Flatsharing with strangers as an adult is doomed - with or without a 'contract'

I write this after spending the weekend observing a chunk of bacon wallow in the sink

Jessica Brown
Monday 01 September 2014 22:52
Perfect flat mates. This is not how your share will look.
Perfect flat mates. This is not how your share will look.

A data company has teamed up with housing campaigners Generation Rent to produce a guide to flatsharing. Titled ‘The Housemates’ Guide to Happiness’, it aims to help people navigate through common flatsharing issues, including guests, pets, cleaning and common items. It says, “A house is not always a home. Do your best to make it feel like one!”.

But the truth is, living with other humans where there’s no vested interest to keep things running smoothly (sharing genetics, a circle of friends or bodily fluid), will always end in passive aggressive Post It notes and regular questioning of the human race and why it blows its nose in the shower without a tissue.

Very few flatmate “contracts” will ever work in the long term – flatsharing with strangers is doomed with or without a signature. As a reluctant flatsharing veteran, I write this after spending the weekend watching a chunk of bacon left in the sink change colours. Pink to brown to grey, in case you were curious.

As well as anyone who lives in London and isn’t a millionaire, students are among those who have to endure living with strangers. A lot of them will currently be making their way to university and unpacking new pots and pans they can’t distinguish between among new faces they can’t distinguish between.

But unlike flatsharing as an adult, students share a lot in common: age, lifestyles, education level, no pets and general naïve enthusiasm. It’s after university where the problems lurk, when you have to share a home and a toilet with anyone and everyone. Really – I’ve lived with a 50-year-old drug-addicted DJ, an Italian whose hobby was to spit on drinks in Starbucks, and everything in-between.

Renting horror stories are always in the news. The price of rent, demand and supply of properties, necessity of finding somewhere to live and quick turnaround culminates in a property (un)lucky dip that means you could end up living with absolutely anyone. And it’s more than likely that a clean person will end up with a 30-year-old man-child who sleeps with pizza boxes, and introverts with loud, self-declared party animals.

Before moving into a new flat, you imagine how amazing it’s going to be living with someone who soon becomes your best friend. You picture late night secret-swapping and duvet-sharing and film marathons on a Sunday. But swap ‘secret’ for ‘ant infestation’ and ‘Sunday’ with never, ever in a million years.

It might work with students, but if you move into a new flat brandishing a shiny, freshly printed ‘happy housemate’ contract you’re probably going to get laughed at. Just to give you an idea: my flat has a cleaning rota, and if I go into the bathroom without something on my feet, I vomit in my mouth a little bit.

After a while, the perils of flatsharing become cyclic. At first the annoying and disgusting habits of your fellow dwellers irritate you, then they’re all you can think about. Then it stops becoming so much about the annoying and disgusting habits, and more about what they represent: you’re a busy, responsible grown-up and the smell coming from your flatmate’s room has just woken you up. But don’t despair, because after a while, you start to laugh at these things. Mainly because you’re so sleep deprived that you find everything funny.

My guide to flatsharing is: never leave a Post It note, always supervise stupid flatmates when they’re using the oven, and never, ever live with a middle-aged drug addict DJ.

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