Observations on students’ room: Looking at where we live

“Yeah, pop in and see me any time. My door is always open.”

“Where was your room again?”

“First floor.  Number 28. It’s usually a bit of a mess though.”

So, their place of residence is fixed in my mind. When a moment of need presents itself, I go to the room, knock on the door, and it is opened. My friend is welcoming, but I fumble conversation because I am distracted: my gaze leaps up and around the room, meeting eyes with each and every thing but the very eyes of the person I came to meet.

And what a wealth of things there are to see! There is a bed, books on the shelves and a laptop lighting the desk. Dizzying tapestries cover two walls and the papers that prove a term’s worth of work overlay the carpet. On a clothes rail a towel hangs limp. A fridge hums gently next to a harpsichord next to clavichord. There is a bowl encrusted with that morning’s cereal, a drained bottle of cheap red wine, and Botticelli’s Map of Hell.

Of course, these items aren’t the contents of one room but of many rooms I have visited. Each time I am given access to someone’s personal space, a first introduction always feels this interesting. To enter a friends’ room for the first time is to be confronted with myriads of information about them, all of which are rapidly absorbed and processed by the outsider, looking in, for a few sparkling moments. Here is a space which, through the arrangement of a few possessions – whether by accident or design – becomes inseparable from the person that lives in it.

To enter a friends’ room for the first time is to be confronted with myriads of information about them

At Oxford, the relationship that I as a first-year student have with my college accommodation is one of both detachment and intimacy. On the one hand I am bound by the college and its rules: the scout comes once a week and I should not use Blu Tack for my posters. My room is bare when term begins, and equally as bereft when term ends, as I must haul all my stuff in and out to make way for the others who will live here while I am away. And yet, even if I do not own my room, it will always be mine. Here I have slept, eaten, drank, laughed and cried, seen the sun and the rain – in short, suffered the first bittersweet blooms of a more independent way of life within these four walls.

As we slowly, yet begrudgingly, shuffle into the adult world, the ways in which we express ourselves in the spaces where we live will become increasingly important to us. Students are facing (or will face) the prospect of moving into rented accommodation and the responsibilities of homemaking and paying bills that such a move brings. One day, we may be fortunate enough to own homes for ourselves, to have the luxury of considering which design of curtain we like best or what colours will go well in the bedroom.

As I write this article, I am reminded of the lyrics of an obscure Dean Friedman song from 1978, entitled “Rocking Chair (It’s Gonna Be All Right), which read: “Take a look at the place you call home, you’re reflected in all things you own”. Are you looking for me? You can find me in my room.