Note in March 2013: Also see here for my updated tips on living with others.
Everything I read about the year ahead of us refers to a tighter economy, including widespread job losses. Interestingly, I haven’t seen any buzz about a very sensible economic option if you’re one of the millions of Americans who lives alone: having a housemate.
In Part I of Top Ten Tips For Living With Others I focused on finding and choosing a good housemate, and managing your own expectations. Here in Part II, I focus on managing the situation itself. For a variation, see my piece on having a housemate who works for rent.
6.) Remind yourself you’re being paid thousands of dollars annually to manage a housemate situation. If a housemate reduces your living expenses by $400/month, that’s $4,800/year — more than that if you’re saving or investing some of that money. If finding or getting along with this person takes you 10 hours/month, remember you’re being paid $40/hour for that time.
7.) Have a life and friends outside of the house. No house or apartment can meet all of a person’s needs in any event, whether you live alone or with others. Everyone loves to have the place to themselves once in awhile, and that can happen if everyone has some outside activities. Show some interest in your housemate’s life outside the home, and bring some interesting things home to tell about.
8.) If everyone is financially stable and eats similar food, consider sharing groceries. This has worked well in my home, with everyone paying in at the beginning of the month, and Thor, the happy shopper, making his list with everyone’s input. I enjoy eating together when possible, and our small kitchen and refrigerator could not hold two sets of food, in any event. Of course, this wouldn’t work if money is so tight that a person needs to control every grocery dollar they spend.
9.) Be messy only in your own space.Within your bedroom, your mess only affects you, at least when your door is shut. But if it’s community space, i.e. kitchen, dining room, living room, shared bathroom, clean up after yourself as if you’re being paid to do it (you essentially are, since living alone would cost you thousands more per year.) This kind of daily consideration is the biggest make-or-break issue I know of among housemates, except in the rare cases where everyone is happily sloppy in unison.
10.) If one situation or housemate doesn’t work out, give another a chance.Different housemates yield very different experiences, and even the same housemate may become much more pleasant when happily employed, for instance, than when unhappily employed. If one housemate doesn’t work out, get clear on why it didn’t work. Try again, making sure to create a different experience this time.
Certainly some people need to live alone. But I think in the U.S., it has become an automatic default for single people to live alone, despite its costliness, whether or not they can afford it. It would be a national form of self-help if a large number of people dusted off their interpersonal skills and conserved money and resources by living with one or more others, even for a temporary period of time.