Freshers Week for Postgrads, Part 2: Housemates

More information that everyone should know, but a lot of people don’t! By this point, you’ll have moved in and met your housemates–anywhere from two to ten people you will be living in close quarters with for the next nine months. (My first year in halls we had a flat of ten.) Even with a lock on your door to keep the world at bay, it’s worth getting along with your housemates, because home can either be a refuge or it can be a nightmare. Whether you’re the tidy one, the slob, the shy one, or the party animal, here are a few tips to make life easier for everybody.

1. Do something together.

At the beginning of the term, when everyone’s getting settled in, suggest to your housemates (if nobody has done it yet) that you all go out somewhere, for a meal or a drink or even just to play poker in the kitchen, together. You may or may not end up being best friends with these people, but you want to be comfortable with them. These are the people who will get your packages from the postman when you’re out, bring you soup when you’re sick, help you nurse a hangover and fend off uncomfortable visits from people you don’t want to see. You should know a bit about them–where they come from, what their family is like, what they’re studying. When you see them, make conversation. Ask how their day was. You’re not strangers.

If a bit stuck for ideas, you can always hang out together and watch Pot Luck.

2. Set boundaries. Keep them. (But also know when to relax them.)

Everyone’s tolerance is a bit different–for people, for company, for sharing their things. Be up front about this. If you’re really not okay with housemates using your pots and pans or stealing a bit of milk, say so. Likewise, if somebody else in the house doesn’t want you touching their things, don’t.

Have your own essentials–milk, tea, bread, shower gel, shampoo–and do not take other people’s.

If you do use someone else’s things–with permission or not–WASH, DRY, AND PUT AWAY. Nothing will make a housemate regret sharing with you faster than finding out their casserole dish you borrowed three days ago has congealed chicken bits permanently burnt onto it. You are an adult. Clean up after yourself. If you are in a pinch and absolutely need to use something of their foodstuffs, replace it without being asked.

Determine ahead of time what food you’ll share, if any–tea, coffee, milk, sugar, staples–and how to go about replacing it. (It can be a pain to have 10 different cartons of milk in the fridge, but even more of a pain to be well into the tea-making process and realise there’s no milk at all.) If you’re going to cook together it’s often worth sharing; if everyone’s doing their own thing, you might as well have separate things.

3. Respect each other’s eardrums, study time, etc.

Don’t play your music so loud other housemates can hear it. Even if it’s not actually rattling things off their shelves (this has happened!), a low faintly-thumping hum is just as annoying, because it’s so insidious that it seeps through people’s headphones, speakers, and walls. If you really like loud music, fair enough–this is why humans have created so many types of headphones.

Likewise, do not practice the guitar, drums, tuba, violin, or frankly any other loud musical instrument in the house when other people are home unless you have discussed it with them first. It’s easy to just set up a time–‘between 8-8.30 on Tuesday I need to practice and can’t get a practice room.’ This way, housemates are aware that it will be ending soon and can adjust their thinking accordingly.

The same goes for loud parties, poker nights, and hanging out in the corridor outside somebody’s room having loud gossip sessions about your date the night before. Don’t make it a habit. Everybody wants to do something special sometimes, and that’s fine–just before you have a lot of people over, inform your housemates, make sure nobody has a huge exam or something the next day, and preferably, invite them.

4. Contribute.

There are things you will all continually need throughout the year: washing up liquid, toilet roll, bin bags. Everyone should contribute to the cost of these things. And be real–if everyone else who buys toilet roll gets a jumbo 9-pack so it lasts a while, when your turn comes around, do not bring home a 2-pack of single-ply. Get bin bags that fit the bin and don’t fall apart. This is unlikely to cost you more than £30 for the whole year; you can pitch in your fair share. Keep track of your turn and buy it before you are asked.

One way to do this is for everyone in the house to go together to Poundland or Lidl or whatever your cheap shop of choice is and to each buy one of these things. This is unlikely to cost more than £4 each. Then take it all home and work through it throughout the year, which depending on the number of people in your house, can last quite a long time.

5. Clean up after yourself, you’re a grownup. (Don’t clean up after everyone else; they’re grownups.)

Your room, which is your own personal sanctuary and has a locking door, can be left in any state you like (unless you have room inspections, in which case, you at least don’t want stuff growing in it.) The common areas of the house should be sanitary and more-or-less tidy. Since everyone has different comfort levels of cleanliness as well, there’s often somebody who ends up cleaning up after everyone else–and everyone else, realising that this is the case, will slip into letting them, however well-intentioned they may have begun. Don’t do these things.

Even if you hate doing dishes, do your own dishes. (It takes like 30 seconds to wash a plate.) If you don’t mind doing dishes, still only do your own dishes, unless you have traded this chore to someone else in exchange for not having to do something else.

Wipe down things like worktops, stovetops, and the fridge. Don’t let stuff grow in the fridge until it starts forming its own polital party. The bathroom should be cleaned once a week. It’s not the end of the world, just get a toilet brush and a sponge. It takes fifteen minutes. Take out the bins on the allotted day. Clear out the recycling. Find out where the nearest bottle bank is and take it out regularly.

Basically, don’t expect anybody else to clean up your mess. Do expect everyone else to clean up their own messes. CLEAN UP YOUR MESS. Some houses find rotas to be useful so that everyone has a job to do every week/month/whatever. They only work if everybody sticks to the rota, of course, and they get really screwed up come Christmas when people stop being around, but if they help you, use them.

See Unfuck Your Habitat whenever you need motivation or advice.

6. Communicate.

Are you all familiar with passiveaggressivenotes.com? (If not, just finish reading this post before you click on that link, because it’ll be hours before you come back.) Here’s the thing–there are always going to be people you don’t see because of schedules, or situations that mean you need to leave someone you live with a note. And if the note is something like ‘Off for the weekend, eat my food before it goes off’ or ‘here are some cupcakes, have a nice day’, then it’s nice to have. But communicating actual important things, or worse yet grievances, via post-it is childish.

If you have a problem with something a housemate has done, will do, or might do, you should talk to them. You don’t have to be accusing or confrontational–remember that most of the time people are not being asshats on purpose, but are just ignorant to the fact they’ve done something to annoy you. (If they have done it on purpose, that’s a different issue–then it becomes harassment or bullying, and you should take it to whoever’s in charge in such situations.) Generally, a ‘hey, you probably didn’t realise because all I have is one tin of chickpeas, but that was my cupboard you moved all your stuff into’ will suffice. That said, try not to have unreasonable demands–the other housemates live there too. Communal living requires compromise.

And if you’ve done something to annoy someone else, and they tell you about it, just apologise. Don’t protest that it wasn’t that bad, or they’re being too sensitive, or they should have put their name on the cupboard door or whatever. Just ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know. What do you want me to do?’ If you’ve realised it and they haven’t actually told you, it’s still worth saying ‘hey, I just realised X might have bothered you. Sorry about that.’ Do it even if you do think they were oversenstive or overreacting. Whatever you’ve been told, unless there’s an insurance claim involved, it’s not wrong to apologise anyway. This is absolutely guaranteed to make your living situation smoother.

Basically, you want your home to be a place for relaxing, that’s nice to come back to–for you and everyone else who lives there. Good luck!

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Freshers Week for Postgrads, Part 2: Housemates

  1. Pingback: Happy academic new year! | a medievalist errant

  2. Forwarded to my college freshman daughter. Thanks.

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