Posts Tagged 'Flatmates'

Three Soybeans in a Pod: Matching Your Home Life to Your Lifestyle

Auckland, New Zealand

Venus Fly Trap

When is flat hunting not flat hunting?  When it’s an identity crisis.  Once I decided to move out of the hostel, I began looking for a room to rent. More than just a place to store my stuff, I wanted a home and a home life that would contribute to and facilitate my experience in Auckland.  Since I wasn’t unhappy at the backpacker’s per se, I had the luxury of time. I was prepared to be picky.

When selecting a flat, there are four key elements to consider: price, location, physical space, and flatmates, in no particular order.  I’ve lived in spectacular neighborhoods, but paid such a high premium for that privilege that I couldn’t afford to leave my bedroom.  I’ve lived in an apartment where I had my own bathroom and balcony, but so despised my flatmate I couldn’t stand to be there when she was home. In her presence, the house wilted like a flower deprived of sunlight and water.

Since I had already been living in Auckland for a few weeks, I held the advantage of having a sense of the personality and highlights of the various neighborhoods. I narrowed my search down to two: Parnell, the self-proclaimed “Creative Quarter” and Grey Lynn.  Both are young, affordable, and accessible, and boast an assortment of bars, cafes, shops, restaurants and parks.
Although they are equidistant from my office, Parnell and Grey Lynn are on opposite sides of the map. Parnell has a French market, Grey Lynn a Woolworths.   Parnell is trendy, Grey Lynn bohemian.  Parnell has hipsters, Grey Lynn feral hippies.  Parnell has a website, Grey Lynn does not. I could see myself living happily in either.

Through Trademe, I found candidates in both neighborhoods.  The house in Grey Lynn was cozy; and by cozy, I mean small.  However, it possessed that lovely broken in feeling of your favorite pair of jeans.  The flat occupied the back half of a split house, and was tidy, quiet, and warm, decorated in deep reds, dark woods, and creamy whites. The front door opened onto a luscious garden with fruit trees, fresh herbs, and wild flowers.  The house may have been crowded, but thanks to an abundance of windows, it was neither dark nor stuffy.

On the other hand, the house in Parnell was multi-storied, with a huge garage-cum-man-cave in the basement, a spacious common room with a large, flat-screen TV, an ample kitchen, and two full-baths.  The available bedroom was no bigger than the one in the Grey Lynn flat, but it came furnished.   The price was slightly higher, but still safely within my budget.  So far, cat’s game.

The final round was between the flatmates.  The Grey Lynn flat was shared by two thirty-something Kiwis, Jane and Alex. Jane was a buyer for a well-known New Zealand mid-range clothing line.  This struck me as odd, as Jane was dressed from top to bottom in black, including her hair, which was dyed black, and the clips in her hair.  Alex, who reminded me vaguely of a tattooed Buddy Holly, worked the overnight shift at an airline.  As Jane was rushing off to meet friends for dinner, Alex emerged from his room to prepare himself breakfast.   “This is Alex,” said Jane, “he’s somewhat of a vampire.”  “A corporate vampire,” clarified Alex.  A Goth and a vampire: I worried the brightness of my wardrobe might turn them to dust.

Yet for as apparently different as we were, we shared a great deal in common.  We were all vegetarians, with an interest in healthy living and spirituality. Jane and I discovered that we had been in the same yoga class the night before. After she left, Alex and I became engrossed in an intense conversation about religion and philosophy.  Even if we don’t live together, I thought, I hope we can be friends.

In the Parnell flat were one American and two Kiwis, who were all, well, normal: just your average beer loving, meat-eating, pub-crawling, social twenty-something young professionals.  There was nothing offensive or special about them, except that the girl had the most obnoxious laugh I had ever heard.  Even though I didn’t particularly identify with them, they were comfortingly mainstream and familiar.

The two flats were so unalike that on a Venn diagram of their interests, you would need a magnifying glass to see the overlapping part.  In high school, the Parnell flat would have mocked the Grey Lynn flat, and the Grey Lynn flat would have judged the Parnell flat.  I felt like the new girl in school trying to decide where to sit at lunch. I thought about a poster I bought as a kid that said, “What is popular is not always right, what is right is not always popular.”  More importantly, I thought about what having that poster said about me as a person.  With that in mind, I made my decision: I wanted the flat in Parnell.

I pictured myself in Parnell on the weekends, perusing art galleries and stationery stores, and taking my MacBook to the Chocolate Boutique Café, where I would write witty blog entries while sipping frothy cappuccinos served by surly waiters.  My flatmates and I would stumble home together after a night out on the piss, and join each other for brunch the following morning. Now I imagine myself there, feeling relatively deprived, out of place, and incurably hung over.  I am just not that girl. Fortunately, the cool kids had the good sense to send me where I belong.  They gave the room to someone else, and I moved into the flat in Grey Lynn.

Perhaps I had been hasty in leaving the hostel.  My first paycheck went to three-week’s bond and two-week’s rent; I couldn’t afford a bed, bedding, or bedroom furniture.  I borrowed an air mattress, which I inflated nightly as if it were a pair of Reebok Pumps.  I didn’t sleep for weeks.  Eventually, I was able to buy a bed and a couple of sets of plastic drawers, and Jane gave me her old desk.  By some miracle, all of my worldly possessions fit into my tiny room.  Better still, I fit perfectly into the flat.

Just as you should buy clothes suited to the life you have, you should choose a flat suited to the lifestyle you lead.  One of the reasons I wanted to live with locals was to benefit from their insider knowledge.  The question was, knowledge of what?  Thanks to Jane and Alex, I know where to find the best vegetarian restaurants, organic markets, and bulk food shops.  We exchange books, ideas, recipes, and discuss our ambitions for the future. For the first time, I feel encouraged and enabled in my choices.

The other day, we had a flat meeting to discuss what to do about the plague of flies that has descended upon our house.  This is the environmentalist’s dilemma: chemical pesticide or carnivorous plant?  There is now a Venus Fly Trap on our kitchen window sill. I might wish that the flat weren’t so cramped, damp, or moldy, but I am so glad the other one turned me away.
Recently, I faced a similar conflict when trying to decide what to do for New Year’s Eve.  At first, I agreed to volunteer with two friends at Rhythm and Vines (a three-day music festival on a vineyard in Gisborne).  No sooner had we received confirmation from the volunteer coordinator than the emails began to fly.  “I can’t believe how much they are charging for camping!!!” “Check out this other festival!!! “Let’s just go to the beach?!?” Suddenly, I remembered how much I hate New Year’s Eve, crowds, electronic music, and exclamation marks.

In the diversion created by my friends, I snuck off and made alternative plans.  I signed up for a ten-day silent meditation retreat that I’d been interested in attending for over a year.  While my friends will be working in the VIP tent, I’ll be learning to practice Vipassana.  When I told my mother, she rolled her eyes.  When I told my coworkers, they averted their eyes.  When I told my flatmates, they didn’t bat an eye – they’ve both completed the same course.

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We Just Live Together: Hunting for Housing in Wellington

Wellington, New ZealandKitchen: Not clean or tidy

Men complain about how complicated and dramatic women are; but I still can’t get a handle on the opposite sex.  After exchanging a few delightful emails with someone that I met online, we decided to take our virtual relationship to the next level and meet in person.  Even though I found his suggestion to have coffee at his apartment to be a bit forward for a first encounter, I accepted his invitation.

The day of our date, I anguished over what to wear like I was debating the best tactic for dealing with the Cuban missile crisis.  I wanted him to find me attractive; but I didn’t want to appear to be trying too hard (especially given the location of our rendezvous).  I wanted my clothes to reflect my personality and style, without scaring him off or giving too much away.  Finally content with my outfit, I made my way to his building.  I announced my presence with a nervous ring of the buzzer; and a few seconds later, the front door opened to reveal a handsome, strapping young man: bald and muscular with a big smile.

Inside, we drank hot beverages and talked.  Just as I expected, we had a lot in common: we both speak Spanish (he’s planning his first trip to Argentina in July); we both studied economics and international relations; and we’re both non-hippie vegetarians.  At the end of the evening, he promised to be in touch; and I believed him.

Days went by with no word, text, or email.  After passing through all five stages of mourning – denial (maybe he dropped his phone in the toilet), anger (how rude!) bargaining (if only I’d worn more makeup), depression (it’s not him, it’s me), and, acceptance (whatever) – I took to the Internet to search for something better.  In my experience, men possess a sixth sense for when a woman is about to move on; and sure enough, just as I finished arranging to meet someone else, Bruce Willis’s gay doppelgänger texted me: “Sorry didn’t get back to u yet about flat.  Need to talk w flatmate b4 we make our decision…will let u know soon.”  I swear, finding the father of my children will be easier than finding housing in Wellington.

Argentina was my first experience outside of college with real estate and randoms.  My initial roommate (or in Kiwi speak: flatmate) was a French girl that I found on Craigslist.  She quickly became not only one of my best friend’s in Buenos Aires, but one of my best friends, literally, in the world.  I was devastated when she returned to Paris, not least of all because it fell on me to retrieve our security deposit from our Latin American landlord, a feat akin to stealing gold from a leprechaun. The good thing about the whole affair is that I learned how to threaten to break someone’s legs in Spanish.

A string of apartments and roommates followed, none as glorious as the first.  For a few months, I lived with an Italian man who was such a cultural stereotype that we shall call him Luigi.  He was a photographer from Milan and wore Burberry scarves, tight black Armani t-shirts, and even tighter jeans (not that I’m complaining).  He drank water from silver Dansk vodka bottles. The only thing I ever saw him eat was pasta with sheep’s milk cheese (cow milk bothered his stomach), which he cooked while complaining about Italy. This, I found amusing, endearing even.  What I found annoying was how he insisted on removing my vegetables from their plastic bags and arranging them in the refrigerator by color and shape.  Then there was the sex.  One night, I was disturbed from slumber by the unmistakable sound of heavy breathing.  I was still half-asleep and the noise was so loud, I thought that Luigi and his girlfriend were having sex on my bedroom floor.  Finally I understood why he ate so many carbohydrates: he was preparing for a marathon.

At some point, I lived with an Argentine girl.  I’m not sure if she was high all the time or just morally opposed to speaking with her mouth open.  Either way, I never understood a single word she said.  Unemployed, she spent all of her time watching videos on YouTube and smoking weed.  She also refused to throw away rotten food or wash her dishes (there are hungry and thirsty children in Africa after all).  When I returned home after a four-day silent retreat to discover the kitchen resembling a preschooler’s found-object art project, I was in such a state of awe and disbelief that I took a picture.

Because I never intended to stay in Buenos Aires longer than a few months, I preferred to rent rooms in furnished flats rather than get my own place.  If I had known then that I was to be there for over three years, I would have done things differently.  What I learned is that your home life heavily impacts your overall quality of life.  Unnecessary roommate drama; depressing rooms with no natural light; and pipes that clog and flood the kitchen with sewage only serve to bring you down, especially when you’re new in town, spend a lot of time at home, and have nowhere else to go.

Unfortunately, since arriving in New Zealand, I have slept on floors, pullout couches, bunk beds, and air mattresses.  I have shared my bedroom with seven other girls, none of whom were relatives. While house sitting has been wonderful for my financial stability and personal freedom, it’s too much house for one person and it’s too far away from the action; isolation is killing my social life.  More than anything, after a while, being a guest in someone else’s home begins to wear out its welcome.

Like Goldilocks, I wanted my next living situation to be just right, as it will likely influence how I feel about Wellington and how long I stay here.  Because desperation does for apartments what beer goggles do for ugly people in bars, I began looking for housing weeks ago.  I sifted through hundreds of listings, setting aside those with promise while dismissing those that mentioned chore rosters, rotating dinner schedules, or vegans who only eat raw produce sourced from their own gardens.  I went to see a few places with little potential because I thought window shopping with no pressure to buy would help me define exactly what it was that I was looking for.

I compiled a list of criteria: location (within walking distance of town); cost (I have a part-time job and earn minimum wage); physical space (nothing too cold, damp, dark, cramped, dirty, or reminiscent of an attic); “clean- and tidy-ness” (hygienic but not obsessive); and most importantly, flatmates (single- and two-bedroom apartments are uncommon in New Zealand, as most people prefer to live in houses or large flats with multiple flatmates).

In the past, who I lived with was less important than where I lived.  I didn’t need or necessarily want for the people I lived with to be my best friends; all that mattered was how well we co-existed.  However, given my current circumstance, I now want to live with people whose company I genuinely enjoy; who have similar interests, lifestyles, and personalities; who are “social but also have their own social lives”; and who make me feel welcome and comfortable.

With such specific conditions, I knew that finding exactly what I wanted would be a challenge; but I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be to actually acquire it.  In Buenos Aires, securing a flat was as easy as showing up, having a look around, and handing over a large sum of cash.  In Wellington, the (unofficial) application process involves multiple rounds, including an introductory email (I copied and pasted part of my cover letter); one or two visits to the flat (to which some people brought baked goods); and the final decision.  The pressure to impress (and the awkward questions about your income, intentions, and plans for the future) is similar to that experienced when meeting your boyfriend’s parents for the first time.  One girl asked us about our favorite book and our personal policy on energy conversation, at which point I panicked: I had left my swimwear at home and had nothing rehearsed for the talent portion of the evening.

Some flats turned me down (or blew me off); and I did some rejecting of my own (including of the aforementioned indecisive flat).  I began to wonder if I shouldn’t lower my standards; if maybe my dream flat didn’t exist; or worse, if maybe it was out of my league.  I had all but given up hope and resigned myself to living in the suburbs in a converted basement with eight university students, when Prince Charming came along to rescue me.  A few days ago, I found the perfect flat; and this time the feeling was mutual. On Sunday, I move into my new home: a spacious, six-bedroom apartment located in the epicenter of my personal universe.  My room is the perfect size; the price is reasonable; and the flatmates seem great: three Kiwi blokes, a French girl, and one as yet to be determined. There’s just one minor problem: now that I have to pay rent, I need to find a job (other than handing out promotional ice cream cones at movie premieres).


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