Surviving Squatters: Staying Friends as short-term roommates

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Surviving Squatters: Staying Friends as short-term roommates

Beth Fitzjarrald · Oct 27, 2015

College students holding cardboard box and back pack moving in to the university campus

We’ve all had friends who’ve been “between things” or in a tough spot for a short time. We want to be generous with our little bit of extra space, so we offer our spare room or couch, and suddenly have a new roommate. Weeks pass, laundry is strewn or dishes stacked, and suddenly our friendship feels stretched to the limit. How can you be a good supportive friend without risking the stress and tension?

Set Clear Expectations

It can be tough and sometimes awkward, but it’s worth having an honest conversation early on. Talk about how long you feel comfortable hosting them for free, and/or when they’d need to start paying. Talk about what is a reasonable rent for you and for them. Even if it’s only a tiny amount, it can help avoid feelings of being taken advantage of. And think through any make-or-break house rules. Does your new roommie need to keep it down after 10pm? Will you lose it if the good dishes go through the dishwasher? Be flexible, but also be really honest about the couple things that will help you stay feeling comfortable with your space. It’s also a good idea to set up ongoing chats to re-evaluate and speak openly about how things are going.

Include everything

Let’s say you agree on a weekly “rent” of $100. Then you run out of toilet paper, or trash bags, or dish soap. Who buys? From my experience, it’s MUCH easier to just include all the living stuff into your weekly rate. All the calculations and questions can really add stress to any relationship. It smooths everything out to only have one fee for everything – utilities, internet, even spices. Anything that would be silly for someone to buy for themselves for just a few weeks is nice to include in your flat rent fee. Psychologically, people find it much easier to make a single commitment for, say, $115 per week than to agree on $100, then have to add $4 for paper products, $8 for electricity, and $2.50 for cleaning supplies. Keeping it simple keeps everyone happy and minimizes how many times you have to ask for money.

Find time for friend stuff

It’s easy to fall into a rhythm of just being around each other. You know you’ll see each other at some point, and end up just saying “hi” a lot. Suddenly it’s been weeks since you last really spent quality time catching up on each other’s lives. Sometimes being roommates means you talk late into the night on your newly shared couch, but if that doesn’t just happen, be sure to schedule in some time to just be friends. Go out for coffee, take a walk together, go get a mani/pedi, take in a game. Whatever your “thing” is – make time for it to avoid the rut of just being “around”.

Make space and adjust

Think about what you would need. If your friend is staying for a week, you won’t need to adjust much. If you’re looking at months, be sure to clear some drawers/closets, food storage, and bathroom cabinet space to make living comfortable. Spend a little time talking about schedules, too. If you typically are in the kitchen by 5am and your friend will be sleeping on the couch a few feet away, think about ways to minimize the pain. Pre-prep your breakfast to be quieter, or at least offer to buy your friend some earplugs and a sleep mask.

Don’t be afraid to say good-bye

Sometimes “between things” takes longer than expected. Maybe you totally love your new roommate situation, but if there are any starts to hard feelings, it’s okay to stick up for yourself and your space, and say good-bye. Sometimes not living together is the best thing you can do to keep a friendship strong in the long run!
Any new living situation requires some flexibility and adjusting. If you take in a good attitude and some solid communication efforts, short term roommates can stay the best of friends.

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