Prior to going to university I had never lived with another person for longer than a month; it was the aspect of the whole experience that scared me the most.
Would my roommate go out every night and stumble into our room at odd hours? Would she leave dirty dishes out and steal my food? Would we get on with one another?
The answer to each of my questions, to a degree, was ‘yes’, but I was lucky on the whole; my first-year roommate and me became friends. We were both journalism majors as well as being in the same scholar programme and we ended up having rather a lot in common.
I think more often than not your roommate or flatmate will end up being easy enough to get on with. You may not become great friends with them, but you will be able to live with one another.
To calm any first-year jitters about living with other people here are a few situations you could end up in and suggestions on how you could deal with them:
Your flatmate steals your things
My flatmate in first year did steal my food, and often. Every once in a while she escalated to taking my makeup and wearing my clothes without asking which bugged me quite a bit.
Prevention is the best route here I would argue, so I suggest you have a chat with your flatmate on the first day to stop this potentially awkward problem in its tracks. You could lay out some ground rules and ensure you both take them seriously and stick to them. I didn’t do this in my first year and I definitely regretted it. If the problem persists, talk to your accommodation provider, students’ union or student representative to get some support.
Your routines are completely different
It would be nice if the person you are living with is always on the same time schedule as you, but due to timetables, and differences in personality of course, it rarely happens. I had a job last year that often finished at 11pm or later three times a week. When I got home after work it would be the first significant period of time I spent in the flat all day so I would need to do my laundry, dishes or unwind by watching a bit of television before bed, but my roommate was a light sleeper and often went to bed early. It is understandable not to want any loud noises after midnight but when it is 9 pm and they want to stop the washing machine in the middle of its cycle so they can sleep, differences in routine start to become problematic.
Again, communication is key here. You have to remember whilst it is inconvenient for you not to be able to get housework done late at night or early in the morning, you are disrupting someone else’s routine. You could get everyone in your flat to write out their schedules, including what time they prefer to sleep and shower, and work out a timetable that includes an allowance for house chores and noise. It is going to involve compromises on all sides, no matter how you organise it, but if there are set rules that everyone follows then your flat should be a better place for it.
Your flatmate is messy
This is not the person that leaves a few pieces of clothing on the floor. This is the person whose entire closet is spread around your communal areas, who has dirty dishes under the sofa and leaves coffee cups to sit on the lounge table for days. In short, their living habits are gross.
It’s hard to get very messy people to change their habits but they should know that you are not the same and that it makes you feel uncomfortable. Make a deal with your roommate: they can be as messy as they want, but only in their own space. Ask them to keep the shared space tidy for when visitors come over whilst making it clear you don’t care what happens behind their door.
That way, hopefully you won’t have to hop over their discarded shoes on the way to the kitchen only to find a sink full of dirty dishes with no clean spoon in sight.
Your flatmate acts like a parent
Many people will know someone who is the mother or father figure of their friendship group, the one who worries about everyone when you go for a night out, always has medical supplies they are trying to dole out, and reminds you to grab a jumper when the forecast predicts a chill. Usually they are helpful, caring people. But when a parental type goes a bit too far in their attempt to look after you, living with them can fast become a pain.
When this person drifts into the realm of trying to control you, it is time to have a talk. Sit down with them and explain that whilst you appreciate they are trying to help you, there is no need as you’re here at university in part to figure out how to live on your own, and you can’t do that if they are always taking care of things for you.
You’re no longer getting on with one another
This happens a lot; you get to university and your flatmate is the first person you meet. You hit it off and end up doing everything together - you join the same clubs and societies, make friends with the same people, and always eat dinner together. For the first few days/weeks/months you are inseparable, but soon the constant companionship begins to wear thin and differences in personality may start to emerge.
If/when you begin to get tired of always being with your flatmate, start getting your independence back sooner rather than later. If you act on it soon, you’ll probably still have a good friend at the end of your first year. If not, you could grow to resent one other. Join a club or society at your students’ union by yourself or make an effort to talk to a person in your seminar group, or someone who lives down the corridor from you. In first-year in particular, everyone wants to make friends - it’s just a matter of putting yourself out there, and without your flatmate at your side.
Have you ever been in a difficult living situation whilst at university? If so, how did you resolve the problem?
Kathrine Schulze is current journalism student