Sometime around 380 B.C., Aristotle declared that people are “social animals.” If that’s true, then why is it so tricky to actually live with people?
If you chose to live in coliving community, you probably did so because you’re excited about the opportunities it offers. But you can love coliving, and your housemates, and still look forlornly at the sink, where a crusted pan waits to be washed.
Despite good intentions, differences of opinion can arise even within the best coliving houses. These tips will help you gracefully navigate your new living situation, and make the most of it.
1. Act with respect
Respect can be summed up by the golden rule: treat others how you want to be treated. If a housemate is always stingy, for example, don’t nag them about it. Instead, if you model good behavior, your housemate will see you as kind and generous, and interpret the house culture as open and relaxed about sharing.
Respect covers the physical basics: keep your belongings in your room, don’t eat your housemate’s ice cream (even if it’s the fancy kind in the glass container, and it looks like it has caramel swirls), and clean up the kitchen when you make a mess.
It also covers the emotional basics: listen to the needs of your housemates, don’t gossip (staying quiet and nodding your head is an excellent alternative here), and operate under the assumption that your housemates have emotions as varied and complex as you do.
2. Listen actively and empathetically
Active listening is a tricky skill, especially as it becomes more acceptable to use social media in the presence of others.
Luckily, to be a good housemate you don’t have to be an Olympic level good listener — you just need to pay attention when people tell you things (put your phone down; make eye contact), remember your housemates’ important details (preferences, birthdays, siblings), and, within reason, modify your behavior if they ask you (this shows that you were listening well).
As for empathy, this talk by Brené Brown tells you all you need to know.
3. Communicate proactively
It’s easy to apologize retroactively, after, say, you’ve eaten all your housemate’s ice cream. But retroactive communication can still lead to latent resentments and frustration.
Proactive communication anticipates a potential problem and figures out how to solve it before it happens. Good topics to proactively discuss include cleanliness, food sharing, storage space, guest policies, quiet hours, and how you’ll handle conflict. If you set ground rules about these areas upfront, no one can claim they “didn’t know they were supposed to clean.”
Proactive communication might involve creating a group text, scheduling a monthly check-in meeting, or signing a housemate agreement (like this one). It might also lead to a chore chart, a sticky note system for marking personal food, or a shower schedule.
Creating these systems of communication will generate realistic expectations for those who are living together, and prevent miscommunications.
4. Be intentional
There is value in thinking about how close you want to be with your housemates. Perhaps your ideal coliving community is one where families live together, or it looks like ‘Friends’, or perhaps it’s a quieter, peaceful living situation.
Either way, it’s important to think about. Will you opt-in to dinners every few days? Enjoy hourly coffee together? Or are monthly movie nights more your style?
If you know what you want from your coliving situation, you’ll have an easier time crafting it, and you’ll be able to set appropriate boundaries between yourself, your housemates, and your community.
5. Do things together
Spending time together, solving problems, and sharing light responsibilities all enhance social cohesiveness. The more you hang out with your housemates, the more you’ll learn how to support each other and create a safe environment for everyone to come home to (you can check out the Starcity blog for suggestions!)
Additionally, hangouts and outings are forms of proactive communication. If you’ve done ten fun activities together, and you need to have one stern conversation, you’ll already have built up some good will.
This doesn’t mean you have to see your housemates all the time (see “be intentional”). But relationships work well when people trust each other and feel safe. This is built up, in part, by investing time in them.
6. Assume good intentions
Be optimistic when your housemate forgets to Venmo you for sushi. Maybe it was just an accident. And that time you said hello but they didn’t stop to chat? Maybe it’s because they were super tired after work, and they needed at least thirty minutes of solo time before starting a conversation.
If a housemate has intentionally wronged you, makes repeated mistakes, or acts offensively, then you should try and talk to them about it. But if your housemate hasn’t done anything to lose your trust, why not give them the benefit of the doubt? You might be pleasantly surprised.
7. Accept diversity
This is particularly important in larger groups such as those found in some Starcity locations. The beauty of a group lies in its differences. You might be able to play soccer with one housemate, make baked goods with a second, and discuss your wacky parents with a third.
No two relationships will be the same, and that’s the lovely thing about living with others.
If you can learn to accept your housemates for who they are, it’ll reframe anxieties you may have about whether you fit in, or why you’re closer with some housemates than others.
It’s totally normal for sub-groups to form within communities living together — accepting that, and being able to go with the flow will help you enjoy each of your housemates for who they are.
Coliving can be an amazing experience and, if you’ve decided that coliving is right for you, these tips should help you get the most out of your experience.