I’ve probably lived with at least twenty different people ever since I moved out on my own. I have endured both pleasant and horrific experiences and have learned lessons from both. So whether you’re about to go on a Craigslist hunt or are currently welcoming someone new into your home, here are a few very simple—yet often overlooked—rules for maintaining a healthy living situation with almost anyone.
1. Realize that things will be awkward at first.
Know that if you’re the new gal/guy in a home, they will watch you and talk about you behind your back for at least the first few weeks. Don’t be weird about it; know that people are probably just double- and triple-checking that you’re not a psycho. Try to be social and get to know them, even if you don’t plan on being friends.
On the flipside, if you’re one of the current tenants and are interviewing a new roomie, make sure that you’re judgmental in the right areas. Learn to understand that they may be a little shy at first, especially if they’re moving into a house with a bunch of people who have been friends forever. At the same time, be mindful of bizarre behavior and always check for any suspicious behavior. Being quiet doesn’t necessarily make them a weirdo, but finding women’s underwear in his shower caddy definitely does. I’ve been on both ends of this, and the only thing you can do about the trial period of being the new roommate is accept that it’s going to be awkward at first—after all, you’re letting a STRANGER (or in lots of cases someone you only “kind of know”) into your home to live with you. Don’t expect to be getting friendship tattoos and posing for their profile picture with them after the first week.
2. Set your ground rules early.
Any time I’ve ever seen someone have an issue with a roommate (whether it’s dirty dishes or being too loud), the guilty party will often find ANY reason to defend their actions. “The dishes were only there for four hours and I had to get to work and I’m sorry I left the coffee maker on too and that I’m loud in the mornings the SHOWER DOESN’T HAVE A VOLUME LEVER, you know we should probably tell the landlord about that.” Excuses. Every. Single. One.
Still, the defense has every right to justify their actions if the rules weren’t laid out prior to moving in.
If you set the expectations early on, you know exactly what kind of situation you’re getting into. The main problem with this is that people tend to quickly gloss over the bare minimum of what they’re looking for without giving people concrete examples of what might tick them off in the future.
Anyone can be “clean and respectful” when you’re interviewing them for the first time. Be specific about your pet peeves. You should be able to do more than tolerate each other; you should be able to coexist peacefully.
3. Talk everything out.
There’s nothing worse than seeing a note on the sink that reads, “OUR HOUSE IS A PIGSTY THANKS :)” when a simple. “Hey, can you clean your dishes please?” through a text could have solved the problem. Passive-aggressiveness is the easiest ticket to starting the finger pointing game in a house. It’s also a good way to get a photo of your note tagged on Instagram with the caption “IS THIS BITCH SERIOUS? #PSYCHO #OCDMUCH #CANTEVEN.” Have the common decency to be straightforward with people about your issues and they will listen and respond positively. Well, maybe not always positively, but you won’t wake up finding that your tires have been slashed or there’s bleach in your shampoo.
4. Be their roommate first and their friend second.
Many people wonder whether it’s a good idea to move in with people who are already your good friends. I’ve seen it both work out and fail, but if you decide to live with your bestie, know that you’re both adopting new roles in each other’s lives when you sign that lease. I’ve seen many friendships fall apart because friends WILL take things a lot more personally than someone with whom you’re just a classmate/coworker/acquaintance. Be cautious when you decide to live with friends because you will learn a LOT more about them when you see them every morning before they’ve had their coffee. And if problems escalate, who do you care more about losing—your bestie or someone you know through Craigslist?
5. Do NOT sleep with them.
This is probably the most important rule of all. I’m sure there are rare exceptions where two people end up dating, moving out into their own space, and living happily ever after, but for the vast majority of people it’s just going to make EVERY situation awkward, especially if they have a potential love interest that later enters their life and they find out that history. Trust me. In the long run, it’s best to quench your thirst with someone who isn’t aware of the REAL state of your bedroom or the fact that those are YOUR hairs, not ants all over the bathroom floor.
6. If you screw up in some way, own up to it.
Never be too proud to apologize and recognize that everyone in the house/apartment you live in have just as much of a right to live there as you do. And if you do make a silly mistake, try to make up for it.
I’ve found that cleaning the entire kitchen (without being asked) is an almost no-fail way to achieve forgiveness for drunkenly banging on the front door at 2AM on a Tuesday night. If that doesn’t work, baking cookies to share and keeping the refrigerator stocked with beer is another surefire way to keep everyone from killing each other…at least for that day.
7. Remember that drawing lines causes war, while setting boundaries creates respect.
Don’t be the guy that divides the living room in half because your beanbag is on one side. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting people to touch your stuff, but if you start staking portions of the room that are “YOURS ONLY,” you probably shouldn’t be living with other people.