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The 20-Something's Guide To 9 Common Housemate Problems

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    Housemates are good for a lot of things, from saving on rent to helping with zips you can’t reach. But it’s not all easy: shared spaces, conflicting schedules, and different definitions of what “clean” means can make home-sweet-home anything but.

    It doesn’t matter if your roomie is your best friend since childhood or a Gumtree random; at some point, you’re going to have to deal with one of these all-too-common housemate disputes. It can feel uncomfortable to tackle things head-on, but more often than not, being up-front is the best solution. Plus, having these conversations now can be good practice for moving in with an S.O. down the road (or so my married editor promises me). While I have yet to bunk up with a boyfriend, I’ve certainly had my share of roommates: 24 in just under 10 years. And I’ve navigated every issue and fight out there, with varying levels of grace.

    To learn from my mistakes (and do better in the future), I spoke with Lizzie Post, great-great granddaughter of Emily Post and host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast, to get her advice on dealing with cohabitation problems productively. Spoiler alert: A lot of it comes down to what Post calls the three C's: communication, compromise, and commitment.




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    Living with a housemate can save you money…if you actually split the bills. But if you’re always the one stocking the TP and filling up the fridge, it can feel like you’re throwing cash out the window. Before you accuse your roommate of trying to bankrupt you, however, remember that they're probably unaware that your idea of what’s fair runs counter to theirs.

    When talking about a more equitable way to share finances, Post emphasises that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, so be willing to compromise. If you feel like you’re always the one buying staples, maybe you can offer to make that your job — provided your housemate agrees to pay you back once a month. Or maybe make a list of what’s shared and what each person is responsible for. It may seem obvious to you that you’ve never once touched the communal groceries, but your roomie could be totally oblivious.

    The thing to avoid is preemptively deciding something should be split and just presenting your housemate with a bill. It will only lay groundwork for resentment. Conversely, if they decide that twinkle lights or £100 of dry goods are communal property and asks for your half, consider the benefits of swallowing the cost this one time and setting a policy going forward. When it comes to an unexpected expense, I remember what a friend once told me: You’re saving money in your current living arrangement, so chalk it up to an occasional “happy housemate” tax and move on.

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    Here’s something I’ve actually had no experience with: a housemate who suddenly gets a permanent shadow around when they start dating someone. While I haven’t had to deal with it myself, I’ve heard it all from friends: boyfriends or girlfriends who steal coffee and toothpaste, dominate common areas, and/or basically move in rent-free. While the lovebirds are lost in each other’s eyes, you're eyeing the water bill wondering how much the creeping cost is due to new boo’s very long daily showers.

    Post, unlike me, has dealt with this in the past, and she says it’s important to bring things up early. Let your housemate know, gently but firmly, that you’re not signing up to live with a couple. It’s completely reasonable to ask that the significant other chip in, whether it’s with actual cash or doing the dishes. It’s also within your rights to ask to renegotiate the rent so the couple is paying more than 50% of the share — should you eventually decide, as a group, that it’s okay for the S.O. to move in full-time.

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    Oh, the chore wheel. I think every year of uni, whatever set of housemates I was living with came up with some kind of list of rotating chores. And then we did it…exactly never. Cleaning can be a sensitive issue, and an easy way to cause fights, since someone else’s mess can feel like a personal insult to you. Sometimes, you might not even agree on what a "mess" is. Once, my housemate and I were tidying after a party and, since it was late, we both knew we’d save some of the clean-up for the next day. I started immediately shoving every dish into the sink so at least the counters would be cleared. She looked at me like I was crazy and said that, to her, an over-full sink is worse than cluttered counters. I was gobsmacked!

    If you keep in mind that a person’s cleaning habits have much more to do with their personal preferences than with any disrespect for you, you can again approach the conversation with a willingness to compromise. What’s a reasonable standard for apartment cleanliness you can both live with? Once you decide what a workable solution is for both of you, Post says the dreaded chore wheel can actually be a good solution. “It’s a third party that dictates what’s going on, so the other person can feel less personally attacked” when you remind them of their duties.

    That said, if the cleaning plan doesn’t work, revisit the initial conversation and see what can be changed. Are you and your roommate willing to nag each other to get things done, or is there another option that hasn’t been tried yet? Sometimes, throwing in cash for a cleaning service will go a long way in making everyone happy.

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    Slamming doors and heavy footsteps might only disturb you for a few seconds of the entire time you’re home, but that can be enough to ruin your day if it disrupts your sleep. Post once again emphasises that it’s highly unlikely your housemate knows her noise is bothering you, so approach it as a friendly ask, saying something like, “I don’t think you have any way to know this, but when you close the cabinets, it wakes me up.”

    And, again, big shocker: Be ready to compromise. If your roommate is an early riser, you can’t expect her to silently teleport out of the apartment every morning. Post’s own life is a good example here: She once asked a roommate to leave the kitchen cabinets open in the morning so the slamming wouldn't wake her. It meant Post would have to come through afterwards and do more tidying in the kitchen, but it also meant she got a lot more sleep.

    For my own part, I once had a roommate who would come home late and turn on every light in a hopes of being able to tiptoe around as quietly as possible. But the light would wake me up immediately. I would have far preferred a bit of noise in exchange for minimizing the light. Had I just let her know, I would have gotten a lot better sleep that year.

    If the problem is TV or music, offer to set quiet hours during which the two of you can still enjoy entertainment, but in your rooms, with headphones on. Also, you can suggest your own compromises: Offer to try solutions on your end, such as earplugs or a white-noise machine.

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    If you’re having friends over, Post counsels notification. “It’s not about asking permission; it’s about keeping people informed,” she explains. It’s amazing how much a little heads-up can change someone’s outlook when they come home to find guests.

    If you’re the one continually caught unawares by guests, Post suggests saying something like “I’d love to get some advance notice when other people are going to be in the house.” This is also a good time to talk about closing time for get-togethers. If you’re worried about noise on a weeknight, it’s perfectly reasonable to make a rule that people should be out by 10 or 11 p.m., or ask that they retreat quietly to a private space after that.

    Sometimes, though, clueless guests can overstay their welcome. Hosts might not always feel comfortable giving them the boot, so you can use my tried-and-true method: Get up and say it’s time to put on your PJs, or find an excuse to tiptoe through the common space dressed for bed. Do it with a smile on your face, and it sends the message loud and clear regardless: It’s lights-out at your casa.