I’ve had my fair share of time with roommates and friends in the past year and I’ve learned a lot. I lived for the first time with friends in a townhouse in the suburbs of northern Virginia. There were five of us in total. Then that following fall I lived with four people including myself in a luxurious apartment in Somerville, Massachusetts, two of those friends the same people I lived with in Virginia. Now, this summer, I’m living in Honolulu, Hawai’i with four people total once again, with two people from the same apartment as the Massachusetts home. Everyone tells you it’s incredibly hard to live on your away from home, especially with your friends, but no one ever talks about the details and issues and real problems you might face living with friends. I wanted to compile some tidbits I managed to learn over the past two years, or as much of it as I could, not for anyone else’s benefit (if it’s helpful, that’s a plus) but also just as small reminders for myself for the future.
finding a place
- Clearly define your budget and expected costs. You can’t expect people to live with you if the details are hazy (at least I wouldn’t). Having clearly defined budgets and expectations of the people you’re living with ensures you get the right people who are reliable for the job. Take into account things like transportation throughout wherever you’re moving. Do you need a rental car? Will you get a bus pass?
- Search early. The best deals are the earliest deals. Compare your options well.
- Look around the area before renting. Is there a grocery nearby? How about a gym? Is there public transportation? Is the area safe? Do you feel comfortable walking around there at night or by yourself, and if not, do you have people or roommates that you would feel comfortable walking with?
- Understand the amenities you need. Check if there’s an in-house washer and dryer, if that is important to you. Or central AC. Maybe you need a parking space, or you prefer a dishwasher instead of handwashing. All of these are super duper important things you want to make sure you look for before you start seriously considering it.
what i wish they told me
- You’re going to have skirmishes. Your housemates will do things that irritate you. They’ll leave the toilet seat up. They’ll never wash their dishes. They’ll leave the door open and let bugs in. They won’t clean the bathroom. It’s irritating, it’s hard. The best thing you can do is communicate it. Voice your problem respectfully and as soon as possible so you don’t build up resent and anger towards your roommates. If they don’t fix that when you ask politely, then I recommend finding new roommates.
- You’re going to want space and not be able to find any. The average college kid doesn’t have the luxury of renting out large airbnbs that guarantee everyone their own personal space. Sometimes you might be sharing a room, other times every time in the house might be occupied by every single one of your roommates you want to avoid. It’s important to establish this early on with your roommates if you need space. You’re not a bad roommate for going into your room once in a while, or not joining your friends for that one movie night or game night they’ve had planned. It’s important to find your quiet and safe places because it’s what every human being needs. Take a walk outside your apartment or go shopping by yourself or even go to the gym to clear your head. Boundaries are super important and without them it might just drive you insane.
- Some people are great friends, just not great housemates. Your best friends might not be the best candidates for your house. Yes, they’re your friends and you love them dearly, but can you really stand sharing a house with them? Or a room? Do their sleeping habits align with yours? Their cleanliness? Sometimes it’s best to go with someone you don’t know as well (an acquaintance) than it is your close friend that you think is messy and a slob and doesn’t clean up after themselves.
- Negative feelings and isolation are not rare, and they do not make you a bad person. I think at some point everyone has felt misunderstood by their house or alone in their home. When this happens, you tend to bottle yourself in and hide away in your room (if you’re fortunate to have your own). I gently recommend opening up to someone you trust in your house and talk if you’re feeling isolated or lonely. Typically, more isolation isn’t the best solution!!!! Having someone to confide in is incredibly helpful since it makes you feel less alone.
- Learn from your friends. Your friends are incredible resources!! They know how to cook good food (usually) or have tips for living alone sometimes or know how to fold their clothes in a more efficient way. I’ve learned so many cool recipes from friends and hair care tips and the like that it’s so so important to learn from the people around you.
what i know now (some tips!)
- Have one day in the week where you all get together to clean the house. Don’t live in filth, you absolute slobs. (FWIW, though, I know how hard it can be to clean up and take care of yourself, especially when you’re struggling mentally. That’s why it’s important to have friends hold you accountable for your own self-care.) Take a day (ours is personally Sunday) where everyone takes the time to clean the house. Divvy up the house into rooms and assign each person to the part of the house. Clean your bathrooms thoroughly: scrub your toilets, scrub your showers, clean your sink and its drain, wipe down the mirrors and surfaces. Clean your kitchen drain and wipe down your stovetops and countertops! Sweep the floors and vacuum and everything! It’ll make the house feel much more tidy and nice.
- Keep things well stocked. If you’re on your last roll of toilet paper or paper towels, go out and buy some more before that one runs out. There’s nothing worse than having to use the bathroom and then turning to your left and seeing there’s no TP left.
- Bring your hobbies. It’ll help keep you sane. Clay for sculpting, guitar for singing and playing, a chess board. Houses are meant to be fun so make it fun. Don’t forget an HDMI cable for movie nights or a Switch for game nights.
- Have a day dedicated to going out as a house. If you’re all friends, of course, and want to actually interact and maintain a relationship with your housemates. It doesn’t have to be every week, maybe once every two, and you don’t have to do anything fancy. Take a walk all together, or go to the zoo (safely), or go out to a restaurant (safely), or order food in and watch a movie. It might help you feel closer to your friends.
- Cook some meals together sometime. It’s nice to cook with friends and it’ll motivate you a lot more. Cooking consistently is hard, but if you have someone to cook with, it makes it infinitely easier (and cheaper!).
- Budget, budget, budget. It’s really easy to go out there and buy, buy, buy. Make sure your wallet can afford the hit. Should you really go for that popular brand or is there an off-brand equivalent that’s more bang for your buck and won’t be as detrimental to your bank account?
- Get into a good routine. Routines provide steadiness and comfort in what can be a very difficult and confusing time. Living on your own can be overwhelming at first, but routine helps make it bearable and steadies you.
- Have some easy meals to make. Make sure they’re nutritious and filling and don’t make you feel like garbage afterwards. My go to breakfast for the past two years has been some good Greek yogurt with granola and fruit mixed in. Other times it’s a protein smoothie or an omelette. Anything that’s filling.
- Be kind. I think the most important part, really, is showing a little empathy to your friends you’re living with. Offer to take out the trash or clean their room, or make them a meal if they’re feeling down. The best part and worst part about living with others is living with others. They can be messy and maybe get on your nerves, but they’re great company, and you wouldn’t really have it any either way.
what to do after
- Reflect on your time. Was the house okay? Was the dynamic off or weird? Are there people you would live with again? People you wouldn’t? What were you like as a roommate? Do you have areas you need to improve on? It’s good to identify what went well and what didn’t so in the future you don’t make the same mistakes and can have the most positive living experience. I’ll admit I jumped into mine a little rashly and didn’t make some of the best decisions I could have as a roommate and housemate.
- Label your moving boxes. Maybe minor, but writing down the general categories of what I was putting in each box was a lifesaver. It helped me quickly identify what I needed to unpack first and grab from when I was moving into a new place.
- Save your boxes. Boxes can be reused! And are super useful! Save them!!!
- Pack accordingly. If you’re living somewhere only for a couple months or so for a summer internship or something along those lines, you don’t need to bring every single piece of clothing you own. Ask yourself if it’s worth packing in your bags and risk paying the overweight fee, or if it’s just something you can buy there. Same thing goes for when you’re moving out of a place. Are there things you can sell or leave behind?
I think, recently, I’ve been reflecting a lot on myself as a housemate. I have definitely had my flaws and I have not been the kindest to some. There are some people I know I will choose to never live with again, and that is for the best, but we’re still friends. There are some people I didn’t expect to ever live with and they’ve ended up being some of the greatest housemates I’ve had. Overall, the experience of living with so many different people has helped me learn a lot about living ‘on my own’ and also about who I am as a housemate. I’ve learned a lot about compromise, like a lot. It’s definitely tested a lot of my relationships, but platonic and romantic, and I’m really thankful for everyone who has taught me a thing or two about sharing spaces with your friends and significant others. As a pretty hands-on, Type A person, I know people aren’t the most responsive to that kind of personality, and I have to adjust it a bit so I don’t come off as too strong. Everyone has their strengths and shortcomings as housemates and it’s our responsibility to be the best housemates we can be. Really, awareness and empathy can bring us a long way, and it’s definitely made this summer a lot smoother than I expected.