Note in March 2013: Also see here for my updated tips on living with others.
It’s a modern notion that people should live alone; this is the first time in human history that millions are doing it. Living alone is also expensive, both in dollars and in the earth’s resources.
I lived alone for five years following a painful divorce, and I benefited from the peace and quiet and regained sense of control that situation gave me. (I’m now in a happy marriage, and we sometimes have a housemate who works for rent). But I notice that if I had lived alone rather than with others my entire adult life, I would have spent an additional $60,000 on the roof over my head (conservatively estimating$200/month added expenses for 300 months).
The fact that I lived with housemates in my youth has let me live in some lovely homes and neighborhoods I could not have afforded by myself. Moreover, the situations gave me a much livelier social life, a lot of good information and advice, and made me safer on the occasions I got sick, had a car problem or otherwise needed a little help.
I encourage people living alone to consider living with a housemate, even just for a six-month experiment. Here are the first half of my top ten tips for living with others:
1.) Know and state clearly what you are seeking from the beginning. If you want a clean, tidy housemate, say so. If the housemate you are wanting to replace was never home and you loved that about them, volunteer that fact. If you’re a homebody who comes home from work and stays put, wear that on your sleeve.
Because we have only one bathroom, our written agreements with housemates have even detailed that Thor uses the bathroom from 6:30 to 6:50 a.m. for his weekday showers. This then made for smooth early mornings. What seems awkward to discuss or write down up front can actually create smoothness in the living situation itself.
2.) Look for a roommate experienced at living with others. A person builds their skills by having done a thing. I like to ask what a person learned from past living situations. If they’re still angry about something, I won’t choose them as a housemate. I suggest asking for references from past housemates, whether you placed the ad or are responding to the ad. I ask the references open-ended questions like, “What’s Miriam like to live with? What are your best and worst memories of her?”
3.) Expect to not always have your own way. This is true of life in general, and therefore true of a housemate situation. If that irks you too much, then live solo (and lose thousands of dollars in shared-rent income).
4.) Consider brief daytime phone calls to a housemate to handle little things. I’m a good problem-solver during a work-day, but I do not want to go home from work to a problem. One housemate and I would give each other a phone heads-up on the occasions we were too rushed to clean up after ourselves before leaving the house. The advance apology made the mess forgivable, rather than upsetting.
5.) Consider that the best housemate may not be your lover. I question people automatically assuming they should move in with their lover, because these arrangements are sometimes the most volatile and least stable living situations. Expectations of the relationship tend to spike upward or veer sideways. While we all know many happy long-term, live-in lovers, consider that a stable person with good references that you’re not attracted to may be the best housemate for you. While I am not one to focus too much on fear, crime statistics show that lovers as a group are statistically much more dangerous to us than people we don’t know.
These tips have focused mostly on finding a compatible person and managing your expectations. Part II focuses on how to get along together.
Please add your own tips for successfully living with others and /or sharing resources. Tomorrow, Christmas Day, I’ll be taking a break. Then I’ll be back with ideas for cost- and carbon-lowering New Years resolutions, Part II of the above piece, and a follow-up to The Flow of Wine And Money.