As for many people of my generation, I have spent the first years of ‘adult life’ living in a series of temporary ‘places of residence’ I more or less reluctantly call home. It is the compulsory nomadic lifestyle which comes with studying abroad. It’s also a blessing. It allows you to ‘test drive’ all sorts of situations. You learn what it’s like to live in a drunken social ecosystem with hundreds of other irresponsible human beings– otherwise known as halls of residence. You discover the utter bliss of renting a house with friends, along with the absolute patience you must employ to tolerate each other’s quirks. You experience the absolute pride and thrill of living on your own – but also the utter solitude and helplessness when things go awry.
I have come to crave stability these past few years though. The places I lived in could never be real homes because I knew I had to vacate them in less than a year. Any furniture or decoration I bought would have to be sold a few months later. My last year in Sweden, I did not even bother buying a bed because I kept thinking I would be gone a few months later. I ended up sleeping on a mattress on the floor for a year. I have also always had an exit date for every country I have lived in. By contrast, today, I have my own apartment in a country I see a future in. I can therefore spend whole Saturdays at IKEA or at home-decorating shops. This lulls me into an illusion of being firmly planted in adulthood and stability. Even if it is not completely real, it is a good place to be in.
Of course there have been some hiccups. A month ago, I was woken up at 4 am by the rhythmic sound of drops splattering upon my carpeted floor. As I crawled to the ground and felt the newly wet stain upon the carpet, my first though was ‘Is this blood?’ – as if somehow my upstairs neighbour being murdered was a more likely situation than a pipe burst. In these moments you realize how much the entertainment industry is messing with your brain. It was actually coming from a large water stain expanding at an alarming speed on my ceiling. Large drops were seeping through the cracked cement. It took hours, half a day off work and the begrudging help of my pants-less concierge to reach my 80 year old neighbour who was peacefully sleeping 3 hours away from Paris. The ugly off-white and yellow water stain still taunts me as it snakes across half my ceiling.
The ultimate perk that comes with living in so many different places as a young, impoverished student, whose tolerance for questionable safety, health and hygiene standards is forcibly and scarily high, is that these experiences help you develop a sense of perspective. So when my absent neighbour flooded my ceiling at 4 am in the morning and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry, I reminded myself ‘I lived in a mouldy cabin for a year and I survived it’. Suddenly, none of it seemed that overwhelming anymore.
My first year in Sweden, I made the mistake of refusing a place in student accommodation and moving into a ‘cabin’ instead. When I mention cabin, people always think of a cute wooden cabin in the woods, with a warm fireplace, and a chainsaw-wielding maniac at the window. My cabin had more of a suburban quality, fitting the minimalist IKEA mould. It was a rectangular container made up of plastic materials. It held an uncanny resemblance to the office space of construction workers or a trailer without wheels. The cabin stood on an abandoned piece of highway, surrounded by 300 or so similar buildings. This ‘cabin empire’, or ‘trailer park’, was owned by a white-bearded leather-clad sketchy Swedish man sporting small tinted glasses. When I first met him, he boasted about his Parisian apartment with its stunning view whilst he watched me sign his overpriced lease for what barely constituted a liveable place. I wonder what became of him – like is he rotting in jail maybe?
I was pretty excited about living in the cabin though. It was my very first own little house. Unfortunately, it created so many ridiculous, nightmarish and headache-inducing situations. There were those weeks in spring where I slept on the floor because the dampness and mould on the wall against which my bed lay would send me into insomnia-inducing coughing fits. Then there was that month in December when the hot water just ghosted me. I literally would give myself a 20 minute pep-talk before hopping into the freezing cold shower every morning. Did I also mention the huge rats that lived under the foundations? My favourite ‘cabin story’ was the day I was woken up at 8 am by loud knocks on the door. I made the mistake of ignoring these. Immediately after, two workmen proceeded to unlock my door and enter the front hall. My bedroom and myself were in full view. I grasped at my sheets to hide the shirt and underwear combo I slept in while trying to decipher their Swedish. Could this situation get any more ridiculous? It did. The workmen proceeded to leave with my front door without even giving me a chance to say goodbye. They came back with a new door FOUR HOURS LATER. No explanation for the swap was ever provided.
Of all the temporary ‘places of residence’ I have lived in, the cabin was definitely the most unusual and unsafe. Nevertheless, it gave me the opportunity to prove to myself that I could live on my own and face countless situations without breaking down or giving up. It’s a badge of honour for me to have stayed there for so long. It has provided me with an endless repertoire of entertaining dinner-party stories too. Whilst now, at 26, you could not pay me to share a living space with hundreds of other people, live in a mould-infested cabin, or even sleep on a mattress on the floor, I don’t regret any of those experiences. They taught me to be independent, resourceful and flexible; and to see major ceiling leaks as minor inconveniences rather than insurmountable obstacles.