An Ode To My Tiny, Mouldy Flat
Words & Photos by Kim Burrows
We moved out of our flat on Christmas Eve last year, like crazy people. If you’ve ever moved house you’ll know that it is not something to undertake at the busiest time of the year – but we had never moved house, only rooms, so we didn’t know this.
At around 11.50am, with 10 minutes until the landlord was arriving to inspect the place, while simultaneously scrubbing 18 months of marks off the living room floor and cursing myself for not cleaning the floors regularly like I said we would when we moved in, I started crying. I mean, I had already cried multiple times in the preceding 24 hours (see: moving house on Christmas Eve), but this was a different cry, a grieving cry. It hit me like a ton of bricks that this very floor that I was scrubbing & cursing was the same one, a year and a half earlier, my husband Matt and I had lay down on after signing our first shared lease, revelling in the first floor that was to be just ‘ours’.
Flatting is a strange thing. You don’t own this house, and to be fair you don’t want to. It’s mouldy, it’s old, sometimes it feels like it’s falling apart at the seams. It’s costing you half your monthly payslip, yet it barely has a working shower. But for a period of time it’s yours. You are the custodian of four walls and a roof – in whatever state they are – and it feels like your own. You add your signature to the hallways in the form of paint chips while trying to move in the drawers you bought on Trade Me, and splotches on the roof from a bottle of red your brother-in-law opened with a knife that you hope don’t cost you your bond. And then you pass it on to the next custodian, with all the life you lived in there.
I’m not trying to romanticise the Auckland Housing Crisis - the state of the flats some families are living in is appalling - but I think for a young person entering into adulthood, those first shitty flats can be a really special time. There’s something about making a home and designing your own space, all the while with an underlying air of temporariness. I love the mismatched nature of a young flat, the specific space in time it holds: you have your old hand-me-down family couch and some op-shop glasses and mugs, but perhaps also a few really nice bowls from Citta you decided were necessary as you step into adulthood.
Our flat on Dominion Road was ours, and now it’s not ours at all. Every day, I walked up the long driveway and jiggled my key in a certain way to get the front door open and breathed in the familiar smell of about a million scented candles and something in the fridge teetering off the edge of its use by date. Then one day I didn’t, with no big auction or settlement date, just a weekend of (extremely stressful) cleaning and a couple of car-loads of stuff.
But I will always remember the late spring sun streaming through the kitchen windows after work while I made dinner and listened to Daily Mix 2, and how at home I felt. Not just in my flat, but for the first time in myself. The end of a long, tough winter. Those walls bore witness to my growth and they housed me as I navigated big emotional turning points. I cried on the couch as hard lessons landed heavily on my heart, and belly-laughed on the steps outside the back door that we used as a makeshift drinks patio. The people I love most squeezed into our living room and bumped elbows around our small table. We ate burgers on the floor with them when we moved in, and pizza off a cardboard box table when we moved out.
I wasn’t crying when I left our flat because I was going to miss it, necessarily – the eczema breakouts all over my face from the mould will definitely not be missed – but there’s this strange feeling of leaving behind something, or a period of time, that you know you will talk about fondly one day. A feeling of knowing that I actually can’t know how much this place will have meant to me until I’m talking about it in the years to come: driving down Dominion Road and telling my children about the tiny, mouldy flat we once lived in.