Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Living Arrangements

I'm not going to lie: I'm basically an overgrown sixteen-year-old, except that I'm also pretty short. So I'm pretty much a sixteen-year-old, full stop. I still have the same vague aspirations as I did then ("write frooferies for a living, make out with boys, and have cool clothes"), the same taste in food (sushi! And cookies), and some of the same actual clothes (a grey skirt that gets shorter and longer depending on how it's zipped - it sounds like it's a cousin to those pants with the zip-off legs, but I assure you, it's much cooler than that).

The threshold into adulthood can be defined any number of ways - some folks think you need a kid and a mortgage for that; I disagree - but, for better or worse, I feel like I'm getting there. A huge part of it is getting a day job, one with a commute and CPP deductions. With that comes a shift in schedule that aligns me with more of the world around me. I actually see the sun now! And I use an alarm to get up. (Okay, in theory I use an alarm, but in reality, I'm so totally stressed about both the job and the waking up early that I'm waking up at, like, 6:00 a.m.) I'm starting to feel like, with my little business skirts and my phone extension, like a business-meaning human.

But there are going to be other steps towards Real Live Adulthood, and I have a feeling the next big one is going to be living arrangements. I've long believed that human beings need both privacy and community, but too much of either isn't good for me. I lived alone for three years, and by the end, I was lonely and bored of myself (I'm not really that interesting, yo). I liked being able to pee with the door open, but the trade-off of not coming home to anything or anyone weighed on my soul. I didn't even have a houseplant. The flip side of that is the four years I've spent living with lots of people - between twelve and fifteen housemates. Three of those years, the fifteen of us shared one kitchen with one stove, and three showers. Looking back on it, I can't really remember how we didn't all go totally mad. Good thing students have low hygiene standards.

One of my favourite ideas is that of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, the notoriously hot/cold couple who lived in neighbouring houses that were adjoined by a catwalk. Similarly, Helena Bonham Carter and her beau Tim Burton live in side-by-side cottages linked by a throughway. Both arrangements fill me with delight. Like, the chance to both live with your beloved and have your own kitchen? Amazeballs. But that seems like it requires loads of money, and unless the banks start taking winning smiles as a form of currency, I have no down payment on those kinds of dream houses.

Instead, I've been focusing on co-operative and co-housing models. I know most people go from their parents place, to living with some roommates, to maybe living alone, to living with a partner - this is an acceptable trajectory re: housing. But I've noticed that a lot of my people aren't doing that, and that's okay. I know a few couples, both common-law and married, who have elected to take on housemates in addition to their spouses. Some have done this for financial reasons, since housing in downtown Toronto can be wickedly expensive. Other have done it for community reasons - wanting to live with friends and family is, I think, a deeply rooted tribal urge. It's the reason my globe-trotting parents ended up settling within an hour of their parents' homes, and it's the reason even long-established residents of Canada still talk about their birth-country as "home."

Co-op and co-housing might offer me the best of both worlds: a chance to have my own private space, and a larger community in which to contextualize myself. As I get older, I want to share my spaces with those I care about - friends, lovers, family - and keep the rest of the world somewhat at bay. Friends of mine recently went through an elaborate process to find a new housemate, and it turns out that no-one can be absolutely perfect for any community's needs, even if that community is only five people strong. But splitting the difference, accepting flaws, and providing safe and private spaces to escape Julio's gargling sounds, or Mona's habit of leaving the kitchen counter soaking wet.

As I get older, I need to think critically about what I need from my living arrangement. I have plenty of time left in my little third-floor room, but eventually I might not want to live with total strangers. But finding that balance of private and group can be super challenging. It's going to be more than painting walls and stocking pantries - it'll be finding out what I need to live a well-arranged life.

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