Culture  Taking life one couch at a time

The Daily investigates frugal living close to campus

In second year student Jeffrey Leung’s apartment, there’s a strict rule about kitchen use: absolutely no cooking after midnight. To save money, Leung and his two roommates decided to convert the living room of their two-bedroom apartment on Avenue des Pins into a third bedroom – Leung’s room. He pays $375 a month, but all that separates Leung’s double bed from the apartment’s well-lit kitchen is a measly five feet of air.

For students at McGill, it’s not exactly unusual for there to be more roommates in an apartment than there are available bedrooms. With the average rent of a one-bedroom apartment close to campus almost $800 a month, cordoning off a living room with a sheet to create a third bedroom or having a friend chip in a few extra bucks to crash on a couch can save money. Of course, to really save money, you may have to put up with some less-than-appealing living conditions.

Compared to Leung’s set up, recent McGill graduate Merry Maclellan had it rough: she slept on a friend’s couch last semester in a small two-bedroom apartment on Rue Prince-Arthur, while working for almost nothing in an animal hospital. She shared the room with a road pylon, a miniature trampoline, and a litter box that belonged to an orange cat named Meowla. “It didn’t really smell,” said Maclellan, about the litter box, “but maybe the entire apartment just smelled.”

For the four months that Maclellan slept on the couch, which was blue and “really comfy,” she paid $200 a month to the apartment’s original two roommates, and split utilities with them. The arrangement, she explained, worked remarkably well because their schedules were quite similar. “I never got woken up,” she said. “We went to bed at the same time and woke up at the same time every day.”

Still, there are clearly some problems with sleeping in a living room, “hooking up” being one of the more obvious ones. “You have to go to their house,” explained Maclellan, – although, in some situations, this technique is simply impossible. “When someone was in town visiting, there was concern about what was going to happen,” she said, “but then there was just a hotel room involved.”

Fifth year student Steve Reiss found himself in the exact opposite situation when he hosted a friend, recent McGill graduate Nick Fishbane, for almost five months last year in the living room of his house on Rue Drolet. According to Reiss, hosting a living room sleeper is not a problem, provided you have enough space to keep your guest – and all of their stuff – out of the way.

The house Reiss shares with four roommates, nicknamed the “Bug Poem,” boasts two bathrooms, a finished basement, and a pyramid of empty beer cases that rises nearly six feet tall. “See that nook between the couches behind the bar?” Reiss said, pointing to a cube of space no bigger than a small TV at the intersection of two dilapidated couches. “That corner was all Fishbane’s shit, so it was out of the way for us and we didn’t really care.”

Fishbane, who Reiss described as being prone to “losing money like it was fucking water,” chipped in for utilities and bought a case of beer for the occupants of the house at the end of each month. And if not for one slight incident, when a roommate discovered that Fishbane had been secretly sleeping in his bed while he was away, Reiss said his friend’s stay on his couch was relatively problem- free.

“Sleeping on a couch wouldn’t be my first choice,” said Reiss, “but if times were tough, I would probably do it. You’d have to find someone to hook up with regularly though.”

For those students that want to save money but don’t really want to go through the hassle of sleeping on a friend’s couch, or even renting a derelict apartment, there is a third option. Last spring, a McGill master’s student named Thomas (he asked that his full name not be printed) stored all of his belongings in a friend’s basement, gave up his apartment, and slept on Mont Royal for nearly four months.

“The first few times it rained, I got pretty soaked,” said Thomas, who slept on a hammock that he made out of rope and a eight-foot piece of cloth. Each day he would set up camp around sunset and wake up at sunrise, being sure to pack up his hammock early enough to avoid detection – sleeping on Mont Royal is, of course, illegal.

“On the east side of the mountain,” he said, “there’s a nice view to wake up to: you see the sun rising over the Plateau.”

Throughout his months living on the mountain, Thomas estimated that he spent about $400 a month – total. “I was eating in restaurants all the time because I couldn’t cook,” he said, “so it’s cheaper than having an apartment but not that much cheaper.”

In fact, Thomas claims that his motivation for sleeping on the mountain was not to save money. In May of last year, with the lease on his apartment coming to an end, he wanted to have enough time to look for a new place without “feeling rushed.” He reasoned that he’d camp on the mountain until July, leaving him two months to find a new apartment.

“By June, I didn’t care any more,” he said, “and kept on putting the apartment search off.” He eventually found an apartment in September, two weeks into the school year. And while camping on the mountain may not be for everyone, Thomas felt some nostalgia for his experience last year: he has since erected his hammock on his apartment’s balcony.