Hell is not just other people; it’s sharing a kitchen with them

The unpaid bonds and broken leases on the front lines of co-living

Brianna Parkins has had housemates from hell but finally found one from heaven. Photograph: iStock

I hate the idea of “co-living” being sold as a funky, millennial solution to the housing crisis as much as anybody. Not being able to afford a gaff is still poverty no matter how much table tennis and movie nights you throw in.

But I have been co-living which, let’s face it, is just another name for house sharing, for almost a decade and I can tell you hell isn’t so much other people as it is sometimes sharing a kitchen with them.

You would think occupations would help you pick the right people with whom to cohabit. But to this day the part-time dominatrix who took me vintage shopping was one of the best housemates. The worst? An accountant.

In university I had a housemate who claimed to be an electrical engineer. When the electricity inevitably blew we discovered he couldn’t even work the trip switch. He could, however, engineer a bong out of almost any household items. Like a sad, stoned MacGyver. It’s a talent we’ll never see on the Rose of Tralee sadly – I was a contestant a couple of years ago – but I live in hope.


One day the landlord popped his head over the fence and we discovered our other housemate’s talent for acting, when she had to convince him that the electrical engineer’s massive marijuana plant under the house was actually an artisanal tomato patch. She sent him off with promises he would get the first batch of the season. I reckon he’s still waiting.

House sharing makes you do odd things. I rocked around for years thinking I was a well-adjusted person until I started to hide kitchen appliances around the house. Mostly the toaster and only from a girl who would cover the kitchen in crumbs everyday.

In defence of my daily game of electrical goods hide-and-seek, it was peak cockroach season in Sydney and they’re as big as front rowers with half the fear.

There was also the budding lawyer who left without paying a week’s rent but threatened to take me to court over a gas bill that was less than €60. I pointed out it would cost more to file it. We never did have our day in court. The less said about housemates disabling the electricity to switch off heaters the better.

I walked out of one housemate interview when asked if I would participate in the monthly full moon drumming circles

While finding the right housemate is hard, doing auditions for the role of perfect housemate is soul destroying. In Sydney a few years ago, all you had to do was vaguely know some mates of mates and have a criminal history clear enough not to show up in a lazy Google search.

Then we had our own housing crisis and things got tricky. Because the Emerald City is so far up its hole that it can brush its teeth, people felt completely comfortable putting up ads saying things like “We are a good vibes only household/no meat or animal products can be stored in the fridge/creatives given preference.” Things might have gotten desperate but at least I walked out of one housemate interview when asked if I would participate in the monthly “full moon drumming circles”.

Then I landed in Dublin in a full-blown housing crisis with houses built by people who seem to hate people. No natural light. Walls so thin I could know the time of day by my housemate’s boyfriend’s bowel movements. The only colour house paint available in the country seems to be a lovely shade of “give up on life” beige. (You won’t find that in the Farrow & Ball catalogue.)

I was lucky enough that my friends had a spare room going in their gaff and even if some of us had to shower at the gym to have hot water, it was grand. Then our landlord sold and we were forced to scatter.

The thought of copping a passive aggressive text in the housemate WhatsApp when I would inevitably miss bin night was enough to put me off

The audition process was cut throat. One house asked me to bring my passport and a link to my LinkedIn.

One had a mattress in the kitchen but at least they weren’t the terrifyingly efficient teachers who had a colour co-ordinated cleaning schedule that was infinitely complex. The thought of copping a passive aggressive text in the housemate WhatsApp when I would inevitably miss bin night was enough to put me off.

The bloke who said I could move in but then gave it to his mate instead warrants a special mention, only because he had the absolute balls to ask me on a date afterwards.

It’s a seller’s market in Dublin’s room-sharing market. I felt myself lying through my teeth at interviews: of course it would be cool if your rugby mates stayed over every weekend; I love hosting book clubs; yes, I do think the moon landing could have been staged.

But, however annoying and stressful it was, I am English speaking, Australian, know my rights and have a decent paying job. I shudder to think what people without those privileges have to accept in their accommodation search.

In the end I was lucky enough to find my house-sharing soulmate. An architect who has loved an old house back to life. There is natural light and floorboards and continuous hot water. As a non-drinker she doesn’t mind that I burst in at 6am with whatever amusing but ultimately self-induced crisis I got myself into the night before.

In return for war stories she cooks me lovely dinners and is probably the only thing standing between me and scurvy. There are never any passive-aggressive smiley face notes left on counters. It’s the small acts of soundness – a cup of tea without being asked, washing folded and brought in if it’s on the line – that make a house a home.

While co-living won’t work forever – we all dream of our own bathroom and paint scheme – it has provided me with some of the best memories (and traumas) I have.

Housemates are strangers you found on the internet, who you see more than your family and who hear you row with your boyfriend over the phone. When you get a good one, hold on to them tight.