Having had only two roommate situations, and coming to London to live with 12 people in a teeny tiny flat, I’ve learned this: roommates can be so much fun, and yet such a pain. Sometimes it’s because we didn’t choose them, and we’re finding them to be a different sort than ourselves. Sometimes it’s because we did choose them and just didn’t know what we were getting ourselves in to. Whatever the reason, here are some ways you can stop driving your flatmate crazy… And possibly a great way to passive-aggressively tell them how to stop driving you crazy! (Which I do not condone or support!)
It’s the easiest place to start because if you just followed this one rule you would be the perfect flatmate. Be conscious of the fact that you’re living with other people and the space you share belongs to them, too. Practice selflessness and patience and empathy.
Create ground rules early on, and on a regular basis.
First moving in with a new group can be exhilarating – all fun times and fast rides. If you don’t discuss what you expect from a roommate now, however, you’ll find that your living situation may quickly devolve into a mess that’s out of your control. Talk about cleaning (eg. taking out the trash, doing dishes), socializing (eg. tv you have to watch, parties you want to throw), and pet peeves (eg. hair in the shower, bare feet in your personal space). Consider planning a second time to meet again – about a month or two later – to revisit how things are going. It will seem excessive at the time, but if you start having problems it will be a lot less awkward than being “that guy” and having to call a new one.
Do your dishes.
What a joke, the number of times someone laughs about roommates and their dishes problems! But guess what, it’s a real thing – and you may be surprised that it usually stems from everyone just being plain forgetful. It’s easy to set down a bowl so you can put the milk in the fridge, get distracted, and completely forget that bowl was yours. To combat this kind of problem, just always do your dishes immediately! When they sit there the kitchen becomes smelly, it’s hard for your flatmates to do their own dishes, and really everyone starts getting frustrated by just a simple mistake.
As a side note, there are proper ways to do dishes… one tip: clean the bottom of your dish. Even though you didn’t “use” it, the bottom gets dirty from being handled and sitting on table-tops, then it gets put into the cabinet where it sits on the top of another dish. Do you see where I’m going with this?
Clean up around yourself.
Long story short, a few crumbs add up really quickly. Instead of leaving them on the table or brushing them onto the floor, it would take you about 7 seconds to swipe them into your hand and dump them in the trash. It seems menial at first, but don’t worry – you’ll get into the habit quickly.
Just do it yourself.
This is a key to happiness. For example, instead of being upset that there is an extra bowl and spoon in the sink… just wash them with your own dish. It might take you about 45 seconds longer, but it will be out of the way and out of your mind. When people see dishes in the sink it’s just natural for them to add their own, and forget about them too! Instead of complaining about the dish, recognize that it was a mistake and if you help out a little everyone will be happier. The same can be said with taking out the trash or cleaning up the fridge: you don’t need to go on a cleaning frenzy, but if it takes you 10 seconds to pull the trash bag out and set it by the door so the next person to leave can carry it out… why not?
Keep your personal items out of the common areas.
We get it, you only use your blanket when you’re on the couch. Or your textbook is on the kitchen table because you’re definitely not going to read it in your room – you’ll just fall asleep immediately. But hey, having to move your stuff every time I want to do something isn’t ideal. And you have an entire room for these kinds of things. Do yourself a favor and keep it there – where it will be safe from the blunders of your flatmates (do you really want milk spilled over your laptop?) – and just bring it out when you plan on using it.
Label your things.
In the beginning, things are fine between everyone, you love to share, and the cabinets are organized. Realistically, you’re probably not lucky enough that this will last. Label your items, food, anything that is stored in a common area. Trust me, it will save you the headache of trying to find items that your roommates have accidentally used and thus probably some frustration with them.
Tell them thank you.
You’d think this is a no-brainer, but for some of us a conscious effort has to be made to remember to tell people the things we are thinking. Things like “I’m glad you waited for me to catch up” or “I appreciate that you invited me to the gym” or “Thanks for sharing a bite of your pudding.” Saying “thank you” is a reward for your flatmate because they did something nice – and it makes them want to continue being nice to you. Plus, it’s just nice of you to appreciate your flatmates for the efforts they make!
Give them some alone time.
Just because your flatmate is leaving the flat doesn’t mean they want any company. Learn to read their body language and try to recognize when they need a little time to themselves – even if they say you are welcome to come along. Nobody wants to be mean, but sometimes they are looking to wind down a bit. If you’re sharing a room, it may be helpful for you to even leave them alone there, sometimes. Peace and quiet in a familiar place can really do good, so try to spend some time in the living room or going out yourself!
Learn how to comfort them.
Maybe it’s not necessarily you driving your flatmate crazy. If they need to vent a little, let them be completely unrestricted without judgement. If they’re sad, listen to them and nod, but make sure you’re hugging them too – if that’s what they need. It’s not about just being in the company of another person. Often there’s more to comfort than that – making jokes or rubbing their back or helping them find a solution – and if you learn what it is that makes them feel better, you’ll really be making the difference.
Don’t expect anything you didn’t tell everyone you wanted.
Recall those ground rules I suggested you set up early (and often)? If you don’t voice an expectation that you have, don’t be upset if it isn’t fulfilled. Oftentimes people don’t mind complying to a request you have… but if you get upset with them for something they didn’t know about, you’re not really being very productive, are you?
Know your own boundaries.
A little self-knowledge can work wonders. Knowing yourself makes you capable of controlling your future. For instance, I know that I need 8 hours of sleep and snacks through-out the day. If I am missing either, I begin to become unable to function! It seems a bit like I’m a small child, huh? Either way, I know that I cannot go out late on nights when I need to be up early in the morning. And I know that if I’m leaving my house for more than an hour, I need to make sure I have a granola bar (or two) on me. If I didn’t know these things about myself, I’d probably be perpetually cranky! And honestly I don’t think flatmates can survive that.
Stand up for yourself.
All else being said, know who you are and embrace it. You don’t need to justify yourself to others, but if anyone tries to make yourself feel bad about who you are, or the way you are – don’t. Being overly organizational, super laid back, outrageously health conscious – these kinds of traits just make you who you are, and they aren’t bad things. For everything else, just remember that we’re all on our way to becoming better people and sometimes along the way we need to be selfish, short-sighted, spontaneous, flirty, stubborn… etc. Just recognize that is who you are.
Forgive and forget.
Let it all go. Don’t worry about the dishes or that one time your flatmates forgot to invite you or the teasing (they do out of love) that secretly makes you feel bad. These are your flatmates – people who have their own problems and lives and are just like you. Worry only about the things you can control. Pick up the kitchen a little every day if it bothers you that it’s messy. Invite your friends everywhere you go, to make sure they feel included. Refrain from teasing anyone and instead compliment them on something you know they are insecure about. Be the bigger person – besides, karma will take care of the rest, right? :)