I’ve been living with room- and housemates ever since heading off to college over a decade ago (and since birth, if you count family), and I feel like I’m starting to figure out what makes it work. I’ve never lived alone, and although I’m sure that has lots of its own merits, I love having roommates and the energy that comes along with that. I also haven’t lived in a true commune-type situation, so most of this applies to having fewer than four or five in the house. Here are some tips, tricks, and fun ways to approach the experience of shared living.
Intention. The biggest part of creating a positive living experience and a sense of community is having the shared intention to do so. Simple in theory, but harder to find in practice. There has to be buy-in from all the housemates in order to create a community rather than just a bunch of separate rooms connected by a hallway or kitchen. A great way to facilitate this is with some kind of founding document or manifesto for the house. Write out the intentions you all have and post it as a reminder. This has gradually evolved at my house, and we currently have a list of “Top Priorities”:
- Meet new people
- Experience new things
- Be mobile
- Don’t hold back
- Be generous
- Practice gratitude
This is a great lead-in to important thing #2:
Communication. Let’s be honest. Having great roommates is like being in a relationship. Communication is key, and without it things are going to get weird and uncomfortable pretty quickly. Face-to-face meetings and check-ins (about both house stuff and personal stuff) are the best, but technology can help fill the gaps. House spreadsheets for chores or purchases, group text messages for random updates and silliness, message boards, inspiration boards, quote boards, the whole shebang. A great way to improve communication is to get rid of the internet at home. It can be hard, but it’s worth it. When I was working full-time, an occasional long email to the house as a life update would go a long way toward starting necessary conversations and talking about difficult things.
Shared Experience. Your roommates don’t have to be your best friends, but everything is more fun when they are good friends, or when there is openness to becoming good friends. Sharing experiences is a great way to do this, and one of the ways I bond most quickly. Cooking together is an excellent start, and as the house develops, sharing bulk grocery shopping and having parties/game nights/potlucks can be wonderful. Less routine adventures are the best for creating long-term shared memories. Road trips, bike tours around unfamiliar neighborhoods, shopping at Goodwill, hosting yard sales, going out dancing, construction/art/craft projects, hosting guests/couchsurfers, whatever you all enjoy but don’t get to do that much.
Being Open. Everything is not going to be perfect all the time, but things will be much smoother if everyone is willing to step a bit out of their comfort zone occasionally and let the house do things in a way they normally wouldn’t do it themselves. Have conversations about new things, be flexible. Try to see the situation from your roommate’s perspective; take a step into their world view to expand your own.
POSITIVITY! This is a life skill, not just for shared housing. A big way it translates into a living situation, though, is through generosity. Everyone is going to owe everyone else a few dollars at some point, and if one person is consistently getting the short or long end of the stick, it’s probably time for a conversation. When cooking or baking, it’s best to make enough for everyone even if they don’t ask or aren’t home. If two of the housemates are better friends, that doesn’t need to lead to the exclusion of others. Basically, play together and be silly. Create house rules and a “sin jar” for breaking them. Make unusual traditions and inside jokes. Be creative and cherish the fact that everyone is going through the same struggles in life as you. Be grateful that you have wonderful people to live with, and give them the same respect you want to see from them.
Oh, and do as many dishes as you can stand to do, as often as possible.