Joely Thomas delves into the perils of that most simple task, finding a room to rent
A number of us are currently juggling our first lectures with an equally daunting process—the search for a bed, just one bed, in a city full of rooms that turns out to be so much harder in practice than it theoretically should be. And many of us will suffer from constant rejections as we begin to wonder if it would not just be easier to join the Ark tent community on Oxford Road or else find a boyfriend or girlfriend with a big heart and an even bigger bed.
After deliberating endlessly on SpareRoom over how to make myself sound likeable but unique, fun without being crazy, sociable yet sufficiently quiet, and tidy but not obsessive (in other words, perfect) I decided to keep it simple and just put the basics—24-year-old female, mostly GSOH, sometimes BSOH, student, likes sport, laidback. Perfect, I could be anyone, I thought. If they need to know anything else, they’ll ask.
No-one asked, and so I started looking at rooms—the cosy ones comprised of a door partly opening onto a bed, the student-tailored rooms that looked like halfway houses, the families with a spare room who claimed to be quiet but had two teenage sons, the professionals who wanted someone who would also be into wine evenings and film nights, the artists who wanted someone who was happy to live amidst mess.
Once I contacted them, the questions came. “What kind of a house are you looking for?” was commonly asked. I didn’t care! I just wanted a roof, four walls, water, heating was a bonus, but I didn’t want them to think I was desperate. Somewhere homely where people get along and keep the place tidy, I replied, and then, worried that they’d think I was obsessively tidy, added, but I’m also happy living in a pigsty… and then—Not that I’m suggesting your house is a pigsty! …and shortly followed by: “Or that I leave things like a pigsty!” I didn’t hear back.
Eventually, I got invited for a viewing. “We love you already!” they enthused. I began panicking—now I could only disappoint them. I spent far too long thinking about what to wear. They were environmentalist socialists and so wearing Converse might shout consumerist, my Banksy hoody, though promoting social revolution, might shout mainstream, my ‘Fuck What They Think’ jumper was at least less mainstream but perhaps too antisocial for a first date.
In the end, I wore plain jeans, a black t-shirt and my scruffiest shoes. I was, of course, late, but burst into the house declaring “Well I’m earlier than my late estimation!” and then, realising they may not see the funny side and deem me rude, quickly added, “though I’m sorry I’m still late.”
The other housemates introduced themselves and I introduced myself back each time even though they clearly knew who I was and, even if they didn’t, were standing next to each other and so probably didn’t need me to repeat my name five times. I was asked if I wanted a drink and said tea would be great. “What kind of tea?” I was asked. “Just with milk,” I replied. “No,” they said, “what kind of tea?” and I was introduced to their collection of 100 feel-good teas from around the world. They looked surprised when I said I’d have black tea. I was already disappointing them.
They told me about themselves and I found myself agreeing with everything they said and laughing at all their jokes. “We haven’t bought new clothes in years!” they proudly declared and I glanced guiltily at my jeans, hoping it wasn’t obvious that I’d bought them only that month. “We want to start sharing meals,” they told me, “and we use the shower water for the toilet and minimise the amount of plastic packaging we buy.” I nodded and agreed, as if it all made perfect sense, silently wondering if the hairs stayed in the shower-turned-toilet water, if I would have to start cultivating my own yoghurt instead of buying it ready-made in a pot, and already freaking out about my role in the communal cooking plans.
An hour later and, nothing having gone too disastrously wrong, I was told about the other person coming to view the room the next day. I felt like I was being cheated on. “Oh, of course,” I quivered, wondering at what point we’d agreed that we would carry on seeing other people. They said they would get back to me in a week.
I’m sat here now, wondering how they are getting on with the other person. What is she like? I bet she bakes fresh bread every day and hasn’t bought any new clothes for a decade. She probably didn’t introduce herself five times.
And so, the point of all this? That you’re not alone in your demoralising search for a room and that you shouldn’t give up hope because there are plenty of people and sites out there for you. I, for instance, have now placed an ad on OkCupid—clean, tidy and laid back, I began. Life’s too short to take things slow. I’ll move in tomorrow if you have enough room in your heart (or anywhere in your current house) for me. I also have a thing for property developers.