As Halloween candy takes over grocery stores, days get shorter, and pumpkin-spice-everything has saturated the market, there’s no denying it: fall is here.
Whether you’re a student who had the summer off or just a person who spent every warm evening after work hanging out with friends, this seasonal change tends to mean that you’re spending more time at home studying or in hibernation mode.
For many, this increased time at home also means more quality interactions with roommates. Roommates come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. Maybe you choose to live communally for the benefit of your social life or your bank account. Maybe your college or university assigned your living arrangement. Whatever the case, sharing a home comes with its own unique benefits and challenges.
I still live with roommates, and wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world. I’ve learned so much from each of them—relationship advice, history lessons, podcast recommendations, fashion tips, recipes, etc. It’s a privilege to share a space with others and engage in platonic intimacy. Communal living has taught me more about myself and how I relate to others than any other experience ever could.
That said, living in close quarters with folks can also get messy. You might live with someone you knew prior to shacking up (romantic partner, good friend, acquaintance) or with a random person (Craigslist or school housing lottery). Either way, the entry point into the living situation tends to have a great impact on how dynamics play out over the course of your lease.
Take my friend, Cassie, for example, who learned why people always warn against living with your best friend. “Turns out she’s pretty messy,” she shared. “I just couldn’t take it and moved out to save what scraps of our friendship we had left” But is living with a stranger any better? A few years ago, I moved into a Brooklyn apartment with someone I’d met through Craigslist. I woke up at 3 a.m. on the first night to her entire family traipsing through my bedroom (which taught me to never sleep in the nude again). It only got weirder from there. She latched onto me like a social parasite, and after a few failed attempts to improve the situation, I broke the lease and moved out.
Since that time, I’ve learned better ways to cope with roommates so that all involved feel respected in their home. Here are four helpful tips to nurture a healthy shared home environment:
It doesn’t matter if you’ve known your housemate(s) for five years or five minutes; take the time to set expectations for your living situation immediately upon moving in. Some people hope to be best friends with their roommates, while others want a peaceful space where they can indulge in hermit-like tendencies. Whatever your vibe is, make sure you have an outlet to express your needs. This also allows a chance for everyone to make their preferences clear and reach consensus on how to manage household duties. Love a chore wheel, or is it not your cup of cooperative tea? Don’t wait until later to wage war over whose turn it is to buy dish soap—sort it out now.
Sure, you’ve created a governing set of standards for your living space, but they should always be open to revisions. Be sure to keep some preferred method of contact available so the housemates can discuss any issues or ideas that pop up. Find a cool couch at the store? Not sure who left the mess in the living room? Whatever the situation, communication is key to a healthy living space. Without clear channels for discussion, it can be a swift slippery slope into passive aggressive sticky notes.
Communal living often comes with the occasional blood pressure spike. Maybe your roommate ate the last slice of pizza you’d been saving for dinner or left dishes piled in the sink for the third time in a week. Before you send that angry text message or confront them in the common space, take a meditation break. You’ll be able to express yourself much more rationally after putting the situation into perspective. Remember, these patience-testers tend to be minor transgressions and taking that time to practice mindfulness will keep unnecessary negativity from entering your home.
It’s normal to experience occasional conflict with roommates as everyone makes the occasional mistake. Whether you or someone else are in the wrong, remember the power of reconciliation and forgiveness. Don’t hold grudges; your home should be a place of refuge, not a battleground.
I won’t claim to be some sort of omnipotent roommate whisperer, however, every person is unique, and you just never really know anyone until you share a bathroom with them. Your ideal housing situation exists right now; you just have to build it together.
The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.