If you’re like me and you think you’re perfect, let me break it to you gently.. you’re not. We’re not. It’s so sad and unfortunate but it’s true.
The good news is, no one you know is either. We all have our oddities - habits, routines, likes and dislikes - and sometimes we don’t become aware of them until we start sharing a space with another person for an extended period of time.
As mentioned in my earlier post about fulfilling my purpose through design, this post is dedicated to roommates everywhere. Couples, friends, families, loved ones, strangers. At home, in offices, restaurants, bars, bathrooms, hotels, airplanes, etc. - shared spaces of any kind. Regardless of the relationship, location or circumstance, we all are required to coexist with others at certain points in our lives, and it shapes us. How we navigate the relationships within these spaces can only be learned one way - trial and error. But it’s how you move through the errors that lead you to cohabitation success or failure.
Great design can massively enhance how two people experience sharing a space, but unless the occupants commit to working at the dynamic, no amount of gorgeous furnishings, lighting or delicious decor can smooth over underlying tension. So, this post is dedicated to supporting interpersonal communication and encourage relationship growth.
Now, let’s get personal for a minute. I wouldn’t call myself neurotic about tidiness, but I’m pretty damn close. I think it’s excusable because I’m a designer and interiors are my everything, but the true driver behind why I care is because how spending time in a clean and organized space makes me feel inside. It gives me clarity of mind, freedom to not be distracted, and open to savoring all of the pretty & calming things around me. It’s soothing and makes me more enjoyable to be around, too.
In college I shared a house with 8 girlfriends (the best kind of chaos); I’ve lived in way too close proximity to a boss (nightmare); and for a brief stint in New York, I shared a “studio converted 3-bedroom” (such a joke) with two girlfriends and… wait for it… FOUR little dogs!!! The point is, when I decided to pick up and move back out West to cohabitate with the love of my life, I felt pretty confident I had the roommate thing down. Nervous for sure, but with a well-tested skillset for how to navigate whatever was to come.
I’d say for the most part I was right, but I also learned a ton. Namely that I’m not perfect which defied everything I had ever thought 😉 But in all honesty, the change from independent to joint living has helped me to recognize my own peculiarities, and how to chill out on certain things that bring HIM great joy, and define how we both collectively view and value our home to look and feel. Thankfully, the change has exceeded my wildest expectations, and reflecting back on it for this post, I believe our success is 80% attributed to communication and 20% to not taking ourselves too seriously.
As I walk you through my tips, I’m mostly speaking in the context of living with someone (and mostly a significant other). But please keep in mind, much of this is also applicable to many other shared spaces too, including work environments which we end up spending so.much.time. in as the years go by.
1) Recognize the Vulnerability
Change is scary and moving is especially off-putting, but moving in with someone new takes that vulnerability to the next level. No matter what, there is always an adjustment period. In the first few weeks and months, your sensitivities are heightened, but remember, so are theirs. Home is SUCH a sacred space and beginning to share it with another can feel like you’re being asked to open up your soul… but you’re not… relax and carve out some alone time in your space or elsewhere to regroup with yourself as you begin to adapt.
Moving in with friends or a significant other (as opposed to a stranger) is especially nerve-racking, because you love that person so much and you’re so eager to see it succeed. The swirling thoughts of “what if this doesn’t go well” don’t serve you… embrace the journey, it won’t be perfect but as my beloved therapist once said “there’s nothing you can’t approach” and that couldn’t be more true. You can ALWAYS communicate about whatever it is that’s challenging you - and if you can’t, then that’s another issue…
2) Respect & Consideration
Respect that you each had a role in making the decision to cohabitate, and therefore you share responsibility for how you got there in the first place. Respect that this is the other person’s space too. They have every right to feel as at home, at ease and comfortable as you do. Respect that you inevitably have different ways of doing things because you came from different places, but remember that when one feels vulnerable they’re not typically thrilled about learning something new… so maybe in time you can help teach the other person a new way of doing something and vice versa, but take it slow. Respect that they may not be on their roommate A-game as they’re actively adapting too. But above all, just be considerate.
“Considerate: showing careful thought, not to cause inconvenience or hurt to others.”
3) Establish Good Communication Early On
Kindness, patience and generosity are so important… but ultimately, if you’re feeling an imbalance of give and take, you’re destined to become resentful. Same goes for frustrating behaviors you’re witnessing that you’re eager to have stop. Resentment leads to a terrible amount of tension, stress, pain and creates the ugliest living environment. So, communicate early, communicate often, communicate with maturity and an open mind. And expect it of the other in return.
Communicate at ideal times - not at the end of a 14-hour work day, or a Friday night after 25 drinks. Go into the conversation at a time when the other person seems to be at ease, with as little emotion behind it as possible (even though navigating challenges in your personal space often feels SO personal). Consider having the conversation outside of the home.
Approach it with specific examples of the behaviors you’re looking to see change, but go in SOFTLY. People are so sensitive when they’re feeling accused, so practice your wording ahead of time and phrase your issues in such a way that does NOT make the other person feel attacked. Or nagged, or like they’re a terrible person and can do no right… sounds dramatic but it’s easy to go there when feelings of vulnerability are present. AND, remember, it’s their space too.
Recognize this: when someone gets super upset about dishes being left in the sink, it’s often not because of the dishes - it’s because some deeper need isn’t being met, or they don’t feel attended to in some other way… If it’s purely about the dishes, it shouldn’t be too emotionally charged, but each individual must become attuned to what’s really at play, and take responsibility to address each issue in the appropriate context, at the appropriate time.
Use positive framing: “I really appreciate it when you do x and y” - not, “I hate it when you do x and y” or threats of any kind, and be sure to explain why - why what they’ve done (or haven’t done) makes you feel a certain way. It helps them to understand where you’re coming from and see that you’re not just out to criticize them. Google “how to communicate effectively” if needed.
This is where recognizing you’re an imperfect human comes in handy. You should never feel like you have to walk on eggshells (and if you’re feeling that way, add it to the list of things to address), but you should also be mindful of how YOU are sharing the space.
A few questions to ask yourself… Are you messy? Are you overly sensitive to cleanliness? Do you take over the laundry machine for 4 days at a time? Do you respond passive aggressively? Do you respond by slamming doors or giving the silent treatment? (Hint: this is terribly immature behavior and you need to do some personal work to help yourself become a better communicator… it’s well worth it but it starts with you.)
A few more questions… Do you leave your stuff in the common spaces when instead you could store them in your room or a closet? Are you hypocritical about certain rules - expecting things a certain way but unwilling to hold yourself to the same standard? Are you loud at all hours of the day/night? Is your hair clogging the drain or all over the floor after you blow dry it? Do you FaceTime your parents in the living room for an hour when you could seek out a more private space? Are you home WAY too much that the other person might not feel like they have any privacy? In the case of roommates, is your significant other staying over way too much?! Is your dog ill-behaved? Thoroughly investigate your own demeanor and actions.
CRITICALLY IMPORTANT: when the other inevitably brings up issues they’re having with you, be humble. Welcome their feedback with an open heart and mind, ask for their input for how you can improve, and if necessary, share with them how they can support you as you work toward changing. You will likely want to get defensive immediately, but don’t… remain grounded, breathe, pause, and if you need a minute to regroup, ask for it and revisit when you’re in a better headspace. But always revisit it so they feel heard and you two can begin implementing new solutions. Don’t apologize profusely, you’re human. But do listen, learn and grow together. “It takes two to tango” is the real deal.
5) Organization of Belongings
We each have things we like access more frequently than others, and that differs from person to person. Organize your space with that in mind. One might have more shoes than the other, but have less closet space, whereas the other may have a bike but doesn’t care about the use of the hallway closet… Think selflessly - how can you adjust to make the other person’s life easier? Trade, negotiate, simplify. This shouldn’t be a battle, ever. Adapt as you go and as needs change. When you start to become notice new piles popping up or less space for certain things, before you become critical and irritable, problem solve. Get creative. What can you change up? Maximize under-bed storage, unique cabinet space, and be open to paring down your belongings if that’s the only solution - but don’t suggest that until all other options are reviewed.
Belongings can be very sacred to people, so be sensitive to that. Even if you can’t for the life of you understand WHY they have 18 AUX cords when AUX connections rarely exist today, or an 85-piece coozy collection… They have meaning, and that’s all that matters. Work with them.
6) Teamwork & Shared Responsibilities
Ultimately you’re a team. Act like one. Take inventory of all shared responsibilities - trade, negotiate, divide and conquer. No matter what, no one person should be responsible for everything. Divvy based on eachother’s strengths and likes - do you hate doing laundry (me) but don’t mind doing dishes (me)? Are you really diligent about paying bills but hate mowing the lawn? Revise as needed as you go, but communicate about it, otherwise the other person is not liable for changing their behavior or knowing what your bad attitude is all about. Whatever responsibilities fall to you, keep tabs on them and do them without being asked, and don’t half-ass it. This is SUCH an easy way to avoid so much frustration… being nagged is awful, but doing the nagging is even worse. Step up y’all.
What works for us: last one out of bed makes it, I maintain groceries/dishwasher/kitchen cleanliness + stocking of house things, he does trash, laundry, anything requiring tools, heavy lifting or the bbq. My pet peeves - the scale not being put back under the bathroom sink in the morning, and laundry on the floor (literally 1 foot from the basket)… His - when I don’t towel dry the water I get all over the counter brushing my teeth (still not sure why/how this happens), or anytime I move something by dragging it across the floor… He lets me make whatever design decision I want, and let him be King of DirecTV. He likes to vacuum, I like to sweep. The list goes on, but the point is, we’ve only found our groove by trial, error and then talking through it.
*Important: if you discover you’re very particular about certain things being done a certain way (ie. I always manage to shrink his jeans and he gets tired of doing deep knee bends to stretch them out) - either teach or commit to doing it yourself.
7) FIND THE FUN
At the end of the day, it’s all about finding your balance and enjoying the relationships you share in the most meaningful spaces you occupy. Kill it at living together. Become the most functional roommates ever. Be patient and remember, communication + respect and consideration for eachother always wins. Laugh at the oddities (non-judgmentally) all along the way. Nobody’s perfect, but when both parties work at it, it can be so so fun.
Until next time,
A few storage ideas & resources to support you starting to think outside the box…