When I told my friend David about my new gig writing posts about sharing housing, he declared it a “brilliant topic,” having had many homes throughout his peripatetic career in Information Technology (from which he has since retired). David has lived in Pennsylvania, California, and also abroad: in Great Britain, Germany, Japan, and New Zealand.
He recalls a particular abode in the Lyall Bay neighborhood of Wellington (New Zealand’s capital city) which he shared with a woman named Lani. The two-bedroom flat was a former Polish immigrant’s home built in the 1940’s. It was, in David’s words, “dripping with character.” One of the best features of the house was a multi-person window seat that overlooked the bay. There was also a forest of indoor plants. “So many houseplants you could barely find the TV.” Lani converted an exterior access room to a third bedroom. She then modified the sunroom to act as living space for a fourth individual. David recalls during his two years of living there “18 total flatmates, friends and rellies [relatives] staying for various lengths of time…it was a great experience, and they all, really everyone, had a good story to tell.”
Freedom or Sociability?
David acknowledges that while living alone would offer him the freedom to do whatever he wants whenever he wants, it also makes him far less social. He chooses to live with other people because “lacking human interaction, and the ups and downs that come along with it,” is a negative. He gladly trades a bit of freedom for the interesting conversations and fulfilling exchanges that come from sharing housing with others.
I asked David if he has any tips or best practices in searching for a suitable place to live, since he’s found success for so many years. He believes an initial interview is “necessary,” for both the home seeker and the homeowner. “It is as important that you [the seeker] feel you will enjoy their company, as it is that they want you to join their home.”
Another personal rule of thumb?
“As one who likes no TV… I look at how the furniture is placed in the living area. If the seating is in a C around a television set, regardless of how much TV they say they watch, it will likely be a focus. When the seating ignores the TV, that is a better sign for conversation. If there is no TV in evidence, that is a good sign indeed. When there is a C of seating around the TV and there is no dining table…let them to it and try the next shared housing on your list.”
I thought this was very insightful. Paying careful attention to the appearance and layout of a home is an important part of the initial meeting and interview of prospective homemates.
Is sharing housing more common in New Zealand?
David’s observation was that shared living is more common in New Zealand than in North America. I asked if he had any theories as to why. Is it simply a matter of the U.S. being a large, flat continent where we have more space to spread out and build large houses that house fewer people?
He said that yes, the lifestyle in New Zealand is generally more modest. Most couples get by with only one car, and fewer overall possessions. Houses are smaller, with less closet space and often no attic or basement. Attics, basements, large closets–all features standard to American homes, usually as space for us to accumulate excess belongings!
… are often designed with the shower and toilet in two separate rooms, an ideal layout for multi-person households. It allows one person to take their time showering and primping while everyone else can access a toilet.
Sunrooms are another common feature of New Zealand houses. A sort of closed-in porch with several walls entirely of glass, the space is multi-faceted. It can allow for growing plants, or storing things like muddy boots, umbrellas and bicycles. It can also act as an extra sitting room that provides a view of the yard / outdoors.
Another unique feature of particular Wellington houses is private cable cars that access houses high in the hills. This saves residents a steep uphill walk and/or tens, if not hundreds, of stairsteps. Installing a personal cable car is in some cases what allows homeowners to age in place for longer. They can take a ride when they’re no longer able to walk or drive the formidably steep approach to their home.
Have you ever seen, or read about, housing designs or lifestyles in other countries that you think might be suitable for your own home? Has reading about another culture ever sparked an idea of a change or renovation to your own household that would make it more conducive to sharing? Leave us a comment!
A collection of our posts featuring long-term home sharers can be found here.