The R Word: Advice On Sharing A Space With Other Humans

Few people are born into a world with unlimited ponies, champagne and square footage. Most people have limited funds and share an apartment with other humans. Heck, some people have really limited funds and have to share a freaking room with other humans. Whatever situation you have, it’s best that you and your fellow squatters learn to play nice before it’s too late. The last thing you want is your roomie going AWOL a week before rent’s due with your birth certificate and the last roll of toilet paper. This advice goes for you lovebirds as well. Moving in seems like the Best Idea Ever regardless of what the naysayers say, but keep in mind you will need to set ground rules. Even kissy-faced, kitten-formulating, glitter-popping love won’t stop you from resenting The Most Beautiful Girl Ever when she won’t put away her dishes.

Communication is essential to any healthy relationship, but how do you start setting boundaries without sounding like an uptight jackass? Households get tense when you preemptively accuse one another of using up the toilet paper before you’ve even unpacked. Do you wait until shit gets real or should you have a binding contract as part of your lease? It’s hard for everyone to admit their flaws, but it’s almost second nature to dissect someone else’s.

Remember how often L Word characters did idiotic things that grated on your nerves? Do you remember all of the times you cursed at your screen between 2004 and 2009? Pop in the DVDs and bond with your roommates over your love-hate relationship with Ilene Chaiken while promising to never be that bad. With all of their flaws they all kept their roomies, so why not let them help y’all get along?

 

Have you ever stolen casino winnings? Spent all of your dough on a trip to Canada and been cut off from your inheritance? Gotten kicked out of your overpriced apartment? 

What are you talking about? I didn’t gamble away our rent!

Money is always a contentious issue, so make a plan for rent, bills and communal goods. Everyone I know has played passive aggressive toilet paper chicken at least once and knows how difficult it is to undo the damage. If y’all figure out how to manage your household funds, you can spend your free time baking cookies and high fiving instead of avoiding each other when the cable’s due.

Keep finances transparent. Post bill due dates, accounts and amounts on a shared calendar or an app to spread out the responsibility. If you choose to buy goods communally, Google Docs, Mint, Settleup and Splitwise are all effective ways to keep track of the IOUs. If someone has to take on a greater role because of the landlord, promise you won’t cuss them out when they collect your rent.

I solemnly swear I’ll never be as irresponsible with money as Helena.

 

Do you freak out daily when things don’t go your way? Do you take out your disappointment on your Bluetoothed assistant? Did you attend a meditation camp, yet never learned to relax?

If someone de-alphabetizes the spices one more time…

Time to own up to your idiosyncrasies! Everyone deserves to be happy in their house, but if one of you has standards that are way higher than the others’, that person has to be reasonable. The finnicky flatmate should recognize that they decided to live with “a bunch of slobs.” If everyone’s paying rent, everyone gets an opinion — at least in a democrapartment.

Discuss an acceptable level of order that everyone can accept and achieve. If the picky party still wants the house to be cleaner, they can continue tidying to their standards. As long as no one slacks on their minimal duties, you won’t have to call in Joyce Wishnia.

I solemnly swear I won’t be as tyrannical as Bette.

 

Have you erected a shrine or tote around a cutout of an ex-girlfriend? Do you wail uncontrollably at the drop of a hat? Do all conversations inevitably lead back to your problems?

I don’t wanna interrupt your breakfast, but my Alphabits just spelled out my ex’s name.

A bit of drama is expected. Everyone has issues and there’s nothing wrong with feeling low or upset sometimes. It only becomes an issue when those emotions manifest in a way that affects others. All you wanna do is curl into a ball at the bottom of the shower, but you have to remember there’s a queue on the other side of the door.

If either of you know you’re going to experience a stressful period, think of how your coping mechanisms affect those around you. Will you need your space or a thoughtful listener? Will you break out in tears, lash out or run away? Have an open discussion so you can understand each others’ triggers and coping strategies. At the minimum everyone learns what type of emergency chocolate to stock.

I solemnly swear I won’t be as dramatic as Season 3 Alice.

 

Have you adopted a dog for the sole purpose of putting it down? Do you keep a Pomeranian but rely on an assistant to care for it? Have you still not figured out how to work a Pooper Scooper?

Whiskers just peed on your bed! Isn’t that precious?

If one of you moves in with a pet, keep in mind that Prime Minister Margaret Scratcher isn’t owned by the apartment. Although all of the roommates should partake in cuddling duties, whoever brought kitty is responsible for kitty.

If Fluffy McMitterson sheds hair, scratches walls, vomits hairballs or behaves like a cat, it’ll redefine the split of household chores. It’s the owners responsibility to take over kitty’s share of the cleaning since it’s hard to teach animals to vacuum when they don’t have opposable thumbs.

I solemnly swear I won’t be as bad of a pet owner as Jenny.

 

Have you fucked in your neighbour’s pool in broad daylight? Do you bring home one-night-stands and leave your roomie to deal with them? Have you used your roommates’ breakfasts for foreplay? (Whoops, wrong show!)

I dunno if you heard, but I brought someone home last night

No matter how great sex is, it’s always awkward to overhear it. I had no control over my upstairs neighbour, so I showed my appreciation for their sexcapades by loudly applauding whenever they lasted more than 30 seconds. Walls (and floors) aren’t soundproof and this is emphasized at 3am.

If one of you is a loud sex fiend y’all should talk about it. First off, applaud the fact that someone got laid. No sex shaming here! Once you realize how sound travels in your house, take the precautions to insulate doors, pad headboards and oil bedsprings. Or make silent, covert sex into a game. If they’re trying their darndest and they’re still too loud, consider buying a bucket of earplugs for the entire house.

I solemnly swear I won’t be an inconsiderate fucker like Shane (or Sadie).

 

Have you filmed your roommates naked? Have you converted your room into a surveillance station? Do you think you’re getting away with it? OH THANK FUCKING GOD!

I don’t have any weird hobbies.

I haven’t met anyone that confessed all of their foibles from the get-go. Everyone pretends they love paying rent on time, are friendly yet quiet and would never touch your vodka. I have yet to live with this magical unicorn.

Roomies are human and fuck up from time to time. It’s best to get everything out in the open instead of perfecting the art of passive aggressive notes. Is only one person taking out the garbage? Have people stopped doing their chores? Is there still a whipped cream tit mark on the counter? Did you eat all of the Rage Chocolate? Create a safe space so people can air their grievances or reveal bad news without donning body armour. It’s easier to check in on a regular basis than confess all your sins buck naked — unless you’re into that.

I promise I’ll never be as dishonest or secretive as Mark.

 

Continue unpacking your bags and take the L Word lessons to heart. If more issues arise you can always rely on the Real L Word for examples of fucked up behaviour. Hopefully you survive your first few months together and no one ends up at the bottom of the pool.

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Hailing from Vancouver, Kristen's still trying to figure out how to survive Montreal's Real Legitimate Canadian Winter. So far she's discovered that warm socks, giant toques and Tabby kittens all play a role in her survival. Her ultimate goal is to rank higher than KStew in the "Kristen + Autostraddle" Google Search competition.

Kristen has written 140 articles for us.

45 Comments

  1. Thumb up 1

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    This is so relevant to my life. I was driving home today and for the first time in 5 years, I’m now considering getting a roommate to cut down on living costs. I NEVER thought I’d consider cohabitating with another human, EVER. Mais quel timing, Autostraddle!!

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    All hail the mighty GoogleDoc! Reimbursements abound!

    But also, while we’re on the topic of roomies and googledocs, I’m personally a fan of the bucket list GoogleDoc to help foster roommate bonding/funtimes. I have one with my roommates and we’re always adding venues we want to attend or activities we want to try– that way when it’s Friday night and there’s “nothing to do” we can always refer to our GoogleDoc! No more boring nights due to “what should we do?” brainfarts.

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    According to my calculations, my current living situation involves a Bette and a temporarily Season 3 Alice. Atleast she tolerates my fixation on Miranda Priestly and brings a lifetime stupply of toiletpaper to the table..

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    I live with my ex and I am currently not financially stable enough to move out (can’t find a job to save my damn life out here and I have a degree). It’s to the point where I don’t speak to her unless I truly need to or I am spoken to first.

    What kind of roommate advice do you have for this situation? :)

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      I have done that and I had a friend do that for 8 months. You have to try and ignore that you were ever with them and just focus on the fact they are just an ornery person you’re living with. Which I know is damn near impossible, but you’re gonna have to try.

      If the breakup is still to raw, rely on your friends. Go out to dinner, crash on their couch and just have other people in your life. If you’re angry at her, rant about it with your friends and get it out of your system because going to her now won’t do anything (you may be well past that stage). It’s going to take a lot of mental gymnastics, so make sure you have support while sorting out your feelings. Have your friends over anyways to mentally reclaim your space. Warn them beforehand of the situation, but ask them to help you out anyways. If people are over she may play nice and be a bit friendlier or she’ll hide away and your house won’t seem so foreign to you.

      Spend your time doing what made you happy before you were with her. Writing? Baking? Singing? Doesnt matter, just re-explore that part of yourself. Take up physical activities that will tire you out so you don’t have the time or energy to think about the situation you’re in. Volunteer with organisations so you meet new people, get out of the house and acquire some skills to help with your job search.

      If you have the opportunity, spend time on Craigslist’s free section or thrifting to amass the furniture and household goods you’ll need for your escape. Having separate things will limit your interactions with her/trigger fewer memories with you as a couple and let you gtfo as soon as you get the chance.

      Good luck!!!

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        We’ve moved to a city in New England, far away from our college town in the south. She has turned to our roommate (sleeps in her bed, even) and I have been trying to keep myself mentally occupied but it is very tough. Unfortunately, I don’t have my friends here to lean on. All I can do is hear their voice over the phone. Thankfully, I started grad school this fall so I have a lot of reading to do. It provides a much needed distraction, and school was the whole reason I moved to a new city in the first place.

        Personally, I’m a homebody but I try to stay away from the apt so I’ve had to force myself to go out more just to get away from her. I feel like I’m the one making the sacrifices and am getting the raw end of the deal from this breakup. I just want to be comfortable in my own space, in my new apt, but there’s nowhere to seek refuge. We even share bedroom walls, so I’m never that far from her.

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          I’m a homebody as well and it was definitely difficult to give up that coping mechanism. Do you have your own bedroom? If you do, you may want to redecorate and act like you’re back in dorms. Or ask to have a small space established as YOUR office.

          Congrats on being in grad school, focus on that! Talk to other people in your program or hang out in the library? I’d try to make new friends. When you moved I doubt you were going to rely on her for all of your companionship, so try to meet people like you originally planned? I really do rely on OkC and mobile dating apps to find new friends. I’m sure there are some lovely New England Autostraddlers in our midst.

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          I’m sure the South-to-New-England culture shock is a bit rough! I understand if you don’t want to post your school or city, but if you narrow it down to a state, at least, I’m sure we can unearth some local (or local-ish) Autostraddlers!

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      Oh, silverclouds. Your story resonates with me on a really deep level. I am currently in (nearly) the same living situation and am having the worst time grappling with it. The way I live is very, very important to me and I can’t wait until I am out of this hellish situation.

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    My sister is straight and my roommate. I told her I will have gay sexy times and she told me that she will be doing “heterosexual shit” with her boyfriend in front of me. I was confused what this meant but due to observations and being invited to this shit it means going to IKEA to help her boyfriend furniture, some ice creams shops in Brooklyn, watching movies with white people embracing like “The Notebook” only to make fun of it, getting drunk and other things. So far this “heterosexual shit” I have participated in made me realize that I am hanging out with a heterosexual couple that is cool as hell.

    Then again she is my sister and my biggest ally.

    But I *try* not to use the bathroom and leave the door open, her boyfriend caught me doing that and it reminded him of his grandpa. I am living in the best roommate living situation.

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    I just have to know so I can sleep at night:

    Do you EVER comment to yourself living with an ex/person you had multiple sexy times with, “I know what your vulva looks like and it’s lovely!!!! (And) I’m going to make coffee and eat biscuits with nutella.”

    In your miiiiiind!!!

  7. Thumb up 1

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    Perfect timing and incredibly relevant. Loved the article!

    Also, this may not be the place to ask this but I’ll try anyway! I’ve searched the DIY/Food tag as well as the Health/Sports tag and have yet to find anything but I feel like you all would have written something about this: an article on how to eat healthy when you’re broke? I mean, really broke. My girlfriend and I live in an above ground, tiny, basement-type thing. All we have is a fridge/freezer, microwave, and a small camping stove to work with. I’m not complaining really, just wondering if anyone had any tips or resources to throw my way. :D

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      I AM A PRO AT CHEAP HEALTHY EATING!!!

      I was in university full time and working part time at a job that didn’t always pay and I did intense weightlifting and ate for under 100$ a month!!

      The best advice I can give you is to stock up on CHEAP staples you buy in bulk or on sale (dry beans, dry whole grains like kamut, quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, nuts, spices, flour, sugar, canned fish or meat, oil and vinegar) and then EVERYTHING ELSE, you buy on sale (fresh or frozen fruits, veggies, dairy, tofu, eggs, etc). And then mix and match ALL OF THE THINGS.

      At one point I depended on the food bank and had to get extra creative with whatever dented cans, sad-looking veggies and stale bread. Because I kept my staples more or less well-stocked, I was always able to make SOMETHING, even if that something got coworkers looking at me like, WTF why are you eating rice and tuna?!

      Honestly though, you end up putting weird shit together, but I came up with some good recipes that are super cheap and that I actually crave and will make all the time even though I can afford real food :P

      So other than stocking up on staples, I would also suggest investing in a slow-cooker and making a “meal plan”. This last tip is extra useful if you make it according to your grocery store’s sales flyer.

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      How to eat healthy when broke, the time-consuming, complicated guide :

      step 1 – don’t buy anything that doesn’t have nutritional value. Soda, alcohol, sweets, chocolate, cookies etc – out! If you can’t live without tea or coffee you can make an exception for it, just buy the cheapest stuff (if you drink like 10 cups a day try to cut back though).

      step 2 – find out how many calories a day you need to eat. First, use this calculator to get your BMR (the minimal amount of daily calories you’d need if you were to spend all day in bed doing nothing) : http://health.discovery.com/centers/heart/basal/basal.html

      Then multiply it by one of those numbers, depending on which description fits your lifestyle best :

      – Little or no exercise : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.2
      – Lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375
      – Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55
      – Very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725
      – Very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9

      step 3 : determine what those calories should be made of. For protein, the general rule of thumb for female-bodied people is about 1 gram of protein per kilogram you weight (KGs/pounds convertor here : http://www.manuelsweb.com/kg_lbs.htm). Add 5~15 more grams if you’re exercising and trying to maintain/build muscle.
      The rest is divided between fat and carbs (hint : natural, non-trans fats are better on the long haul than carbs).
      Also, don’t neglect fruits and vegetables, they’re poor on the macro-nutrients and calorie front but full of vitamins and fibers.

      step 4 : The time-consuming part, whee! Now that you know what you should eat, you need to figure out which are the most cost-efficient sources. I can’t really give general advice here because the relative price of various foods may not be the same where you live, so you’ll have to learn what foods are made of and which are the cheapest choices and combinations.

      For me, this means getting my protein from beans, eggs and dairy (meat/fish and tofu-based things are way too expensive), buying vegetables in big frozen bulks rather than canned or fresh, dry beans rather than canned beans, seasonal fruits and veggies rather than exotic and out-of-season ones, and avoiding processed foods as much as possible.
      Maybe it’ll be the opposite for you like tofu, canned stuff or processed foods being cheaper where you live, idk. If you don’t know either, take the time on a day off to stroll through the supermarket and write down the price (per pound).

      Once you know what you should put in your body every week (or month, or whatever amount of time passes between two sessions of grocery shopping), then go shopping and buy JUST THAT. Next time you go shopping you should have eaten everything you bought the last time.

      Keep your eyes out for sales and promotions, fluctuations in prices during the year etc.
      Buy/cook/freeze stuff in bulks.
      Always calculate the price-per-pound of the stuff you buy, sometimes you pay a lot of money for the packaging alone (small/individual packages and portions = much higher price in general).
      Prioritize foods that offer a lot of different things (e.g. animal products are a good source of both protein and fats, some beans and quinoa are rich in both protein and carbs, etc).

      And the hardest part : get used to eat a lot of the same stuff and snack on things you wouldn’t consider “snacks”. Spices and creative cooking helps a lot with this.

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      You guys are awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to type up all of that for me! I really appreciate it.

      Kristen, I am looking forward to the future article!

  8. Thumb up 0

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    I always found that living with guy friends was easier than with other girls. Just….mellower. Yeah, they were generally messier, but that only served to highlight to any houseguests just how clean and put-together my parts of the apartment were.

    That said, after moving out of the apartment with my ex last year, I solemnly swear that I will never cohabitate again. As an introvert AND someone who freelances from home, there is no way that sharing my space with someone will turn out well….for any party involved.

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    I don’t get it. What does taking a trip to Canada or going to a meditation camp have to do with having a roommate? I prefer to live by myself, personally.

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