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September 9, 2013 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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Domestic Politics

If you’re intent on pursuing a political career, forget joining a youth party: negotiating life with other people should be enough to dissuade you if you’re in any way sane.
 

US President Barack Obama’s inaugural address is often woefully misunderstood. People erroneously believe that he was speaking about the State of America and Its Hopes For The Future. What he really meant to say was that Flatting Can Be A Really Quite Painful Experience and that All The Decisions You Make Are Wrong.

What he actually intended when he said that, “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord,” was really that he’d spoken to Sophie and she says that when she brings her boyfriend back home she’ll try and be quiet because God knows her headboard is loud as tits.

And when he stated that, “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics,” he was referring to Matt, who is a total fucking tool and is a prime example of exactly why legal euthanasia is necessary because he absolutely did eat the Gouda that my mum gave me, but, you know, I don’t hold grudges.

So, if you’re going to go flatting for the first time next year, let Obama’s words guide you through the labyrinthine maze of emotions that is living with other people. If you’re intent on pursuing a political career, forget joining a youth party: negotiating life with other people should be enough to dissuade you if you’re in any way sane.

HOUSING

Some people manage to wrangle themselves a sunny townhouse with a conservatory, a fromagerie, an artesian well in a charming garden, and a well-mannered scullery maid for $100 a week. These people are either mafia children or witches.

The most salient advice here is probably to start looking early, or something, but that isn’t all that helpful. Instead, it is probably best to try to objectively assess your circumstances. How desperately do I need to find somewhere to live? How picky can I afford to be? Too often are 12-month contracts signed for the flat equivalent of Miss Trunchbull’s Chokey in moments of panic. If it’s your first time, however, you should probably know that you won’t really know what you like until you’ve been there for a while. Coincidentally, Hortensia’s description of the Chokey in the Matilda film as “a very tall but very narrow cupboard. The floor is only ten inches square so you can’t sit down or squat in it. You have to stand. And three of the walls are made of cement with bits of broken glass sticking out all over,” is a reasonably accurate description of some apartments in the central city.

That’s not to say that there aren’t a thousand things you can try to avoid. Some flats are akin to a Siberian apartment complex on the outer edges of the Irkutsk Oblast. Older New Zealand homes are notoriously cold, and, because of the competition to find low-rent housing, there isn’t an enormous incentive for landlords to make substantial improvements. There are government-run programs designed to subsidise the installation of insulation, although this is dependent on your landlord, and the funds for these schemes are predicted to run out this month anyway, according to the Energy Efficiency and Cooperation Authority.

There are two possible outcomes if you find yourself living in a cold, wet coffin. Your rancour towards the world at large might be so greatly increased after the 17th demoulding of your closet that you might lash out at anyone unfortunate enough to cross your path. You might resent the person in the bedroom next to you because of the extra 15 minutes of sunlight a day afforded them by their slightly larger window. As a result, you may find yourself looking up affordable assassination services on the internet in the early hours of the morning.

Or, you might find that you band together in the face of your unfortunate circumstances. Huddling around the bar heater that you allow yourself to turn on for an hour a night becomes a time of camaraderie and bonding. Or, you know, maybe that’s a bit hopeful.

Either way, it’s something to think about it.

If you’ve only ever lived at home or in a hall of residence it might behove you to take a long view. Sure, the exposed-brick and raw concrete look makes for a pretty slick flat-warming, but it probably isn’t worth it if the kitchen you’re sharing with six other people is the size of a bathtub.

When it comes to actually securing a place, there isn’t necessarily a right way to go about it. Some treat flat-hunting a bit like electioneering. Every landlord needs to be impressed by your genteel cosmopolitan bearing. Your time as a dish-hand suddenly qualifies you as a “young professional”. References for previous landlords might be demanded, which, if you’ve never flatted before, might result in you running on a sort of Mobius-strip treadmill to nowhere.

But the golden rule, as obvious as it sounds, is to not sign on to anything without actually seeing the place.

DIPLOMACY

If there’s a rule when it comes to choosing flatmates, it is this: you’ve made the wrong one. The optimistically arranged flock of friends who are just sooo excited to spend a year together being young and exciting in Mount Cook are often the ones that dissolve into unabated misery by the time July rolls around. Coincidentally, these are the people who will have chosen a cute little name for their flat within five minutes of signing the tenancy agreement (and I have visited far too many places called The Burrow for this to be endearing). Then again, moving in with complete strangers might see you turned into a wild-eyed misanthrope.

If there’s something that’s going to really get you down, it’ll be the people you live with. Joanna Tennant, a counsellor at Victoria’s Student Counselling Service, says that both options can have repercussions for your state of mind. People who don’t have anywhere else to go and end up “…flatting with ‘randoms’,” might find that it “can be really lonely if they don’t get to know the flatmates or if they don’t gel as a unit. There are flats where that happens and it’s just like being in a boarding house.”

And, for most people, isolation isn’t that great—“I think people shrink into themselves if they don’t have company and people who care about them,” says Tennant.

There isn’t a right or a wrong way to go about it, and if you’ve only ever lived in a non-flatting situation, it might be hard to tell if what you think you might like is the same as what you will actually turn out to like in the end. One student tells of one flatmate, seemingly out of nowhere, lighting a bonfire and burning another flatmate’s blender on it. It was not a course of events that could have been anticipated. People can be very surprising, and, as Tennant points out, “When people are in a really good, happy flatting situation it makes a big difference to your mental health.”

FAMINE MITIGATION

If you find yourself halfway through the year dining nightly on a gelatinous ziggurat of instant noodles, you have made a mistake. Whether you’d prefer to subsist on a communal vat of socialist dhal or a solitary serving of meatloaf shaped like Milton Friedman’s head for one, you’re better off engaging your flatties in robust discussion about the what and how of feeding yourselves.

Group cooking can end up in you all fighting over dry plates of sadness nachos with alarming regularity if it’s the only thing one member of the household can cook. Conversely, cooking for yourself every night can be a little bit draining, especially if you’re a busy person, and you might spend whole evenings gorging on plain water crackers.

If you’re going to engage in laissez-faire cooking, that’s cool. If, however, you set something up, try to stick to it, or people will end up upset.

SOCIAL POLICY

Tennant makes the point that those that “move in with friends”, only to find that “it doesn’t work because they find out that their friends do stuff that they didn’t know about,” she could be referring to any number of unpleasant surprises. At the fore of these, however, is always going to be cleaning. People can be pretty revolting in a way that you can’t really know until you are exposed to it in a domestic context.

The results of this can result in the most absurdly flamboyant behaviour. One student reports living for some time under the thumb of the flatting-equivalent of the al-Assad regime. This little dictator erected a large sign that faced the front door that began, rather sweetly, with “DEAR FILTHY PIGS.” She then proceeded, in Bashir’s now trademark style, to stoically refuse to acknowledge the sign’s existence.

Set up a roster. If you shirk your responsibilities and people start talking to you like you’ve committed a hate crime, you have only yourself to blame.

FISCAL POLICY

Some flats are the essential equivalent of a country embattled by the global financial crisis—reliant on stimulus packages (from Ma and Pa), and generally prone to joblessness and rioting. Bills can bring out the worst in people. It doesn’t take long for people to become annoyed with each other at the charges incurred by a flatmate’s all-night Netflix session.

Appointing a finance minister is generally a good idea. Having one sensible, reliable person (or someone as close to this ideal as possible) in charge of your accounts keeps things simple and to the point.

Bonds are a tricky thing, and depending on your landlord, you might get all or none of it back (“The carpets needed cleaning and it cost $2500!”) If you feel like you’ve been cheated out of anything, don’t take it quietly.

And pay your damn rent on time.

NEGOTIATING WITH DICTATORS

Landlords are, as far as I’m concerned, one of two things. Either they are domineering autocrats to whom you must kowtow on everything, or they are just pretty reasonable people. That’s not a varied assessment of things, sure, but it’s often a prescient one.

The thing to remember is that you can ask for stuff. Instead of secretly trying to sublet your room over the summer, many landlords will agree to cut your lease short if you ask well in advance. This is generally easier in instances when the landlord knows the room or flat will be easy to lease out, so it may or may not work. If an appliance breaks, call the landlord and ask them to fix it. If, at any point, you aren’t getting what you paid for, complain. People have died for your right to complain.

Take them to the International Court of Human Rights!

Or, if that isn’t practical, there’s the decidedly less exciting Tenancy Tribunal. You can even lodge an application online at dbh.govt.nz/TenancyTribunal. You can also speak to someone at the Department of Building and Housing if talks between you and the landlord break down.

If you ever need to talk to anyone about any of these things, then hit the Victoria Student Counselling Service up. In particular, the Quick Questions service sets you up with a duty counsellor who is there to provide both advice and act as a sounding board.

But yeah. Maybe you’d like a feel-good conclusion that promises that everything will be okay. In the interests of truthfulness, however, I’ll simply say that much like politics, flatting is fraught with potential crumminess, and that if you can avoid at least some of it you’ll probably have a good year.

Probably.

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