so I moved to London and within 10 days found the job in Harley Street. One thing has led to another and I’ve really enjoyed living here so have never gone back.
I still have connections with Hampshire of course, particularly with my cousins and family, but there is nothing to do there. There’s loads to do in London and you don’t need a lot of money.
4. What made you decide to share?
Well I had to. I wanted to move to London and try something new but didn’t want to sell my house. Living with friends was fine to start with but then I wanted to be near my work and you really have to pay a lot to have your own flat. By sharing I don’t need to spend everything on rent and I can afford to go out and see things.
5. Did you have any difficulties agreeing the area or house/flat to share?
No, because I usually joined an existing house share or flat and the people were already there. So I only had to decide where I wanted to live. Joining an existing house share is so much easier – spaces open when someone else leaves and the people in the house are already familiar with sharing.
It can be risky renting a flat yourself and sub-letting or finding friends. I don’t want that responsibility.
I found it easy to integrate with people, mainly because we were working all of the time and I used to go away to Hampshire at weekends. It was lovely if you had the place to yourself sometimes, when someone else went away for the weekend, but I am not someone to stay in much – I go out a lot – I need to have a purpose and like to keep busy at work and in life.
6. Do you have any house rules or any sort of agreement between you?
It kind of fell in to place in each flat or house. Generally we all did it ourselves. Because I had been married I didn’t mind doing the kitchen but in general sharing with mature people was no problem.
Once in a flat in Great Ormond Street it was a problem. It was a very large and lovely flat owned by a rather eccentric artist who smoked dope a bit. I spent 2 years there and met interesting friends including MPs who stopped by for tea. Because it had lots of big furniture we needed to have a cleaner once a week, which we all chipped in for.
In Wimpole Street it was a big problem because I was living with younger girls. I needed to say to them ‘come on let’s clean’ but they didn’t want to and didn’t know how to – they hadn’t been married and had a family. So it’s a good idea to have a cleaner to come in and blitz the place unless you can agree to take it in turns. However, cleaners don’t always do a good job – a problem when you pay to have professional cleaning that isn’t up to scratch – better to share it among yourselves.
7. What is the best thing about sharing?
For me it is having company and also not being entirely responsible for the place. For example if the heating breaks down then it’s good to have someone to talk to about what to do. I don’t like being alone but don’t feel worried about safety, as places have good security devices.
If I stayed in a studio or small flat then I could be on my own every evening. Being with other people is so important for some people, but others seem perfectly happy living alone. I have a friend in Southsea who can spend all weekend alone.
I learned a lot about myself by sharing – I had never shared before – I found I could relax and could see people in the afternoon or evening in a casual way. I found out how easy going I am. I have found that I am reticent at first but then open up and am friendly. I think because I was an only child that I felt a bit reserved and even maybe felt a little sorry for myself when younger. I had lots of cousins but they had sisters so I felt a little bit left out sometimes, so for me sharing is like having a family. In fact living with others, which is semi family-like without the responsibilities of families, is a very positive thing.
8. Do you have any tips or advice for other people thinking of sharing?
Be prepared to do your share of work. I don’t feel resentful of others who don’t because I am easy going but some people are very strict on this and get upset if you don’t do your share.
Be prepared to wait to do your laundry. This is something important to me. You have to give and take a bit – some days you can’t do your laundry and just have to wait.
Not pinching each other’s food. It’s fine to use a little butter milk or an egg for a recipe, but when you do use things then you must replace it.
You may have to share the bathroom and lavatory – I have lived in places with just one bathroom and 4 or 5 working people living there, but somehow it worked. It can cost a lot in London to have your own en-suite, depending which zone you want to live in. You can’t expect en-suite in zone 1-2 for less than £1,000 a month but I have seen some of these new building do offer a shower room and are more reasonable.
9. Any final thoughts?
I rent my place in order to live in other people’s flats, because I don’t like living alone.
So many people get trapped or feel trapped living alone in a house they own because they feel that is what they should do at their age. Its convention isn’t it. You buy your house and you live in it. I say blow it and sell it or rent it out to get out and about.
After a few years sharing now myself, I don’t think people should live alone. There are some people who can of course, but I can’t do it. I am sure there are lots of people who can’t but are missing out because they haven’t considered sharing.
I met a 94 year old lady who moved to London and after her husband died I used to see her and speak to her whilst she had a coffee before boarding a bus to travel round the city each day. She said she goes on the buses because she’s so in awe of London – instead of stuck in the country going potty – I think people who live alone lose their mind, I really do.
People are still young at 70 or 75 and that’s why this will grow. They want something going on and to be a part of everyday life. Far from being mad I think sharing makes so much sense.
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