A long, long time ago, back before there was Netflix or iPhones or even a user-friendly Internet, I used to live alone. And it was glorious. I had a marvellous apartment, high up in a gorgeous building in West Hollywood. It wasn’t very big, just a one bedroom with a tiny bathroom, a kitchen and a small living area, but it was all mine. I had a balcony with an enviable view that stretched all the way downtown, and at night, the lights of the city stretched out like a glittering blanket below.
If there were dishes in the sink, they were my dishes. If we ran out of milk or orange juice, it was because I drank it. Extra rolls of toilet paper were stacked neatly on shelves in the bathroom for my exclusive use. I even installed a phone jack next to the toilet so I could talk to friends while I was, uh…getting ready. It was single girl heaven.
Don’t get me wrong! I liked my roommates in college (mostly). I enjoyed sharing a flat with girlfriends and of course, I adore hanging out with my family on the rare occasion we're all in the house at the same time. But, living with other people is hard. You have to compromise, change your habits and be quick to forgive if they do something thoughtless. It’s all part of the harmonious dance we do when we share a dwelling with other humans.
So, about that dance: I am raising two Man-Cubs at the moment and one of them is very close to leaving home. I am feverishly cramming domestic life lessons into the next six months before I unleash him onto the world. These lessons aren’t cheap. They come with decades of hard-won living and experience. But, since it’s the Holidays, I am prepared to share them with you for free, just in case you know someone who could benefit from some tried and true House Rules.
To wit, my Top Ten tips for Living With Other People.
1. Yours, Mine and Ours: The single biggest complaint you hear from roommates is the “that’s not mine” routine. Empty cartons of milk in the fridge, dirty dishes in the sink, wet towels on the floor. It wasn’t me. Get your head around the idea that were all responsible for everything in the house and we all have to chip in. And it probably won’t kill you to wash someone’s plates once in awhile. Think of it as an investment into the Peace + Harmony jar.
2. Chore Chart. It sounds corny, but those old-fashioned designated jobs your Mom used to give you work in our grown-up life, too. If you all agree (and agree you must) try to parcel out jobs like grocery shopping, cooking or taking out the trash. Fair is fair.
3. Dude, where’s my burrito? If someone has bought something that looks at all special or part of a recipe, it might be worthwhile to ask first before you shove it in your pie-hole. Just saying.
4. Wet Towels. There is only one acceptable place for them and that is spread out on a towel rack to dry. Also, don’t borrow your roommate’s towel unless you are prepared to wash and replace it with a quickness. That’s #terrycloth rules, Sir.
5. Borrowing things. Unless you have explicit permission to borrow or enjoy your roommate’s’ things, don’t touch them. This extends to everything from laptops to girlfriends.
6. Parking. Two words: Key Hooks. If you live in a city, parking will be scant and if you are lucky enough to have off-street parking, you’ll probably have to stack cars. Key hooks for hanging car keys in a common area is the best way to ensure your roommate’s girlfriend’s car won’t trap you in when you’re late for work. They’re also handy for a gallant gesture on street cleaning day if your housemates are about to get a ticket. #peaceandharmonyjar
7. Guests. Overnight is maybe amusing. Weekend guests are tiresome, but tolerable as long as you don’t hog the sofa and the remote all weekend. But anything longer than 3 days is plain old rude. Long-term guests in a shared house should pitch in and contribute to groceries or even offer to pay some rent.
8. Replenishment. Coffee filters, toilet paper, eggs and batteries are consumables and as such, need replacing. The rule is; if you finished it, replace it. Seriously. And leaving one sip of orange juice in the carton or one piece of toilet paper on the roll should be grounds for expulsion.
9. Utilities. Split them equally and don’t be the one who takes 20-minute showers or leaves the lights on all day. Conservation and consideration go hand in hand here. Enough said.
10. Learn the Art of the Fade. Being in a shared space can be tricky. Learning to be sensitive to others and strategically disappearing when they need some privacy is an important function of living with others. If you are thoughtfully picking your ear in the kitchen and your roommate is having a heated argument with his girlfriend in the dining room, take your toast to your room and stay there until the coast is clear.
These may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people I’ve encountered do not abide by them (and also how many times I’ve broken them myself). But with practice, these rules will become second nature and living with other people can be the mostly charming experience you thought it could be. And change that toilet roll. Always.