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How to survive flatmates, room mates and shared living

Updated on October 11, 2014

Whether you've just left home or just broken up with the man or woman of your dreams at some point in your life you may have to face the prospect of sharing your living space with people to whom you are neither related nor enamored.

These simple tips will help you navigate the minefield and avoid being sent back home to live with the parents.

1. Pay your rent on time

Non payment of rent or other bills is the single biggest flatties sin. Guaranteed to get you kicked out and un-freinded on FaceBook.

Non payment of bills often takes the form of “just crashing” on a mate's couch for six months or even longer. This is not cool. Know that your mate is getting grief from the rest of his flatties and you are putting him or her in danger of eviction as well.

2. Do your housework

The second most contentious flatting issue. Cleaning rosters are a popular mechanism for divvying up the tasks required to keep shared areas up to a standard where you could invite your Mum over for tea.

The key areas that need attention are:

  • Cleaning toilets and bathrooms – you'll need plenty of anti-bacterial detergent here;
  • Cleaning the kitchen – which includes splash backs, benches, the oven and the fridge;
  • Cleaning the living room – dust before you vacuum and don't forget to get under the furniture every once in a while;
  • In most flats you'll also be responsible for tidying your own bedroom and doing your own washing.

Everyone has different standards of cleanliness and this is one of those times when point 4 “Learn to get on with other people” is going to need to apply. As long as you make an honest effort and accept that others are too, you should be fine.

A cleaning service can be a good way of avoiding housework wars if you can afford it. Otherwise if things get desperate you can try all inviting Mum over for tea on the same night. If you play your cards right the Mums will clean up the mess and take the dirty washing away too.

3. Pick the right flatties

Flat mate interviews can be pretty hit and miss. It's hard to tell what someone's like from a half-hour meeting. If possible use your networks to find someone who's a friend of a friend, its more likely you'll have something in common with someone you meet that way. If you do have to advertise and interview random stranger here's some things you should be asking about:

  • What they do for a living and specifically how they're going to pay rent and bills.
  • What are their views on key issues such as cooking, cleaning and pets – if they have a rottweiler and you have a cat this could be a problem.
  • What are their hobbies and who are their friends - if they're going to want to do band practice in the living room every week you will want to know this upfront.

If you're the one being interviewed you're slightly better off because you'll be able to get a feel for what you're getting into by looking around the flat. I once walked into a flatmate interview to find crates of empty beer bottles stacked up at the front-door and one of the flatties passed out drunk in the corridor. Needless to say I did not end up living there.

Choosing the right flatmates can mean the difference between having the time of your life or coming home to a living hell everyday. If you're going to live with people who drive you nuts you might as well do it at your parent's place. At least you'll get good heating and a free laundry service.

4. Learn to get on with other people

“Hell”, in the immortal words of Jean Paul Sartre, “is other people”. Learning to get on with them is one of the greatest gifts your shared living experience will give you. This is one of those life skills that is going to contribute to success in almost all of your life's endeavors.

Unlike your parents and partners flatmates do not have to love you. They will not put up with your tantrums, mood swings and personal dramas. Conversely they will expect that you put up with their tantrums, mood swings and personal dramas.

The only suggestions I have to help you through this are:

  • Guided meditations, particularly ones like Metta Bhavana that will encourage you to empathize and relate to others.
  • Communication and relationship management training. Many modern work places offer these sort of development opportunities and the skills you will learn are just as applicable to your personal life.
  • Get your own place. The joys of shared living eventually wear thin for even the most gregarious of fun-loving party animals. Cats and dogs make for great company and generally don't come home drunk at 3 o'clock in the morning wanting to play loud depressing music and break open that expensive bottle of wine you left in the fridge because they've just split up with their loser boyfriend for the umpteenth time.

There's absolutely no shame in living alone if you can afford. it.


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