Article for G3 Magazine.
You’ve just stumbled back home from the pub. You fish for your keys and try to guide them soundlessly into the lock. Tiptoeing down the hallway you are relieved to find no light from under your flatmate’s door. Still, you potter around the kitchen in complete darkness- lest you wake ‘er upstairs- and prepare for a satisfying feed, but uh-oh you’ll have to borrow some butter again. With scientific precision you match the existing knife scrapings then replace the tub to its exact co-ordinates on the shelf. Satisfied she’ll never notice you ease the door shut. That’s when you see it through the gloom: another passive aggressive note. It begins “to whoever has been using my butter…” and ends with more contempt than you had for your parents aged 16. Sh*t.
After deliberating the many ways it may be possible to return the butter unerringly to the tub you go to bed resigned to your fate. You fall asleep wondering how it ever got to this stage, what tomorrow’s note will read and if there’s really enough room in the pitiful excuse for a garden for her to bury your body.
Sound familiar? Many of us will have experienced a housemate from hell at some time and will know how painful they can make everyday life. Your home should be your sanctuary and there’s nothing like a personality clash to make you feel so uncomfortable you genuinely contemplate sleeping in the office. Unless you’re the sort that prefers putting up with it and exacting revenge via the other party’s toothbrush (which is more common than you’d care to know). But how do you find the right flatmate, when there’s no saying truer than “you don’t know someone until you live with them”?
Cleanliness (excess or complete deficiency) and basic etiquette – are the biggest bugbears of the sharing classes and can turn even the sanest of people into obsessive weirdos. It could be you’re sick of paying for everyone else’s toilet roll and have resorted to measuring usage with a ruler or are so tired of the lack of clean plates you’ve started hiding them in your room. Whatever the cause, you don’t want to do it, but they’re making you! Generally the best advice to guard against insanity is to find out in advance from someone who’s lived with your candidate before. This ought to weed out the ones that don’t pay the rent on time and the ones who live like complete animals. But that’s often not possible.
If you do have to place an ad on Gumtree then be honest. State the kind of environment you want to live in, list your priorities, and be realistic. If you want your home to be a hub of social activity then don’t expect it to be pristinely clean all the time too; living is messy! You might be better off with Herman Hermit than Lambrini Linda, at least Herman’s a no mess, no fuss kinda guy.
When it comes to habits: no one’s a nun. Whether it’s nose picking, leaving the seat up, or moaning loudly during sex, everyone’s got one. Yes, even you. Some are easier to live with than others though: using the kitchen scissors to trim your pubes and cleaning them after, gross, but generally okay as long as I don’t know about it. Leaving your keys in the front door on a regular basis however is wrong, wrong, wrong.
So even if after all your stringent vetting, you and the chosen one turn out to be complete opposites on the living spectrum you can still get along provided, like Erasure, you give a little respect: for other people’s things, their personal space and their way of living. That goes both ways though, so don’t be a pushover. Raise, discuss, compromise: repeat. And if that still doesn’t work, it might be best if one of you move out. As another old saying goes “when two elephants fight, it’s only the grass the suffers” and that means goodbye deposit along with all of your crockery.