How to survive living with housemates.

With ever skyrocketing housing prices, especially in states like California, the Bay Area in particular, finding affordable and safe housing is increasingly becoming a herculean task. And so, many people have no choice but to either share an apartment with a roommate, or live in shared houses.

Living with others can be an excellent way to foster community and perhaps is one solution to the dilemma of making friends as an adult. This is if you’re lucky enough to have sane and respectful housemates. Then you have the luxury of retiring to your room for privacy, and if the mood strikes you can be social in the common areas.  

But on a day to day basis, to thrive in a shared housing situation, there are certain things you need to be aware of, and some tactics to keep in mind.  

Below I present to you, a guide to living in shared housing without losing your mind, or all your valuable possessions. 

  1. Lock your door. Given that you now live with strangers, be sure to have a lock on your door and use it, at all times. You’d be surprised how people would not think twice about entering what should be another person’s private quarters and having a good old look around. If you value your privacy, or just don’t like the idea of someone poking their fingers into your expensive face cream, or making themselves comfortable on your bed, lock your door. Don’t worry about housemates hearing the click every time you come and go. Don't stress over thoughts like  "Oh, but I don’t want them to think I don’t trust them." You don’t know them, so of course you don’t trust them! There’s nothing wrong with that. 
  2. Don’t show off. If you have expensive things do not show them off or flaunt them. No matter how much rent insurance you have, it would be a very uncomfortable situation to be stuck on a lease with people who have stolen from you, and you have no way to prove it. People are clever and know how to get away with their antics. There’s nothing to stop someone from picking the lock on your door and helping themselves to one of the several designer handbags you go out of your way to make sure everyone notices. If you have been the victim of theft or suspect this as a possibility, you can also invest in a security camera system. 
  3. Beware mail thieves. Consider having your mail sent to a private mailbox instead of the shared housing. Although most high value packages require a signature, other smaller things have the merchant name printed on it and so if some dishonest person collects your new Glossier package and decides they deserve it more than you do, guess what, it's theirs now and you're out of luck. And that birthday card you weren't expecting to receive, the one with the $50 gift card to Trader Joe's your sister thought you would enjoy, if some ne’er-do-well ‘collecting’ the mail on behalf of the house, feels that hardened plastic rectangle and decides 'finders keepers', guess what, no treats for you! 
  4. Be considerate of others. For example, only do laundry when you’re able to pay attention and collect it when it’s complete. This is just general courtesy so that you’re already washed clothes are not holding the machine or dryer hostage.  Also if you’re like me and don’t want people touching your things, especially your clean things, collect them when they are complete to avoid coming back hours later to find your previously freshly washed sheets halfway on the ground halfway atop a dusty washing machine.
  5. Learn proper communication and resist the urge to be petty. If a housemate is bothering you in some way, for instance playing extremely loud music, or leaving dirty dishes in the sink for days on end, approach them privately and deal with them nicely or at least neutrally. When asking if they can turn down the musica/clean up their mess, sometimes it works better if you have a reason for this request, even though you don’t think you need one. People respond better when they don’t feel as if they’re being attacked.  So when Martha starts blasting her Techno while you are trying and failing to get some work done, instead of shouting from your room:

“Martha, is all that noise really necessary? Can’t you see you’re not the only one living here?”

It might be better to go to her door and knock then say

“Hey Martha, do you mind turning your music down a bit, i’m working from home today and need some quiet to concentrate”

and when clueless Josh cooks Saturday night and leaves the counters, stove and sink full of spills and dirty dishes five days later, instead of

“Josh, the kitchen has been filthy since you used it a week ago, it's disgusting!" 

a better approach might be

“Hey Josh, I want to cook tonight do you mind washing your dishes so I can have some space in the kitchen?"

6. Sometimes people will be clueless and deliberately vindictive for no reason and you can’t really do anything about it. if you can’t get someone to change their ways and be decent and considerate, then find ways you can make your situation more pleasant. For me, most offensive thing is noise. And when my housemates refused to be quiet even after I repeated requested they tone down the raucous conduct I had a choice to either seethe all day long while plotting their demise or make a change myself. A pair of earplugs saved me. After putting them in I heard absolutely nothing. Someone could have broken in and cleaned out the entire house I would have been none the wiser.

7. If things are getting out of hand, a house meeting where everyone can air grievances and come up with solutions can work the trick. Don’t be afraid to be the one to call it. And if you are the one calling the meeting and feel some hesitation or anticipate backlash, bring some snacks to disarm people before they get a chance to feel offended. A bottle of wine to share also wouldn’t hurt. 

Finally, be kind and considerate to people in general, and not to quick to judge or make assumptions will always work in your favor. Good luck!