Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Irish Times, September 3 2009


So you’re finally moving into a place of your own? Congratulations, first and foremost. In a world that never fails to deliver its share of letdowns and crushing disappointments, this is one rite of passage that actually lives up to the hype. Before outlining some of the comparatively minor pitfalls that may lie ahead, it is worth taking stock again of what precisely you stand to gain. For the first time in your entire life, you’ll have the right to walk through your own front door at any time, with any person and in whatever, ahem, spirits you so choose. In theory, the novelty of this new found freedom may begin to fade over time. But ten years after this writer flew the coop myself, I really cannot say that it has. Being answerable to no one is a blast. I cannot recommend highly enough.

Naturally though, one doesn’t share rented accommodation for a decade without picking up a few tips. The following are ten snippets of this writer’s hard-earned wisdom.

1. Be a considerate housemate.
Cohabiting is a crapshoot, quite frankly. There’s really no telling in advance whether you’re going to get along with another person or not. But treating your new housemates with consideration is a good step towards minimising friction. This means respecting their privacy, cleaning up after yourself and not disturbing them late at night. Or so I’m often reminded.

2. Ask prospective flatemates if they own an acoustic guitar they are not really able to play.
There are many prescient questions one might profitably put to prospective housemates. ‘Would you categorize hurling as an indoor or outdoor pursuit?’ ‘Do you have a bizarre predilection for the music of Cat Stevens?’ ‘Have you got scabies?’ But there’s no point in being too fussy about these things. Life (and cohabiting) is about compromise. Idiosyncrasies can, by and large, be tolerated, neuroses accommodated and infectious irritations treated.

But with the tuneless troubadour there can be no compromise. If his artless strumming while watching TV doesn’t drive you over the edge, just wait until you’re entertaining guests. Nothing kills a party faster than some idiot from Athlone singing Redemption Song in a fake Jamaican accent. Believe me.

3. Look for housemates your own age.
College is all about broadening your horizons. But that philosophy does not necessarily extend to choosing who you’ll share a bathroom for a year. Students your own age will make by far the most agreeable housemates. A carefree fresher and a stressed-out final year Med student, on the other hand, will quickly step on each other’s toes.

4. Don’t ‘borrow’ your housemates’ food/beverages/cosmetics.
Or if you absolutely must, don’t go overboard. And, for God’s sake, cover your tracks!

5. Don’t leave bitchy post-it notes.
The bitchy post-it note is the death knell for a healthy domestic atmosphere. If a problem arises, raise the issue with your housemate in person in a calm and reasonable manner. Or have it out with her in a hysterical screaming match. Just don’t leave bitchy post-it notes. They’re definitely not cool.

6. Don’t move in with someone because you’re attracted to them.
Its incredible how often young guys, in particular, make this mistake. Your most likely fate, lads, is endless months making cups of tea and undertaking late night trips to Spar at the behest of a girl who is either blissfully unaware (or taking cruel advantage) of your feelings towards her. And that’s about the least messy outcome you can expect…

7. Invite the neighbours.
The best student parties are ones that take place in some other poor sap’s house. But, if you must throw one, set aside one room in which to store anything in the house that you wouldn’t wish to see damaged, stolen or used as an ashtray. And lock the door. As a final precaution, invite all of your neighbours along. Don’t worry, they won’t come. But as long as the noise doesn’t get outrageously out of hand, they’ll also be too embarrassed to complain.

8. Relations with your landlord will be adversarial.
Inevitable really, given that the interests of the fun-loving fresher and the beleaguered property owner are diametrically opposed. For students, the ideal landlord is a wealthy professional who owns multiple properties and lives far, far away. He’ll tend not to breathe down your neck too much. Also, it never hurts to, you know, pay your rent on time and not wreck the gaff if you can avoid it at all.

9. When you move in, document everything.
There’s an unavoidable day of reckoning coming up next May, when you’ll have to attempt to reclaim (some portion of) your deposit. It’s going to be an ordeal. But your cause will be greatly assisted if you have photographic evidence documenting the condition of the house when you moved in. This writer was once penalised for damage caused to a set of curtains. When confronted with photographic evidence that the same hole had already been there back in September, the landlady conceded that, yes, it had been. But it hadn’t been quite as large.

The same lady failed to notice that the bathroom sink was being held up by a chair. Happy, happy days…

10. Enjoy yourself!
D’uh. Of course you will.

* The day this piece was published, I had texts and emails from a couple of people asking whether they were the inspiration for the accoustic guitar bit. I told each of them that it couldn’t have been, since the article clearly specifies a bad guitarist… Suckers!