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The Strange Case of Dr. Housemate and Mr. Shared Living

Many students live in shared flats or houses – it’s just economical! But with flatshares come flatmates, and that can be a whole different set of adventures. There are the types of flatmates we all know and those flatmate disputes you might have to settle. Whether you’re only looking for a new flatmate or are already trying to douse the fire of living together, we’ve got you covered!

flatmate - studysmarter magazine

* We’ve kept the word “flat” for this article, although we know that in US English, “apartment” is the preferred term 😉.

When You Need to Find a Flatmate

The finding of flatmates is a serious matter,

It isn’t just one of your holiday games.

Finding a good flatmate is a matter of some trouble for new students. Most of the time, you’re already stressed out about finding a decent place to live – and now comes the problem of finding a flatmate (and let me tell you, there will be problems).

But before we get down to various types of people you’ll meet while sharing a flat, let’s look at you. Getting a flatmate is a result of mutual screening – you get to judge, and they do the same. Once you’ve scoured various room offers and set off to visit the place you want to move into, you should consider the following:

How You Come Across

Think of this as a job interview – what you say and even what you wear can dictate the person’s judgment about you. You don’t have to wear fancy professional clothes if it’s not your style, but make sure you’re not unkempt – stains from last week’s taco Tuesday should really be in the laundry. Be polite and as friendly and genuine as you can, but watch out for the same in your potential flatmate. If they’re standoffish, uncommunicative, or shifty during your meeting, these are all good indicators of what you can expect in great measures later.

If you’re the one welcoming flatmates, ensure the place is tidy and functional – nobody wants to move in and discover that the shower is broken or that electricity falters every other day.

Whichever side you find yourself on, try to find out about your potential roomie by asking them about their studies and lifestyle. You don’t need to know their social security number, but you should certainly be privy to their general tendencies in terms of university and work.

Not sure about your upcoming interview?

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Shared Values about Flatmate House Rules

Living with someone with a totally different attitude to house rules is tough. When you live with someone, the crucial values to look out for are cleanliness and mutual respect. You don’t have to spend time together or become best friends, but if your new flatmate doesn’t demonstrate the willingness to be cordial and upfront about issues, you might want to seek another person.

Some basic house rules include: Taking care of the shared rooms (kitchen and living room) and making sure they’re ready to use.No one should leave the stove with stains or hair clots in the bathtub. Similarly, you should always discuss issues in person rather than texting or leaving passive-aggressive sticky notes around the house. You also should decide how food in the fridge is treated: What is free for everyone and what is off-limits? Do you buy your own groceries, or do you shop together? Who takes care of utilities, and how is news communicated? You should discuss the logistics from the get-go rather than be stressed about them later.

Feedback Loop

Make sure you and your flatmate provide honest, but not accusatory, feedback to one another as you settle into a cohabitation routine. Living with other people is a bit like a wedding ceremony: If anyone objects, they should speak now or forever hold their peace (or explode later). If something bothers you, bring it up straight away. Don’t let the resentment build, as it may result in unsavory drama. Be cordial, reasonable, and calm – if you’re bad at handling conflict, write out the talking points and confront your flatmate when you’re calm and collected.

flatmate - studysmarter magazine

Does an Ideal Flatmate Exist?

If an ideal flatmate falls into a flatshare app, do they even exist?

Yes, this is exactly the right question to ask. Finding a flatmate is a serious business indeed, and the fact is that you will be annoyed with one another at some point. Sometimes you have a bad day; other times, underlying issues need to be addressed.

Truth be told, an ideal flatmate is the one who never shows up, doesn’t leave their room (where they’re wearing noise-canceling headphones at all times), rarely eats, and most definitely has nobody over at any time. If you need company, however, they have the most amazing stories and jokes about their travels, but they also have the seventh sense to know when you want to be left alone again.

Sounds a bit impossible? It’s because it is. But, there are indeed …

Types of Flatmates Everyone Knows

After you’ve come to terms with the fact that there are no perfect flatmates out there, I’m happy to inform you that many imperfect ones fall into recognizable categories:

The Clean Freak

Let’s start with the good ones. Until they’re not so good anymore, of course. Clean freaks will scrub, rub, polish, shine, and spray every tiny surface in the flat nearly daily, and they will expect the same devotion from you. While you don’t have to dust and vacuum every day, you should take good care of hygiene, especially in your shared areas.

The Slob

The polar opposite of the clean freak is the sloppy one who buries trash under their bed, hangs out with patches of mold, and has a tower of dirty cups leaning dangerously from their desk. I would recommend hammering out the details of your house rules with this person from the start and then relentlessly enforcing those rules.

The Social Butterfly

Did you just see the door open and close? This person jumps in and out of the flat, always texts, and never fails to make small talk. Extroverted to the core, social butterflies love spending time with other people and have a full social calendar. If you find them agreeable, you’re guaranteed to never be lonely or bored in your life. However, do make sure that you are still doing your university work and keeping track of other obligations.

The Invisible Person

Yes, there are people like that who hardly ever surface from their bedroom. When they eat or go to university is anybody’s guess, but you’re pretty sure they’re binge-watching something out there. Whether they’re too engrossed in their books, supremely devoted to their art, or just antisocial, at least this type of person won’t bother you too much.

The Chef

You don’t even have to wonder where you’ll find them next – the smell of the most delicious brownies will lead you to them. The good thing about this one is that they’ll feed you too!

The Good-Vibes-Only

We all know that one person who is always optimistic, over-the-top happy, and refuses to acknowledge that bad things do happen and that you’re allowed to feel down from time to time. Don’t let an overly-enthusiastic flatmate bully you into toxic positivity, though. It’s good to have a relatively positive outlook but not at the cost of processing your own emotions.

The Lost One

When’s the rent due? Who should do the shopping? What is that water stain on the bathroom ceiling? I don’t know who knows, but your flatmate certainly doesn’t. They are perpetually confused about which day it is, what they have to do, and what exam they should be studying for. I hear they’re good drinking buddies, though!

The Boyfriend/Girlfriend Drama

Whenever you run into them, they’re arguing with their significant other over the phone about the pettiest things. How and why they’re still together is a mystery to everyone, but no matter what you may think about it, make sure you know when to comment. If you suspect your flatmate is in an abusive relationship, step up (gently) and give them some advice. On the other hand, if they’re simply drama for the sake of being drama, you can deal with this in two ways: a) Do not engage, or b) listen for an occasional gossip, which you will, of course, pass on to your friends.

The Diligent One

There are studious people out there. This fella is always on their way to the library, uni, or study groups. And when they’re not, they’re buried in their books and projects. You’ll recognize them by the copious amounts of coffee they consume on the regular. As long as they wash their cups, you’re fine.

The Gamer

Board games, video games, any games really – they have them and are hopelessly devoted to their craft. Sometimes they stay up all night; other times, they play the master of ceremonies hosting game nights for friends. For the most part, they’re benign, although you might find their schedule odd and hard to keep track of.

The Weird One

Weirdness is a relative term here – what’s weird for you is probably not weird to someone else. Nevertheless, in your study years, you’re likely to have at least one flatmate whose hobbies and interests you can’t wrap your head around. As John Lennon would say, let it be and save the best snippets for your friends.

The One You Don’t Talk About

Hard truth: Everyone has had that one flatmate they don’t talk about. Because they were an absolute nightmare to live with. No matter what, you just couldn’t see eye to eye, and at one point, small and big aggressions accumulated. Screaming matches, sabotages, and pettiness, you’ll probably see them all. It’s just how things go sometimes, and believe me, the sour memories will stick with you, but you’ll at least always have something to talk about.

You

Nobody is perfect, and neither are you. Sometimes your flatmates will also put you into a category, and that’s OK. After all, it takes time to find your tribe, and flatsharing is a journey with various speed bumps along the way. Keep your head up!

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How to Settle Any Flatmate Dispute

As you have already surmised, there are various funny people out there, and sometimes conflicts may arise. If you feel like there is a problem in how things are run in the house, you should nip it in the bud. Common flatshare problems include cleaning and chores, the extra person (e.g., partner or best friend), noise, and sharing items like food or hygiene products (in other words, some people have no boundaries).

Here are a few tips on how to deal with your problematic flatmate:

  • Discuss it openly. As I said at the beginning, no notes or texts – this needs to be done in person.
  • Be courteous. No need to yell or, heaven forbid, insult anyone – you’ll only be yelled at and insulted in return. Keep it civil at all times.
  • Don’t drag third parties into it. Sure, you will report everything to your friends and parents, but there’s no benefit in bringing them into the actual dispute. After all, the other person has their back up, too, and building armies is a bit ridiculous.
  • Enforce boundaries. Whatever the topic may be, make sure that your boundaries are respected, even if you have to remind your flatmate every time until they get it.
  • Be ready to compromise. Living with someone is always about compromise – you won’t get anywhere being as flexible as a brick wall.
  • Know when to look for another flat. Sometimes you just don’t get along with someone, and that is also OK. If you recognize that your efforts at keeping the peace are futile, start checking flatshare websites and planning your exit.

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Is Every Flatmate an Annoying Flatmate?

Despite the somewhat questionable types of flatmates I’ve outlined here, having one is by no means a bad experience. There will be moments of disagreement and shifting views on how things should be done in your own version of a civil partnership, but having a flatmate is not all that bad.

There will be laughing to tears, joining forces against the elements (like that water stain in the bathroom), having coffee together in the morning, and watching TikTok videos of cats until you both have your favorites. You might meet your future best friends in a new flat if you keep an open mind.

So here’s to you and your new life in a flatshare! Have fun!

What is a housemate?

A housemate is a person with whom you share a flat or a house. You each have your own bedroom, and you most likely share the kitchen, living room, and bathroom.

How do you find a housemate?

Most of the time, you will be looking for a room in a flat, and you’ll meet your potential housemate there. Otherwise, you can advertise on various websites advertising shared apartments.

How can you be a good housemate?

To be a good housemate, you must respect each other’s time, space, and boundaries. Do your chores as agreed, and do not snoop around or help yourself to your roommate's stuff. Be polite and ready to compromise.

What is the difference between a flatmate and a roommate?

A flatmate is a person with whom you share a flat (apartment), and each of you has a separate bedroom. A roommate is a typically American word used for someone you share an actual room with (in student dorms, for example) or the entire place (also called a housemate).