WORDS Megan Smith
In the three years I have lived out of home I’ve resided in six apartments, had 13 different roommates, lived in four suburbs and had roughly five million nervous breakdowns. House-sharing isn’t always the easiest of tasks, so if you’re expecting to pack up your worldly possessions in your bindle stiff and bid sayonara to Mum and Dad any time soon, there are things you need to be wary of.
Most (read: all) of my living situations have been some arrangement of testing, painful and legitimately dangerous environments, so you can trust this cynic’s experience. I’ve seen things, man, so feel free to think of me as your cohabiting yogi. I only want the best for you, your mental health and keeping the homicide rate of freewheeling young adults at an all-time low. Here we go:
1. On living with strangers: Don’t fret too much about what other people say about choosing roomies. I’ve lived with both friends and strangers, to varying degrees of success. It’s best to ignore everything you’ve ever heard about Stranger Danger, because most of the time, living with a stranger isn’t terrible. Granted, I’ve lived with a homophobe, a sexist, and a racist (alright, this was the same person), but when we weren’t arguing about his messed up world views, we actually got along fine. The anecdote about my easy relationship with a bigot is not to say I haven’t also shared close quarters with some freaks, though. Right now I have a roommate whose name I literally don’t know. Once I lived with someone who I’m pretty sure was just a ghost that only ate Subway.
2. On living with friends: On the friend side, there will always be people emphatically telling you “DON’T MOVE IN WITH FRIENDS, IT RUINS EVERYTHING”. I disagree, if your relationship disintegrates and you hate your roommate shortly after you move in, it’s likely that your friendship would’ve fallen apart eventually anyway. If it’s an issue of incompatibility, then communicate your troubles clearly and quickly, you’re meant to be friends after all. Hash your crap out as soon as possible, and everything will probably be alright. However…
3. On attempted murder: It doesn’t matter if you’re best friends or total strangers, you and your roommate/s are going to wants to stab each other’s face off sometimes. This is usually due to issues of personal space, the discovery of everyone’s weird, previously unnoticed idiosyncrasies and messes. Okay, it’s usually ALWAYS about mess. Make sure when you move in that you enforce rules. Do up a roster, have house meetings, fake a dust allergy, it doesn’t matter. If cleanliness is important to you then be sure that everyone is on the same page about keeping common areas clean. If none of you could give a crap, then go on with your bad selves.
4. On the gross stuff: You WILL experience some seriously messed up bathroom stuff at some stage, the kinds of stuff that’ll make you look askance at your roommate for a few days. You will see your roommates’ errant pubic hairs decorate the toilet seat or the edge of the bathtub, and see or smell unpleasant bathroom forays. I had a roommate who used to drop deuces and then absolutely bomb the bathroom with some organic lemon spray. It’d creep under my closed bedroom door and infiltrate my nostrils, some citrus warning to herald that my roommate’s bowel movements were right on track. This smell somehow became much more repugnant to me than the original stink would have been.
5. On cash money: Real talk: you’ll probably run out of money at some stage. Goon towers, hangover food, and that one roommate who ran up the electricity bill because they couldn’t manage to turn the goddamn heater off, that all adds up. If you have lovely parents like mine, parents who don’t like when their children starve, they may just offer you some money. Take it, kiss them with gratitude and don’t ever, ever think about turning it down. Earlier, I reviled the thought of taking money from my parents, “I’m independent!” I would say. I was also very hungry and very foolish. Just get over it, you’re a university student; humility is not your friend. Your parents probably love you and worry about your welfare, so just let them make it rain on you while you still have the chance.
6. On the couple conundrum: So, you want to live with a couple? Prepare yourselves kids – these situations are tumultuous as hell. If you like to hear fights, slamming doors, and the sensation of literally FEELING awkward tension, then this ideal for you. The sexy stuff is worse though, coupling up in tight spaces is pretty tricky. It quite often results in you hearing various moans and groans that no pillows can muffle. If you’re sharing a bedroom then get a sock, or maybe a neon freaking sign, to indicate that you’ve taken a lover into a communal space. I once burst into my shared bedroom to discover my roomie being mounted by a strapping young Brazilian fellow. I retaliated by dropping to the floor in a fit of hysterical laughter and crawling out into the hallway (I may or may not have been quite inebriated), effectively ruining their loving session. I don’t feel guilty though, if you’re doing the shared bedroom thing, please have a nookie warning ready to send off. Get textual before you get sexual.
7. On food thievery: Someone will steal your food at least once, and boy, will they will be merciless about it. A collective fridge is a veritable warzone. Your food stealer is a Blood, you are a Crip and your leftover Indian food is South Central Los Angeles. This is never going to be pretty. If someone steals your food, you need to track that person down and make them pay. Like, literally pay you back or replace your food and then promise to ask you before they poach your stuff again. Food stealing is definitely Not Cool, so don’t pull this crap on anyone you want to live peacefully with. Can you tell I’m still bitter about those leftovers?
8. On having a room of one’s own: I can’t stress how important it is for everybody to get their own space and enough time to themselves. If you’re anything like me, you need to be alone for a good period of the day or you start to get in that oh-my-god-I-am-going-to-put-anthrax-in-their-tea mood. After the honeymoon phase, living with pals becomes less like a daily sleepover and more like shift-work friendship. This isn’t bad of course, in fact it’s healthy. Living with people can be suffocating, and you don’t want to cohabit with someone who keeps coming into your room to talk about what’s happening on The Voice when you just want to hang out in your room alone. If your roommate is being overbearing and knocking on more doors than a Seventh Day Adventist, just yell out “I HAVE CRAMPS, BE GONE.” Permitting you don’t have a menstrual friendly roommate, this should buy you some time. This will still work if you’re a guy, but it’s probably going to be a lot harder to explain.
9. On surviving: This is the most important rule of all. If you feel uncomfortable or in danger about where you live, do not hesitate to move out. This sounds like common sense, sure. But there were so many times that I stayed in a place longer than I should have before I was forced, or finally got the courage, to move on. The first place I resided in Sydney was incredibly dangerous, but I didn’t really think I needed to leave until I was threatened with violence, regularly listened to the man in the room next to mine smash up his belongings and continually invite over a lady to have loud relations with. This woman turned out to be both mentally disabled and his cousin, by the way… If you buy me a drink, I promise to tell you this story in full. Don’t be like me and let it get to that stage, if you feel unsafe, you can always make arrangements to get the hell out of there.
10. On being legal: The most important thing to know about moving out has been nicely encapsulated by a tattoo on the back of Angelina Jolie’s neck: Know Your Rights. Read contracts carefully and confer with a real grown up if need be, make sure you understand what you’re entitled to and what you’re protected from by law. If you think you’re getting ripped off or treated unfairly, you probably are. There are so many websites and hotlines you can click on or call to check on any nasty issues that arise. Self preservation is the key; don’t let the scumbags and the scammers take advantage of your inexperience.
Despite all of my horrible, no-good experiences since moving out of home (this article doesn’t even scratch the surface), it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. As much as I miss eating real food and having my dirty laundry magically reappear as clean and folded squares on my bed the next day, I don’t regret my decision. If you’re spreading your wings and leaving home either because you want to be independent or because your parents can’t bear having you around any longer, trust me when I say that it’s one of the most liberating, grown up things you’ll ever do. Heed my list, take care of yourself, and most importantly, have fun. You’re free!