Leaving flat-mates behind

By Joanna Roughton.

This blog has a bias.

Because I’m a parent with a large family, certain households are beyond my immediate ken. This is an editorial failing. Not least because my tribe – the one consisting of a home-making mum and kids – is in decline (in this country at least).

I have memories of other styles of living. But the decade in which – for instance – I rented a flat with other sharers, is now long gone.

How have things changed?

Many more people now live in multiple-occupancy homes than once they did. Increasingly, they do so into advanced middle age. A flat-share is no longer a part of growing up, a staging post on the way to settling down. It has become a destination unto itself.

There are people in their twenties now, sharing a home with other renters with whom they have no family ties, who may cleave to this lifestyle for their lifetime. Half a century of itinerancy.

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I can think of nothing worse than living in a constantly changing domestic environment, year after year, where a household is in perpetual flux.

Residents move in and move out. Some fall in love and do the settling down thing, others get a job that takes them away, while more still decide they don’t much like their current housemates and opt for something which – at first blush – seems more to their liking.

But for that last group, how to know who will be most simpatico?

A potential solution comes in the form of a new online service launched this week which uses an algorithm to pair prospective co-tenants. It uses a 20-question survey to establish how compatible people are.

One of the questions asks “Should there be a rota for allocating household chores?”.

Another wants to know whether “It is sometimes OK to break the rules.” The multiple choice survey gives answers which range from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’.

Flatmates are then matched according to how well they’re likely to get on with each other.

Simple? Well, yes, up to a point Lord Copper. The problem with these internet surveys is that they’re easily gamed. If you find a flat in the right place and price range, you are unlikely to incriminate yourself by answering a question about how tidy you are honestly.

When you think about, throughout human history, the pairing of people in homes has tended to be done by others. For millennia (and in many parts of the world still), household composition was done via an outside agency. Not an algorithm, but parents. Often a father; through the mechanism of an arranged marriage.

I am glad to have been born into an age and culture where such practises seem outdated. That said, I also think that sharing a house as a student helped me develop a better understanding of how a home should and shouldn’t be run. How simple acts of thoughtlessness or thoughtfulness can make or mar a shared space.

But, in my view, sharing should be rite of passage, taking us en route to a place of permanency, of ties that bind, of commitments to a spouse and children. Old fashioned I know, but there it is.

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