How To Get Personal Space In Your Shared House
The Debrief: Because living on top of each other can get really old, really quickly
Illustration by Laura Breiling
There’s nothing quite like showering under a bunting of your flatmate’s handwashed knickers to bring home to you what shared living means. Namely, what you gain in company, friendship, cheaper bills, bigger houses and someone else buying the milk, you lose in terms of personal space.
But, before we all make like a Berlin student and start living in our own private shipping containers, or just live in Berlin, let’s just see if there are one or two tricks to making the most of where you live and carving out a you-shaped space.
Wake up before the others
From graphic designers to comedians, I’ve always had a penchant for living with night owls. Not just because they’re surf dudes with attitudes, and not just because they buy nice snacks, but because when you live with a night owl, the mornings are all your own. To be able to make a leisurely breakfast, shower when you want to, watch the sun go up as you tap away at that novel you’re meant to be writing and have the whole front room to yoga in; it’s a bloody joy.
If, however, you are a night owl, the same applies. Simply make the most of the time you can scoop out of the day when all your other homies are asleep or out of the house. Only, do it quietly, yeah?
Decentralise your storage
Architect and director of Studio 22, Charmaine Vos, has some serious truth telling to pass on to you all. 'Everyone wants storage space, but the more stuff you collect, the more cluttered your space is going to be.' Preach! 'So decentre your storage. Look at what you actually need and then find somewhere else, if you can, to store it. It’s the classic go down, go up or go out. Basements, attics, under the stairs – put your storage somewhere else so you can make the most of your living space.'
I have, as I type this, all my summer clothes, a saxophone, a family-sized tent, a couple of bottles of butane (sure), wellies, some books, spare towels and a suitcase full of fabric stored under my bed. Which, as I think you’ll agree, are the ingredients for the world’s greatest weekend away.
Make your lunch the night before
One of the most stressful times in a shared house is that 8am, pre-work flurry of activity when everyone is trying to make breakfast, pack their lunch, wash up, hang out their washing, make tea, put in their contact lenses, have a shower and generally get the fuck outta there. To ease this rush hour crush, try making your lunch the night before. Tupperware, my friends – it is the total sum of human happiness. And will save you hundreds of pounds in shit meal deals and train-munched pastries.
We’ve come a long way since your television was the size of a small tractor and your bed was made of oak. These days, there is a whole host of beautifully designed, space-saving furniture that can help you make your personal space as dynamic and comfortable as possible.
Charmaine Vos suggests companies like Resource Furniture who create space-saving joinery that can help transform your space into a multi-functional mini-flat. 'Pull down beds, which have actually been designed by someone who’s thought about it for more than five minutes; shelves on hinges that right themselves to stay horizontal as you pull the thing down; desks that fold back into the wall and have a mirror on the other side; they’re just a little bit more well thought out.'
This all becomes even more important if you ever have kids. 'Until this year, I lived in a tiny two up, two down with my two children,' says mother extraordinaire Helen Burr. 'The key is that everything has to multitask. My kitchen chairs had removable seats with storage underneath, my sofa cushions lifted off and there was storage inside, my lamp table was a CD rack, my bedside table was a massive trunk with all our bedding and towels in. You get the idea. Also, cover every available wall in shelves.'
Oh my god shelves. Shelves everywhere. Get that shit off the floor and on to your walls.
Don’t be afraid of boundaries
OK, so I may have spent quite a lot of my life at university in bed with my entirely platonic flatmate reading our books and napping. I may be the sort of woman who will leave her bedroom door open when getting changed. I may come into your room with a cup of tea in the morning and try to slip under the duvet for a debrief about the night before. But even I realise that sometimes people need boundaries. There’s no need to be an arsehole about it – simply tell your flatmates that you’re going for a nap, that you need to go and do some work in your room, ask politely if they mind you using the front room for a couple of hours (which as we all know is code for stay out of the front room for a couple of hours), keep your most precious things out of shared spaces and go for a walk, run, swim, to the cinema, coffee on your own if your house lyfe is getting too much.
Get a shed
'I don’t know what it says about our planning that the most interesting architecture is people’s converted sheds,' says Charmaine, and she’s absolutely right. Dylan Thomas, Roald Dahl, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain: the list of writers that retreated to their shed to create a personal wonderland or literary imagination is as long as a hose and just as quenching. My parents had a shed each; my mother’s was full of paintings and my father’s was full of bird skeletons and tattoo magazines, which left the run of the actual house to, well, me. Of course, finding the space for a shed in London is a little tricky. But, hey, if you’re stressed about personal space what the hell are you doing living in London?
I know, such a bore. But, if you really want to get some personal space then it’s important not to smother what space you have with a haphazard maelstrom of shit and biscuits.
Hurtlepuss on Twitter divides her drawers, if you’ll pardon the expression. So, the make-up drawer is separated into eyes, lips, skin etc. Her underwear drawer is divided into tights, knickers, bras – you get the idea. 'As well as making easy to find, you use everything more often.'
A car is basically a shed on wheels
My flatmate is learning to drive. Not just so her and I can Thelma and Louise it over to Wales at the drop of the hat to climb a mountain and swim in the sea. But also so she can use the car as 'a big cupboard.'
'When I lived in New Zealand I used my car like a giant handbag,' says Charmaine. 'It had my gym gear, a change of clothes, some nice heels and it was somewhere I could grab a nap.' Of course, I love public transport, but the idea of a boot-full of clothes and a transportable bed does sound rather tempting.
Get more sleep
A sure fire way to feel overwhelmed by your surroundings is to allow yourself to get tired, tetchy and cross. So go to bed. Even if you live with a partner, you will always be able to chisel out a world of personal space behind your eyes. Your imagination, your unconscious, your dream-like thoughts and your sleepy fantasies are yours and yours alone. Get thee to a bed and and by a sleep, end the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.
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Illustration: Laura Breiling
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