Survive (and Thrive) in a Shared Living Space

Survive Shared Living

Survive and Thrive Shared Living Situations

Tips for Staying Sane while Living Together

By Kara Cochran

I have never lived in a single-family household. In the eighties my parents moved into a triple-decker with two other couples. Six kids and one move later, we were all still together, and I got the benefit of growing up with the best extended family I could ask for. During the past year, I have embarked on a new shared living adventure of my own, that of the ubiquitous college apartment. Along the way I’ve learned even more about what it takes to smoothly share a home. So! I present 5 tried and true tips for living together, one for each of my current roommates:

#1 Organize the Chores

Call a roommate meeting to brainstorm what chores need to be done on a regular basis. In my experience, people have wildly different notions of what cleaning a room entails, so in addition to putting down “clean the bathroom,” list specifically what needs to be done, i.e. “clean toilet bowl thoroughly.” Next, come up with a system for who is going to be responsible for doing what and when. This could be as simple as making a chore wheel or a shared Google Calendar. Chores may vary, but the end result for every shared living situation is the same. If something is disgusting on Sunday night, you know who was responsible for cleaning it. That way you can give a friendly reminder instead of stewing resentfully, leaving passive-aggressive notes or angrily leaving dirty dishes on their pillow (true story). Having an agreed-upon system ahead of time facilitates blameless communication and promotes a sense of shared responsibility.

Chore Chart


#2 Clean Up a Mess That Isn’t Yours

 It may seem like I’m harping on the whole cleaning issue, but bear with me, I’m German. Every once in a while just suck it up and put away all the dishes in the drying rack, clear old food out of the fridge, organize the spice drawer—any kind of small undertaking that improves quality of life in the apartment and contributes to a culture of clean. Not only does this make you feel good about yourself, if your roommate is a decent human being and they see you changing a light bulb or washing those grimy dishtowels, you will have planted a seed of good housemate karma in their heart. Be the change you wish to see in (your shared living space), the world, etc.

Survive and Thrive Shared Living Situations

#3 Replace the Toilet Paper!

This one should be self-explanatory but you’d be surprised. And by the way, it’s over, not under.

Survive and Thrive Shared Living Situations

#4 Buy in Bulk

There is nothing more irritating than squabbling with roommates about whose turn it is to buy trash bags. Avoid this by making a trip to a big-box store every few months to stock up on essentials like toilet paper, paper towels, sponges, dish soap, etc. Buying in large quantities saves money and splitting the cost upfront saves you from a cold war in which each roommate tries to hold out the longest before buying the next round of basic necessities. Shared essentials leads to happy shared living. If next-level efficiency is what you and your housemates are after, there are several online services (like Amazon Subscribe & Save) that will automatically deliver specified household items to your door every month. You may also want to consider getting a cash-free app like Venmo to streamline making small payments to each other for supplies and utilities.

Survive and Thrive Shared Living Situations


#5 Make Your Room an Oasis

If you live in a cheap college apartment like I do, you are likely surrounded by the scars of previous short-term tenants who had little invested in keeping the place nice. Example: each time I enter my basement I am greeted by the word “WASTED” painted on the wall. While your apartment may not be your dream-house, do make at least one part of it exactly tailored to your tastes.

The more you do to make it feel like your own, the happier you will be living in it. Plus, no matter how much you love your roommates, one cannot overstate the value of occasional solitude.

Survive and Thrive Shared Living Situations

#6 It Helps if You Like Each Other

This is a bonus tip. After all, I am the sixth roommate. Successful shared living starts with compatibility, so choose wisely. With good roommates you can tackle anything—even, dare I say, the fruit fly infestation currently plaguing my pantry. Although my apartment is far from perfect, one day I will be sad to leave it because it has allowed me to live with five of my best friends, and I really couldn’t ask for anything more. As someone who was raised in a multi-family household composed of post-grad roommates who have been living together for almost thirty years now, I know better than most that choosing your roommates can be an opportunity to choose your family.

Survive and Thrive Shared Living Situations

(Pencil Drawings by the talented Alex Beggs)