Thanks everyone for your continued support- SO appreciated! Today’s post is about something that you are bound to struggle with as a student: living successfully with your flatmates. I could save you the long read and sum up my post in one line i.e. “choose your flatmates wisely”… However, we all know that life is not always that simple and in my case, I definitely did not have that choice as I came to South Africa with my brother and it was cheaper for my parents to have the both of us living under one roof.
I know this is also the case for many African students not only for cost reasons but parents genuinely tend to believe it is better to live with each other especially in the first 2 years or so unless of course you are admitted into a university residence. My brother and I have spent over a decade together (matric+university+masters=yes, I am old indeed…lol!), and went through sometimes entire months without a few words (as things got pretty hectic at some point,lol!)… This article is a reflection of my personal journey & gives a few survival tips when sharing a flat.
You are different: period.
Understanding this is CRUCIAL and will save you from many arguments/disappointments. You will be inclined to make this mistake if you are sharing with familiar people such as friends and/or siblings. The earlier you embrace your differences, the quicker you will get to understand your flatmate (from their point and not yours) & improve your relationship with them.You do not need to see things the same way, you do not need to “clean the house” the same way, eat the same food, week-endsetc.
Draw boundaries, very early on
Once you understand that you are different, it is equally important to draw boundaries. Understand what you can compromise on (e.g. friends allowed on weekends/sleepovers, sharing your honey, plates, toiletries, etc) and what you cannot. There are no rules as long as whatever you end up agreeing on allows each one as flatmate to feel respected. For me, my brother quickly understood that there shall be no taking personal items without asking, and there were things that were just off limits…like my socks (boys and their audacity,lol!). On the other hand, I gave up on fighting for food (both ownership and portions) so the rule was that whatever is in the fridge belongs to everyone, etc.
Don’t just assume everyone will share equally. Rather list all the expenses expected e.g. electricity, cleaning lady, food shared, etc & understand what each one is willing to contribute-that will determine the budget you are working with (whether it is unaffordable/affordable, or fair or not).
Friends need not be shared
Your flatmates’friends are his/hers and not yours… you owe them nothing and vice versa. This means for e.g. you do not have to tolerate things they do that make you uncomfortable (e.g. some of those annoying guests who always seem to find their way to the fridge without asking, or sleep over for longer than originally anticipated, or worse give you their opinion on your life as if you were friends to begin with….lol!). Understanding this upfront will avoid any potential future fights about friends that are not even yours to start with.
“Clean” a word so simple, yet so complex…
Let’s just say I am not a clean freak, but I do like a little bit of order and cleanness around me (I go insane without that). My brother on the other side, hmmm….let’s just say he is rather comfortable with whatever state the house is in. It is clean? great! It is not…oh well, life moves on…lol! It took me years to understand that our understanding of “clean” was literally oceans apart… and when I did, I realised that I needed to work on being more specific when I meant “cleaning the house” e.g. remove plates in the room/under the bed, no bread crumbs on the kitchen counter, no newspapers lying around in the living room, clean bathroom tub & toilet, lyeretc…
Chores are meant to be shared
Aligned with the above, when making a list of chores…You can totally understand that when working with someone that has a different understanding of the word clean, best way to avoid any frustration is to draw up a list of “chores” e.g. wash dishes, wipe floor & kitchen counter, etc. rather than something super generic like “clean the kitchen” (because the dishes will be done, and that’s it…lol!).
You have a problem…S.p.e.l.l. it!
I am a “bottler” if there is such a thing… I pretend to be okay, until I am not and it is too late because by then I would have exploded and acted rather crazy. Find a way of communicating your problem e.g. the bathroom is filthy, the electricity usage is out of hands, friends’ visit is hampering your concentration, etc. Do not assume that someone understands exactly what is wrong by being upset, spell your problem clearly.
Problems are meant to be resolved
There is nothing new under the sun. Unless you are dealing with a pathological lier or cleptomane impacting on your student life negatively…most issues will be pretty trivial and can be resolved if discussed well. However, should you deal with any of the personalites listed above- do not try be a hero and call it quits: move out and/or look for a different flatmate and/or stay on your own if you can afford it.
Pick your battles
You can’t win all the time: sometimes winning is letting go especially for your own sanity and/or inner peace. This attitude will also help you later in life. In my case, I decided that food and clean plates would not be what I would lose my mind over and/or damage my relationship with my brother for that matter. So, I stopped putting pressure on myself to have a spotless place and embraced cleaning whenever I felt like it rather than become resentful and/or that “forever” complaining flatmate. I also decided that as long as public spaces were kept clean/decent (i.e. kitchen, toilet/bathroom and living room), I did not care much what my brother’s room looked inside or whether they were plates under the bed… what happened in his room and whatever might have been growing/not growing in there was his business…lol! This saved us from a mini world war, lol!
Quality time makes a difference
Do get to know your flatmate a little better. Simple things like monthly coffees, and/or activity will help you build a bond and better understand each other. However, draw boundaries first before exploring any forms of friendships if possible as it just becomes harder to explain yourself after… lol!
I hope you enjoyed this post. I would love to hear from you, are you currently experiencing challenges with your flatmates? What would you do differently if you had to start over? Leave a comment down below.
Until my next post
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