It seemed like a good idea at the time. Four friends who have known each other since freshman year decide to share an apartment or house or to all take rooms in a local rooming house. They already know they like to hang out together. They already like each other’s friends. They already have weathered some storms in their relationships. What could possibly go wrong?
Being friends and being housemates are two entirely different things. If you are stressed or upset about what a friend does when you live separately, you can retreat to your own space and decide whether to let it go or deal. When you live in the same 1000 square feet (or less), it’s another story. It’s deal or let the relationship start to fall apart.
The key to living together successfully is spending time talking about assumptions and ground rules before you move in and revisiting them on a regular basis. The people who get into the most trouble are those who somehow assume that just because they are friends, they share the same taste in music, the same ability to handle money, the same tolerance for noise, the same standards for neatness, and the same ideas about who should do what. It rarely works out that way. Yes, it may seem silly to formally meet about things you think are just common sense. Yes, there will be people who don’t want to be bothered with a lengthy discussion of who will clean the bathroom and whether dishes get left in the sink to soak or get done right away. But it’s those seemingly little things that can cause major tension.
Here are the top 5 complaints that make roommates start to seriously consider murder:
Sharing a household means sharing bills. The rent and utility bills have to be paid and paid on time. Your landlord and the electric company don’t have a sense of humor or an ounce of compassion for those who don’t.
It’s unfair to ask housemates to front your share because you spent your rent money at the bar or on a pair of shoes. It feels terrible to be the “responsible one” in a group and to be always hounding the others to cough up the cash. Keep it clean. Create a system for getting all the money together and for paying each bill so no one is left feeling guilty or exploited.
Having been bugged by your parents for years to take out the trash or to clean your room, you may be delighted to be on your own. Funny thing. If you want your place to look decent and to be attractive to those you date, you still have to take out the trash and clean your room. What you do in your own bedroom is your business, of course. But living together successfully means coming up with some agreed-upon standards for how the common spaces will be kept up and for who will do what to keep them that way. Take the time to come to agreement about how clean is clean enough and for getting the chores done.
It may come as new information to some of the people in your group that not everyone has a “what’s mine is yours” policy. Not everyone is comfortable sharing their clothes, their CDs or their toothbrush. People often have different expectations for when it’s important to ask and when it’s okay to just go and borrow something out of a roommate’s room or to use the last of a roommate’s coffee creamer. Be clear about it.
4. Overnight guests.
It’s a common problem. Four people agree to share a four-bedroom place. A boyfriend or girlfriend of one of the group starts staying over. Everyone likes him or her. Everyone kind of agrees that romance requires time together at each other’s place. But it gets dicey when the significant other starts staying over more and more often. Now there are five people sharing space that only four people pay for. Now there’s an extra person wanting time in the shower and competing for the coffee maker.
The same issues apply to that guy on the couch. Unless everyone is into giving him a free place to crash, it’s a major imposition on the household. It’s a good idea to talk about some ground rules for guests well ahead of when anyone is into a new romance and before someone takes pity on their old friend from home who needs a place to stay. Otherwise, it can become a very uncomfortable situation.
You may not think your music is too loud or that your friends are too rowdy but your housemate may find it intolerable. Especially if some of you are students and need quiet to study, it’s important to set up some ground rules for how loud is too loud. The same is true when a housemate’s job requires doing paperwork at home. Some tasks just require a little bit of peace and quiet. And, please, try to keep the sounds of your private sex life private. What you think of as acceptable passionate abandon may make your housemates cringe.
Don’t let differences about the sounds of each other’s lifestyles and taste in music become one of those issues that goes from slow boil to boiling over. Find a way to talk about what people need and when and try to make appropriate compromises.