Surviving shared living
Flying the family coop for uni? You're about to enter a whole new world that requires a lot of patience and an open mind. We're here to help you through it!
So you've rolled up to your uni accommodation in a car that's bursting at the seams with all your stuff.
The reality of the fact you're going to be sharing a kitchen and bathroom with complete strangers for an entire year is suddenly starting to sink in, and you're beginning to panic!
Sharing a living space with other students for the first time can be quite daunting: Will I have to clean the shower? Who's gonna pay for toilet paper? Will I like everyone? Will they like me?
Without sounding like complete bores, it's pretty important to figure out a way of dividing responsibility early on in your accommodation. That way, a standard is set before anything even has a chance to go pear shaped.
Lay down the law nice and early and you'll all get along swimmingly!
If the constant jibes about how students only eat pot noodles and yesterday's pizza for breakfast haven't started yet, count yourself lucky – you've got three years of this to look forward to!
Don't succumb to the stereotype – cooking is a central part of any household, and even a student one. If you're not so confident in the kitchen, we've got a great guide to get you started on becoming a pro on the hobs, so you can cook up a storm and save some serious cash.
Not only will cooking at home help save you money, you'll also get to know your flatmates a lot quicker if you occasionally cook and eat together.
There are lots of different cooking options involved in shared living: Some people prefer to fly it solo and cook for themselves each night so they're in complete control of their weekly spending as well as their diet.
However, cooking collectively on a rotation is another option that can work quite well – even if just once or twice a week. This would involve one person cooking for the rest of the flatmates, then this rotates to the next person, and the next and so on.
Think of it as like a Come Dine With Me experience – minus the ratings and knicker-drawer rummaging (although these are optional!).
You can also double up into pairs if there are a few mouths to feed, so one person isn't lumped with doing all the cooking on their own. If you do go with this option, make sure the washing up is on a rotation too!
However you decide to do your cooking, it's always best to try and plan ahead for the week. This might sound dull, but this way you'll budget your food shop better and make sure you're having a varied diet.
No one can say they don't use the toilet roll, but how do you establish who pays for it?
Shopping for shared house essentials is important, especially when you're up to use the loo at 3am and someone just used the last of the bog roll (even though you bought the last 3 packs!).
As with cooking, there are various ways you can all collaborate on the weekly shop. Whilst it obviously makes sense to shop for your own stuff majority of the time, sometimes it can make sense to muck in together for certain items.
Try making a list of basic essentials that everyone in the flat uses (washing liquid, hand soap, bin bags, bog roll, olive oil, etc.) and take turns at buying them.
Alternatively, you could have a house kitty that everyone contributes a couple of quid to each month, then use the cash to foot these essential items.
It can be a good idea to have a note on the fridge indicating who bought what and when, otherwise arguments can arise out of everyone insisting they bought the last roll of bin bags!
Nobody enjoys doing the washing up (if you do, that's a bit weird, but you can come and live with us any time!). It's not often we admit that the stereotype is right, but dirty dishes do have a tendency to pile up in a student house, and this can cause problems.
Passive aggressive dishes-related post-it notes in the kitchen are the norm in student houses, and we've even known disagreements to end with piles of dirty dishes being put in the bedrooms or outside the bedroom doors of lazy culprits – ouch!
In order to keep things as clean and amicable as possible, it's important to lay down the law early on. Oh yea, and this means you have to stick to them too!
Your potential dish-washing options could be to either just do your own dishes as necessary – which is an option that works fine as long as you do them straight away. Stacked dishes blocking the sink won’t make you too popular!
Alternatively, you could have a dish-washing rota where you each take your turn to do them on a rotation. This can work quite well as it means no dishes are ever left lying around.
However, this can cause problems if the level of washing up tends to vary, so maybe keep your super greasy pan dinners to the night when you're on dishes duty!
Setting a standard with chores can be difficult, since it's true that everyone has a different interpretation of what cleaning involves, and how unclean something needs to be before it needs a good scrub!
You might not be bothered by the small creature of hair clogging the shower drain, but that doesn't mean it doesn't make your flatmates want to hurl.
Cleaning a student house can seem like a lot of work, but if everyone comes to some sort of agreement where it's split between you, it shouldn't be time consuming or too much effort.
It's also worth accepting early on that chores will never get split exactly equally, but if everyone at least pitches in there shouldn't be any hard feelings.
If you notice something in the house that's messy/dirty/disgusting/a health hazard, the simple solution is to do something about it instead of standing around moaning about it.
Establishing a system for chores can be a tough one, but luckily you've got a few options to choose from:
- Clean as a group when necessary – If you're going for the group clean up approach, make sure you've got some clear ground rules about what “too bad” is. It's less arduous if you're all cleaning in a big group and having a laugh, and it means no one can be accused of not pulling their weight (unless they repeatedly get caught napping during cleaning time, of course!).
- Have a cleaning rota – So you might've guessed this by now, but we like rotas! This can be a great way to divide the cleaning equally, as if you make sure communal areas are cleaned once a week by someone on a rotation, it means nothing will ever get super dirty (meaning it shouldn't take too long to clean each time) and it's pretty clear when someone is slacking and doesn't do their bit. Have a list of all the stuff that needs to be done on the wall in the kitchen, as well as everyone's names where they can write the date they last cleaned next to it.
- Clean up your own mess – This works ok in theory, but misses that fact that house sharing inevitably involves cleaning up at least a little of other people's mess too. How exactly do you clean only your own hair in the shower?
- Get a cleaner – This might sound like a mad expense, but in fact a surprising amount of student landlords or halls provide some kind of cleaner. Even if they don't, hiring one can be totally worth the expense if you find cleaning is causing arguments. The average hourly rate for a cleaner is roughly £10-15 an hour, depending how long you leave between cleans (and how dirty your flat is!). If you get someone in once every two weeks and you're a house of 5, that's likely to work out at less than a tenner each.
This probably won't be an issue in your first year if you're in halls, as bills are included in your rent. But if you're living in a house without bills included, you're going to have to learn to divvy it all up and make sure everyone's paying their share.
There's a lot of different bills to think about – from water, gas and electric to broadband, tv and even council tax (although most students are exempt, some exceptions do apply)
With a lot of money on the line with bills it's really important to make sure bills are split fairly and paid on time.
There are a lot of different options to go about sorting your bills, but a lot depends on how well you know the people you've moved in with and how reliable and trustworthy you deem them to be.
Your two main options would be:
- One person take charge of all the bills – So, one (very responsible) person will take charge of all bills, and collect the money each month. This is probably the most popular option, but does rely on one person having enough money to cover the direct debits and everyone stumping up the cash in time so they're not left out of pocket. A mobile payment app like Payfriendz is a good option for this, as you can send out a group message via the app saying how much is owed, and the money can be transferred through text (meaning it's also clear to everyone who has paid and who hasn't).
- Divide the bills amongst you all – This option would involve divvying out the bills amongst you so the responsibility isn't all lumped on one person. One person can deal with water, whilst another makes sure broadband is paid each month, etc. An app like Splittable is really good for these situations, as it shows clearly what's owed and what's been paid for everyone to see.
If you've ended up as designated bill payer, but are having trouble collecting cash from those you live with, this can can be a stressful situation to be in. We've got some advice on how to ask for your cash as painlessly as possible!
We've put together a really useful student bills comparison tool (we're nice like that) which lets you compare all the best deals on your household bills. You can also check out our ultimate guide to sorting the bills for more details on how to get this bit right.
Get n*sync with each other
At the risk of sounding like a complete bore, it's probably worth having a quick group conversation with your flatmates about your routines – particularly if you work weekends or have a particularly arduous course that means getting up at 7am every day.
If you iron this stuff out at the start and get in sync with each other, you won't have to wait for a fall out over blaring tunes at 3am to make you more aware of each other.
Respect personal space
Remember that regardless of how much you get along with your flatmates, everyone needs their own personal space, so respect this.
If your flatmate's door is closed, knock. If they spend a lot of time in their room, they probably value having their own space, so try not to bother them too much.
Just try to read the situation as much as possible and don't impose on anyone who doesn't seem like they want to be imposed upon.
Spend quality time together
Try to organise something social that involves everyone in the flat from time to time – maybe a movie night, make homemade pizzas together or have pre-drinks before going out to a club or party.
Making the effort to socialise in a positive environment will make things way less frosty when it comes to discussing chores or someone not pulling their weight.
Have some self awareness
Maybe your parents were never that bothered about the fact you burp at the dinner table and like to walk about the house in your pants, but remember you're not living at home anymore!
Try to be a bit more aware of your bad habits, and be considerate of those around you. It's about time you started shaking them off anyway!
Have you got any great tips for coping with shared living, or any nightmare stories to share? Tell us about it!