The first bed I ever really owned was gifted to me by a relative. I was moving into my own unfurnished rental and I needed everything. Tables, sofas, bookcases, and a bed. Previously I’d lived with parents or in furnished student halls. But at the grand old age of 20, I owned a bed.
That bed lasted two and a bit years until I decided to move to London to follow a dream and a career and also a boy. I moved into a furnished but shared flat in Camden and had to get rid of my first bed. It was too old to sell or donate, so we took it to the tip.
The first rental lasted six months but I didn’t like my flatmates, the rent was very much too expensive, my room was really mouldy, and we had a mouse problem. A friend of a friend had a room going so I packed my belongings into suitcases and bin bags and boxes and got a 60 minute Uber to South London.
The next place, also furnished, lasted around 8 months. The rent was cheap and I liked my flatmates but the mould made it hard to breath, and the mice wouldn’t give up either. It was time to leave. So we found a nicer, bigger, less mouldy house and hired a van to take us to Ikea. The house was unfurnished, we had to buy beds.
That place lasted a year and two months and I liked my bed very much. It was warm and comfy, and my room in the attic got the most glorious morning sun. But dreams die and it was time to move on, into a furnished box room in Peckham.
I sold my second bed to a young couple who were just moving into their first unfurnished place together.
In my room in Peckham my bed was fine but not mine. One night a mouse got underneath my duvet whilst I was sleeping and I screamed. It was time to move on.
So I packed my stuff into boxes and bin bags and cases and sent half to my parents, and half came with me. I was moving across the world.
I landed in Toronto and stayed in an air b&b for a month. The bed was fine, but it was somebody elses. I was just borrowing it. I found my flat within the first two weeks but the bed wouldn’t arrive for another two. I slept on the sofa, which had been delivered, for two whole weeks. It was ok, I knew I’d own a bed again soon.
But when my bed arrived it was glorious. So soft and nice and mine. I marked my territory by immediately spilling a cup of coffee on it (accidentally). And I’ve loved this bed for the 14 months I’ve had it. It’s become a real place of safety when living on a different continent to my support network became too much. Through illness and period cramps and heartbreaks and hangovers.
But as I start to consider my next move, I realise: I need to get rid of the bed.
There’s no way to paint it, the bed needs to go. Shipping the bed back to the UK is expensive and annoying. But getting rid of it feels wasteful. I couldn’t sell it, not with the coffee stain. A coffee stain is only okay if it’s yours.
Four beds is wasteful. Australia is on fire and the arctic is melting and throwing something perfectly useable away out of convenience hurts. I’m eco conscious, I walk everywhere, I own a KeepCup. I can’t keep throwing beds out like this.
But I, like most millennials, live my life according to the whims of the rental market. We do what we need to live.
A small box room, a mouldy flat, shared housing past the point of enjoyment. In a place that you can’t even blue-tack a photo to a wall without losing your deposit, how can you make your room a home?
In towns and cities hours are becoming longer and transport is getting more expensive, but wages aren’t keeping up. The goal of 50:30:20 (50% of wage on essentials, 30% on fun, 20% saved) is more realistically 70:30:0.
It’s not that people are choosing to live this life of insecurity either, 89% of millennials say that a goal for them is home ownership. We want to be in a place for long enough to make it ours.
And I’d argue that the act of homeownership itself isn’t even the dream, just the stability that homeownership provides.
The effect constantly moving has on you can’t be understated. For me, a place that I will live in for 2 years feels like nothing. It’s only two years. Only! Barely worth unpacking, then. Barely worth buying new furniture. Not worth dealing with the mould.
Every election a new postcode. Every new postcode a new doctor. Credit checks ask for every address you’ve lived at in the last 5 years. That could be easily 10 addresses. They all muddle, after a while.
This rental insecurity has been written about a lot. Usually framed as a failure of millennials, they just can’t stop eating avocados. But the problem of instability past the point of your mid twenties is having a much more insidious effect on the mental and physical wellbeing of a generation.
How can you get any serious medical treatment when you bounce in and out of boroughs at a rate of 2 per year? Referral times for specialists can easily be over 6 months.
How can you get involved in your local community when you don’t know how long you’ll be there? How can you begin to make friends?
In every guide for good sleep hygiene, experts say your room (and your bed) should be exclusively for sleeping and sex. But when your bed doubles as a dining room table, a sofa, and a desk how are you expected to rest well?
How can you ever feel settled when everything could change at a moments notice?
I type this article from my own coffee stained bed. I have a sofa and a dining room table and an arm chair in the next room but old habits die hard.
In a Room of Ones Own Virginia Woolf argues for a figurative and literal space for female writers in a male dominated industry. But the spaces that modern women occupy must meet multiple purposes. The next great novel is unlikely to be born from a 7 person HMO in Lewisham that you spend less than 8 hours per day in.
We talk longingly for writers retreats and cottages on lakes because we know that the literal space needed to foster creativity is inaccessible to most creatives (especially the ones without inherited wealth).
Interior Design Instagram for renters serves the same purpose Food Challenge YouTube serves for those who go without food, for whatever reason: escapism. Aspiration. A way to live vicariously.
The rental crisis, the housing crisis. We talk about both as if they can just be fixed by building more stuff. We talk about millennial killing industries, as if that could just be fixed by buying more stuff.
Capitalism rules everything around me for now, but as more millennials are priced out of attainting the traditional markers of adulthood; the conversation needs to change. We need to start talking long term.
What will a home look like in the next ten years? What will a home feel like? How will we retire? How will this instability manifest itself in future governments, that we will one day run? Will our sleep ever recover, or will we just exist in this semi-zombie space forever? And will we finally stop getting charged £10 per blue-tack stain on the wall of a small, mouldy, room that we paid £650 per month to live in for a year?
In the mean time: does anybody in Toronto want to buy a coffee stained bed?