Column: Living in house shares is like dating, but when it works it’s wonderful

Sheffield Telegraph reporter Rochelle Barrand, (second from right), with her housemates.
Sheffield Telegraph reporter Rochelle Barrand, (second from right), with her housemates.

Since I moved to Sheffield six years ago, I have lived in seven houses and have had a total of 35 house mates.

I came to this wonderful city, which I am now proud to call home, as a journalism student. It was part of the university experience to share a house with people you’ve never met before - but it was once I finished university that I found house shares were the most valuable.

After securing my job as a journalist, I found myself as the only one in my university friendship group who decided to stay in Sheffield.

I considered living alone, but soon found that it would be too expensive. I also quickly realised it wouldn’t suit me anyway. I am a sociable person; I like talking to people and listening to their stories and I didn’t like the idea of having nobody to talk to at the end of the day. So, I found myself searching for house shares again.

Living in a shared house is an interesting experience to say the least. At first, it’s a bit like looking for a partner on a dating site. You spend hours online, desperately looking for that perfect one, reading advert after advert. It becomes addictive and you look at every opportunity; first thing in the morning, every break from work and last thing at night.

You find a few that look lovely in the pictures, only to go see them and find that the pictures used are three years old or have been taken from particularly flattering angles - and the reality of what you are faced with leaves a lot to be desired. Is there a house-related version of catfishing?

I’ve seen a house that was so untidy it was impossible to open the door to the dining room because of a mountain of possessions blocking it, and then another that was covered in dust with mould growing in the kitchen sink. The landlord of that particular property tried to reassure me that it was the messy tenant who was moving out and once they’d gone the house would be restored to the pristine palace I’d seen in the photos. I wasn’t convinced.

I’ve seen a house where the landlord still had a room filled with their things and according to the current tenants - who seemed surprisingly okay with this - still stayed there occasionally. Even more alarmingly, I’ve seen a house with a locked room that the landlord had forbidden the tenants to enter. Of course, I’ve also seen rooms that just about have room for a double bed and not much else too.

At the same time, you are meeting lots of potential new house mates; trying to work out on the basis of a five or ten minute meeting whether or not you think you could get on with them.

That’s a bit like being on a first date. Well, a speed date. You try to present the best version of yourself in the hope that they will like you and agree to see you again - if you decide you want to seem them again that is.

It’s a joy when you find a house which is everything it said it was on the advert and you also feel like you could get on well with the current tenants. There’s potential here, you think. But, it’s always a gamble.

After many weeks of searching, you pick a house and the day you move is the second time you see your new house mates - who you will now see on a daily basis. It’s a big commitment.

That second meeting becomes like a second date - and sometimes third, fourth or fifth date, depending on how long you spend together.

You’re both still trying to project the best image of yourself; you wear your best clothes and tell them only the things about yourself that you think will make you sound like you’re an interesting person. You feel pleased every time they laugh or smile and feel hopeful about a future relationship.

Then, after a week or so you brave letting them see you first thing in the morning before you’ve done your hair and you realise you have to do a wash load - which means they are going to have to see that you own joggers as well as skinny jeans.

That’s the best part of the relationship though; when you become truly comfortable with each other and you get to know the worst of each other as well as the best.

Before you know it, you’re spending your evenings together wearing pyjamas, eating pizza, and watching those television programmes that you know are terrible but you watch them religiously anyway.

I am lucky that I have had a mainly positive experience of house shares. But, I have met some people who have been difficult to say the least.

I lived with one person who tried to tell me I was wrong for being vegetarian, two people who hoarded my plates and cutlery in their room for months on end, and countless others who refused to clean the bathroom.

I’ve had arguments with some people about how often to put the heating on and clashed with others about taking my things without asking. Those relationships came to an end as soon as the house contract did, which was definitely for the best. I did have some happy moments with these people, but it was obvious that we were never quite compatible.

Luckily, I’ve found a few relationships that have lasted. Some of my best friends are former house mates. Even though for various reasons I no longer live with them, we still meet up on a regular basis. I see most of them every week and I feel very fortunate for that.

Every time I have to move house, or a new person moves in to somewhere I am living, I think of it as a chance to make a new friend - and I’m grateful that has often worked out to be the case.

I won’t live in house shares in the long-term, but for now I’m settled in my current house, which I’ve now had a very happy relationship with for over two years.