Finding the right living situation can feel like an endless Goldilocks and the Three Bears tale—there are a million ways a place can be a bad fit. On the path to my current peaceful shared living arrangement, I landed in a few of those not-so-great spots.
Living with my Landlord’s Daughter
In my first experience renting a room after moving out of my hometown, one of my two housemates was the landlord’s daughter. My lady housemates were awesome, and I was excited to be living in Oakland, but I attuned to the local housing rates and, as I got to know some folks in town, they let me know my rent was a ripoff. The situation grew tense as I realized what a shoddy deal I was getting. It was time to move. Before too long, I found a much cheaper place just one street over with two bedrooms available. My best friend, who was also looking for a place, jumped on board.
Living with my Best Friend
I scoured the Internet for advice about whether or not moving in with a best friend would work. All the articles advised against it, but we forged ahead with our plans. We were both 22 and single, what could go wrong?
Then, two weeks before our move in date, my best friend met the man of her dreams (they’re now engaged). At our new place, our bedrooms shared two paper-thin walls and she didn’t like staying at his place. A few months down the line, he wound up moving in. This was not what I’d signed up for! It didn’t help that her new boyfriend and I weren’t politically aligned. It didn’t help that the two of them were better friends with our fourth housemate than I was. It didn’t help that I was renting the dinky shoebox sized room, while everyone else had more space. It didn’t help that her two cats bullied my cat so badly I eventually kept her in my room. It took our friendship some time to recover, and that was after the two of them moved out. But things have gotten better! After that, I lived alone—well, sort of.
Living at my Work
My boss, a small business owner, had rented an apartment to use as an office and was planning on renting the bedroom out to someone as a personal office. When I needed to move, she offered it to me. For a year, my housemates were my co-workers. I enjoyed the quiet evenings with the apartment to myself—a hint of the freedom of having my own place. Still, I found myself frequently escaping to my boyfriend’s place in the city. The long evening hours alone, though meditative, felt claustrophobic to me—far too easy to get lost in endless existential omphaloskepsis. The other challenge was the location of the apartment: Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, with a second story street-facing bedroom window. Outside my window there was a bench, a bus stop, and a restaurant that stayed open ‘til 2 am. As much as I love cities, I do not love the noise. And it was heartbreaking to live so intimately close to people living on the streets, some struggling with addiction and mental health issues. It wasn’t a situation I could, or would want to, get used to. After just shy of a year on Telegraph, I let my boss know I was planning to move out.
Living on Couches
My boyfriend and I moved out of our respective rooms thinking we’d move in together, and then decided not to take the plunge quite yet. He wound up moving back home with his parents to figure things out and I wound up searching for the perfect shared living situation, all the while cat sitting and couch surfing. Even though I enjoyed hanging out with peoples’ pets and seeing friends, those four months living out of a suitcase were stressful. It was humbling realizing just how far from being homeless I actually am.
Living in a Home with New Friends
After two and half months of combing Craigslist, synchronicity came to the rescue. A friend of mine from work let me know that a room in the five bedroom house she lived in (dubbed the Harmony Home), would be available in six weeks. I went and looked at the place and I felt like we clicked. I’d never lived with this many people, and the last time I’d lived with a group, it went terribly sour. But by this point I was sick of hopscotching around the Bay: it was time to take a risk.
There are many ways to co-habit, ranging from minimal contact to familial. In previous shared living situations, we shared space, but we didn’t share a vision for the home. When I see others fully at ease, being themselves, I feel more comfortable. At Harmony Home we all want to live in a low-key, warm, and lively space. I cherish the cooking projects, the many guests, and the challenge of navigating conflict skillfully when it arises. I cherish the richness added by each housemate’s interests, humor, music, and conversation. I feel a part of something bigger than myself and my own bubble. As an added bonus, because there are so many of us we’re able to tackle big projects like planting a garden and setting up a grey water system.
I’m starting to feel at peace with the living situation challenges I’ve dealt with in the past. At Harmony Home, we do run into friction, but we’re all invested enough in co-creating a safe, positive space that we work through our conflicts swiftly. This home, with its all of its house plants, two cats, resident tarantula, and Mother Earth swag everywhere on everything, is where it’s at for me.
Photo by Andy Sutterfield