House-sharing through the ages
We may prefer to live alone, but there's no age limit on co-living in the modern world, writes Katie Byrne
Francis Brennan has always enjoyed the finer things in life: Egyptian cotton, China tea cups and, as he revealed in a recent interview, living alone. "I've lived on my own now for 55 or so years," said the hotelier and TV personality, "and I have got very used to my own ways."
Most single people will agree that living alone becomes preferable after a certain age. The trouble is that it's not always possible. As the cost of housing steadily increases, solo living isn't so much a life choice as it is a luxury only available to people with a pay packet like Brennan's.
While we tend to associate co-living with the giddy freedom of the 20s and 30s, not everyone seamlessly segues to the next stage of marriage, mortgages and children - and those that do don't necessarily stay there.
Rents are rising in tandem with divorce rates and a new generation of middle-aged renter is emerging.
Meanwhile, the world of work is changing rapidly and digital nomads are sacrificing the fixed abode for a peripatetic lifestyle, split between Airbnb rentals and designated co-living spaces.
The days of having your 'own place' are numbered and, like it or not, co-living is the future for the vast majority of single people. Here's how to negotiate it at every stage of life.
20s: the age of oblivion
Can you remember offering everyone a lift when you first started driving? It's much the same when you get your first place. The boiler is held together with Sellotape and there's mould in the bathroom but you still feel like it's an episode of MTV Cribs as you proudly show visitors around an apartment that's smaller than your mother's living room. Mi casa es su casa, you cheer, being careful not to sound too smug...
You're equally undeterred when hosting your first dinner party: one of your guests sits on the washing machine and another in your lap before you all tuck into your famous pasta bake (your best, and only, dish).
It's just as well that 20-something housemates don't have any boundaries. The dynamic quickly blurs into a universal consciousness of hungover disorientation, self-perpetuating drama and flagrant fire hazards. Beds, clothes and sob stories are shared, and the need for privacy is considered to be the height of rudeness. Enjoy it: in just a few short years you'll be living with people who drink herbal tea and own Tupperware, so you may as well let the good times roll.
30s: the age of sophistication
In your 20s, you took in house mates because a friend of a friend said they were "grand". In your 30s, you psychometrically evaluate prospective housemates for days before you even consider taking them in. (You learned your lesson after renting out a room to someone you met in a chipper.)
This isn't a "party house", you explain. It's only for serious professionals, by which you mean people who own Le Creuset pots, Ottolenghi cookbooks and sheepskin rugs. If 20-something house-sharing is a jungle gym during which flatmates learn to cook, clean and budget through trial and error, then 30-something house-sharing is an opportunity to refine these life skills.
You expand your cooking repertoire beyond pasta bake. You buy toilet paper in bulk. You invest in house plants - and you remember to water them.
You don't think of your fellow tenants as housemates. No, you think of them as unique individuals who share your taste in coffee, sourdough bread and carefully-positioned succulents. It sounds like hipster utopia - and it is - until people start to pair off and move on...
40s: the age of oddness
Let's get one thing straight: this isn't going to be like an episode of Friends. At this stage, few people actively pursue a co-living arrangement, but it's better than a bedsit, and it's much better than moving home.
This isn't a social thing, you explain to your prospective housemate. You have plenty of friends but, unlike them, you didn't shack up with the first available suitor... Okay, okay, you're getting cynical - maybe a little jaundiced - but it's a right that you reserve now that you're in your 40s.
Besides, you're convinced this new housemate is going to break his lease just as soon as his wife takes him back. And what's the point of getting to know one another when you're both perched between two stools?
Sometimes you take your dinner to your bedroom where you can question your life choices in peace.
50s: the age of reinvention
While flat-sharers in their 40s spend a lot of time thinking, 'How did I get here?', the 50-something flat-sharer has made peace with his living arrangement and has learned to embrace the joys of co-living.
By now you will have accepted you'll never rent a one-bedroom Georgian maisonette, but you'll always be exposed to new ideas and energised by the joie de vivre of your sometimes much-younger housemates. Who knows, maybe you'll learn to play the guitar? This declaration leads your ex-wife to conclude that you're having a midlife crisis. Just as well you didn't tell her about the motorbike.
60s: the age of true co-living
In your 60s, you officially start looking for a 'quiet and orderly' tenant. It's not that you want a cloistered life. No, you simply don't want to know your housemate's life story and you definitely don't want to hear her having sex.
Other people in their 60s might choose to start house-sharing with an adult child at this stage. This is always portrayed as a perilous arrangement in sitcoms (see BBC One's Hold the Sunset) but with a few good ground rules, everyone's idiosyncrasies can exist quite happily under one roof.
Co-living is the buzzword of the moment but you'll find that mature candidates negotiate the arrangement best of all.