Top Ten Tips For Living With Others, Part I

By Wednesday, December 24, 2008 6 2

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).

Living with housemates in my youth allowed me to 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.

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  • Ed Hughes
    June 27, 2010

    hello from across the pond. enjoyed reading about Kris stopping traffic. The solution is hitchhiking, People did it here until J. Edgar Hoover made them paranoid. At one tunnel during “rush” cars must have two or more occupants. visit my site for some solutions.

  • Slamdunk Software
    April 19, 2010

    Great advice! Many life lessons can be learned in shared accommodation situations. A lot of it boils down to respect, communication and organisation

  • Alison
    December 27, 2008

    I agree that not all housemate experiences are positive. Low drama is good — melodrama is indeed draining, and I shy away from it myself.

    I do notice that living alone has a great many downsides of its own, aside from the financial expense . . . . . . . boredom and loneliness come to mind as top of the list.

    December 26, 2008

    While I see the financial benefits of having room mates; and that I could save much more money I’m not sure about the whole idea.

    I’ve have poor experiences living with family members. I don’t tolerate stress very well, and have specific ways I go about things.

    If I have to live with people who’s world is falling down all the time it very much wears me down.

    I’m not good at sharing space, and it’s important for me to establish my independence. When you depend on others it gives them a sense of control over you, because you need them.

    If I found the right person this may be different, but so far I have not have a positive experience.

  • Crafty Green Poet
    December 25, 2008

    excellent post, i thoroughly enjoyed my times with various flatmates when i was a student and after i had left my former partner. It can be difficult i think though to adjust to living with flatmates after havign lived with a partner - in my student days flatmates were a natural part of life, they didn’t seem such a natural part of life when i was in my thirties…. i’ve now happily cohabitated with my partner for 10 years or so and it works really well, we don’t live in each others pockets, we have different interests and each have time in alone most weeks. I can never understand though why so many people choose to live alone,

    Actually i just came by to say Happy Christmas, and thanks for your very nice comment on my blog.

  • Gail
    December 25, 2008

    We have had a couple live in the bedroom in our basement for 5 months now. My husband works full-time and I work part-time as a psychotherapist in private practice. We have twin 12-month-olds, so we wanted to find a very part-time nanny to watch them in our home while I work during the day. In exchange for their living quarters (small bedroom, bath, and separate entrance), they watch our twins 4-7 hours a week, cook a meal for us once a week (they suggested this since they love to cook), and pay a little bit of rent and utilities. I think it is an arrangement that works well for all of us! Probably next time, we will look for a single person since our house is fairly small and we all share the kitchen space. But overall, we are thrilled that we could use our extra space to save money and befriend some college students!