A millennial living in a granny flat. Is it really still a granny flat if I lived there, already fed up with the concept of sharing houses, before my twenty-second birthday?
When I think of grannies, I naturally think of my own two:
One with all sixteen layers of orange lipstick lathered on her flaky lips; those lips that gave unsolicited but inescapable wet kisses. Her determined approach was even more suffocating than the musty air that filled her home. Her mussy red perm, forever attempting to emulate Lucille Ball framed dithery, vacant eyes. The garment of choice? One of those hideous, quilted night-robes with frills, worn at any time of day. Oh, Alma*.
Thankfully there’s May* with her head more screwed on. Her TV volume is set to eighty-five and those silly hearing aids that she “definitely doesn’t need” are stuffed away in a drawer. She speaks her every thought – loudly – and insists I must eat the whole Sara Lee apple pie she bought before the carton of custard she won in the RSL raffle goes off. When I oblige, she’ll place it all immediately in the microwave and I’ll eat cold soggy pie, submerged in a sea of curdled, eggy milk. Out of politeness, of course, and because I know it comes from love.
When I think of a granny flat collection, I don’t see the granny at all. Instead, I see independence. Uninterrupted solace in my own little studio. I needn’t hide my mug collection there, or prohibit the use of my food containers as a household commodity just to ensure I don’t find one in the fridge, harbouring a mould colony growing off the back of a three-week-old salmon fillet.
Oh, how I’d kill to live on my own. Well, not really kill. Though I curse my (not-a-mate) housemate every time I walk by his door with new inventive ways for him to disappear, the reality is that I need him to help pay the rent. Because it costs to live on your own. Even to live in someone’s backyard – and that isn’t always a sweet deal either.
I’ve moved twice this year, and I’m looking at probably having to do it again, soon enough. Renting can be insanely volatile, even for a good tenant.
When organising the first of these moves, I looked at the granny flat Melbourne option. They are few and far between but I found one, in leafy Hawthorn. Everyone I passed greeted me from their gardens or as they sauntered by, leading dogs or pushing prams.
There were two sisters living in their parents’ house with an excitable dachshund, leasing a bungalow their cousin once occupied.
In the ad, they detailed, “$180 per week or $200 with bills. We may be able to negotiate.” It turns out the negotiating was just that same price with utilities included. Except, there wasn’t an oven. Or a stove. Or a laundry.
Two steps away from the shower there was a small bench with a bar fridge and a microwave. It was unconvincing as a kitchenette. There was also an area of flooring missing and it was deathly cold. A heater was provided though, and (being only a small space for one) I thought it couldn’t take much to make warm. And so surely the bills wouldn’t be balanced in equal thirds. Not with me only using this small, clearly limited space, but paying as much per month as I would in a fully-equipped house.
I asked if they would allow me to access the main dwelling for simple cooking and clothes-washing since the bungalow was clearly not self-sufficient. But the family didn’t want to give a tenant a key. I was only to be trusted as far as the back shed was concerned. As if it would cause disturbance or what, theft?
If there was a truly self-contained, need-fulfilling option, I would have snapped it up in a second. But many times, there isn’t.
I have a friend who lives with her grandparents. Reversing the roles, she lives in the granny flat and they live in the house. She often finds preparing meals difficult in the small space but fortunately, her grandmother loves feeding her anyway. The wi-fi reception is also poor but the arrangement still works because she has a comfortable family relationship with the residents in the house. She can rely on both spaces, and their help, when needed.
Finding a home without that requirement in someone else’s backyard is less common. As is finding a landlord who cares to accommodate for the absent features of their lodging. But that doesn’t have to stop us. We could build our own homely studios according to our needs so that we wouldn’t need the support of a main dwelling’s facilities. The secondary suite should be as equally accommodating as the primary residence, like the modern, fully self-contained styles popular in the UK.
They solve many of the dilemmas associated with more traditional “near-self-contained” flats. And all you need from the landlord is a patch of their lawn to rent.
*Both grandmothers’ names have been changed to preserve their hard-set pride – which only a lady of more mature years could wear so elegantly.
Read more of Mikaela Day’s work here.