Nice, non-psychotic, anal-retentive, seeks similar.
February 6, 2012 6:43 PM   Subscribe

I am 27 and male. I've lived in shared housing my entire adult life: dorms, rented rooms, group houses, shared apartments. I want to finally live like an adult.™ How?

Let me put it this way: I'm not exactly fresh out of college. I want to have nice things: a couple pieces of nice furniture, a set of quality kitchen knives, framed prints, mementos, decorative things. I want to live in a place I'm happy to call home.

I live in a relatively expensive city, have an inflexible work situation, and live on a moderate salary. I'm not at a place where I can rent by myself without making substantial sacrifices.

My problem is that a lot of male people my age who are still single and live in shared spaces seem to be "fresh out of college" permanently. Even the ones who are polite, considerate, and mean perfectly well don't always treat their belongings and homes with respect. I've tried explaining "nice things" to my current roommate (who is an admirable and positive person in many, many ways), and he looked at me like I had three heads.

Credit it to gay stereotypes or my working-class upbringing, but I just like to be a lot neater than a lot of my peers, and take more care of my belongings. I'm tired of arranging clothes in piles and keeping possessions in boxes. A lot of my past and prospective future roommates are not. I like to wash dishes as soon as I'm done using them. They often let them sit in the sink. I like to clean proactively. They typically let dust and dirt accumulate.

I'm not interested in judging, I'm just tired of compromising, tired of having to clean after others if I want things to be clean, tired of watching common areas deteriorate, tired of living spaces that look makeshift and uninhabited. What steps can I take to bring myself closer to living the life I want?

The best-maintained house I've ever lived in was one I shared with a young couple. It was very nice, but occasionally socially awkward.

Many of my peers (i.e., ones whose living arrangements I acutely envy) rent with their long-term partners. I'm single and not actively looking to change that.

Renting alone would place a significant financial burden on me. Some of my friends do this, but I have certain additional expenses and obligations that put this option a bit out of reach. My financial situation is unlikely to improve in the near term. In fact, if I start graduate school, my finances will take a dramatic nosedive.

So, how do I find those unicorns? Are graduate students likelier to be neat and domestic? Female roommates? Older roommates? Should I just rent a studio in some very remote (but cheaper) suburb and treble my commuting time?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Credit it to gay stereotypes

HA! Because the first thing I was going to say was, find a gay couple.

Can you rent your own two-bedroom place and then sub-let out the other room? This way you get to be in control of who you live with?

The grossest people I've ever lived with were girls so females are definitely not any better than males. Grad students are usually older and usually much busier/focused on their schooling - depending on their studies. Find a good Physics grad student and you'll never see them.
posted by magnetsphere at 6:50 PM on February 6, 2012

Find a female roommate. It's not 100% reliable, but you're definitely less likely to find yourself living in a dudebro mancave with keggerator in the living room and a toilet that's never been cleaned.

Gay male roommate might be on par, though I'm not sure. I know gay men in their 30's and 40's who have beautiful homes, but for all I know gay male 25 year olds live in dudebro caves with keggerators in the living room, too.
posted by Sara C. at 6:51 PM on February 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

Female and/or older roomies are surely a possibility, but I think you really need the luxury of time. Time to use word-of-mouth, meetups and perhaps careful Craigslisting to find someone simpatico.

If you can afford to carry the rent for a few months, you might want to find your own place. Set it up the way you want it. THEN start looking for housemates who will have a chance to come in and see the way you want to live. You'll get to set the tone and the standards, which may weed out the Budweiser/dorm boys. Good luck to you!
posted by cyndigo at 6:52 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you just need to be 100% clear in your roommate search. There are people who share your values for a home - there really are. You may wish to advertise and interview and really make it clear you are looking for a nicer, more upscale quality of life and leaving the college vibe behind. Female roommates aren't a crazy idea, though there are also guys that are like this. Just start advertising for roommates to share a "nice, upscale, mature environment" and you'll attract those people. I just rented a new place and while I was looking I saw those kinds of qualifiers in Craigslist ads all the time.
posted by Miko at 7:00 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm in the same situation as you. If you're in Chicago, wanna be roommates?

I've lived with guys, I've lived with chicks, I've lived with people older than myself. Everyone I've ever lived with (that's not true, I had one roommate who was mostly awesome, but she moved to the other side of the country, but mostly everyone) seems to have the same refuses-to-be-an-adult problems you describe. I don't know any way around it.

I've lived in five different apartments with seven different roommates over the last six years, and finding someone who respects the common space to the same level I do has been just about impossible. I think your best bet, as cyndigo says, would be to find an apartment and make it your own, then rent out a room to someone you've put through a rigorous interview. Even then, though, it's a crapshoot.

I was unemployed for a really long time, and only just recently got a job (and income!) again. I plan to "solve" my roommate situation by getting my own place, eventually. It's the thing I'm looking forward to most of all. (Must rebuild savings first, must rebuild savings first, must rebuild savings first...)
posted by phunniemee at 7:03 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, renting a space by yourself and then finding people to share it is a good idea, although you'll need enough money to be able to carry the odd month on your own.

But if you do advertise for a roommate, avoid euphemism: say, up front, that you're a clean freak. Tell the person how frequently you want the place cleaned. Tell them that you think the living room should be vacuumed daily (or however often you want it done). "Nice, non-psychotic, anal-retentive seeks similar" is a good start.

The alternative is to live with people who are almost clean enough and have everyone pitch in to pay for cleaners on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. This means that even if you're doing most of the work, you've got someone to help with the scutwork.
posted by jrochest at 7:43 PM on February 6, 2012

I think you should 100% live with a woman. Every kinda gross roommate I've ever had has been a man and even the grossest woman I lived with wasn't that bad.
posted by dithmer at 7:45 PM on February 6, 2012

I'm female and was a grad student. I had 3 female grad student roommates who honestly were the worst roommates I could ever imagine having - all bad in their own unique ways. Constant dirty dishes, dirtying every pot/pan in the kitchen and not washing them, leaving her shit everywhere, boyfriend basically moved in with us but didn't pay for anything, another was too cheap for her own good(in really annoying, unnecessary, uncompromising ways,) another had serious health problems(that she didn't take care of) that stressed the rest of us out so much that we had to break our lease and move. Never again.

I'm 28 and have had roommates since I was 18...none of them even came close to being as bad as the female grad students. There were 2 undergrads mixed in there at varying times and they were wonderful - and I knew I wasn't going crazy because they had the same opinion as me about the other [grad student] roommate.

YMMV, of course. But the silver lining is that the 2 undergrads I lived with were PERFECT roommates. Could not have asked for better. So don't believe the stereotypes.

I live in a relatively crappy studio apt now but it is like a penthouse suite to me because it's just me and my cats.
posted by fromageball at 7:48 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can definitely find a roommate who shares your values about having a nice and clean place to call home. Put the word out in your network, check out craigslist and other forums for potential roommates, and post your own ad in which you emphasize that you are looking for stability, cleanliness, etc. When you meet with potential roommates, you can further your sense of their values and habits by having a conversation about it in person.

One angle you might want to look into is sharing a house with a single person who owns the house. They are obviously inclined to take care of the place since they own it, and probably they will want to nest a bit more too. You'll have to take the time to find the right personality/chemistry fit, of course, just like any other roommate situation. But this could be a fruitful avenue, without the awkwardness of living with a couple and feeling like the third wheel.
posted by aka burlap at 7:48 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Data point: I live with an extremely tidy straight man, a medium-tidy woman, and two messy gay men. I just did the latter three's dishes while the former is mopping the floor.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:24 PM on February 6, 2012

I know people who have had your same problem. One of them solved it by stopping renting with roommates and instead subletting a room from a family/couple or single person who owns the place. The downside is you feel a bit left out when they are hanging out in "their" living room with family or friends, but you get a much cleaner, tidier, better looked after place, and people who behave like adults.

The other friend who had this problem found a place where she was the primary leaseholder and allowed to sublet rooms, and SHE vets any potential new roommates. She advertises for "professional women or graduate students aged 30+" specifically and then tries to get a sense of whether they are homebodies, partiers, or whatever. She asks them about things like what they like to cook, and what their favourite cleaning products are for e.g. bathtubs, or the oven. Sure, some people might think she was weird, but she finds out pretty soon if they clean so rarely they don't even know any of the brand names, or if they don't can't sufficiently geek out about different ways to cook tofu, then she knows they won't suit.

And yeah, another friend who had problems with messy roommates now rents together with two gay couples and is very happy.
posted by lollusc at 8:24 PM on February 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

One other thought, which might be totally crazy: we also live in an expensive city, housing-wise, but when we were looking at places to buy, we found quite a few options that could easily be treated as two totally separate living spaces, and renting one out to cover most of the mortgage. The main type that would have worked this way is a house with a "granny flat" or converted garage. Others were apartments with two or more bathrooms and/or a split level arrangement. If one person is happy to have a hotplate in their room instead of sharing the kitchen, this could be kept totally separate.

To do the numbers, rent here is around $2000 a month for a cheap 3-bedroom. So if you are sharing with room mates, you're paying $670 a month.

A three-bedroom house with granny flat, well, we saw a few in the $500,000-$600,000 range (which is an entry level housing price here for a standalone house). So with a 20% deposit, you end up paying around $3200 a month. Then you rent out the 3-bedroom for $2000 of that, live in the granny flat in the garden, and you are left paying $1200 a month.

For a splitable apartment, $400,000-$450,000 would get something reasonable, but you can probably only rent out the other half to a couple rather than three separate people, so they aren't going to pay much more than $1500 a month. Your mortgage would be $2300, so you pay $800 after collecting rent.

Now the difference between $670 a month and $800-1200 a month might seem too extreme, but once you start renting out part of the building, you can probably claim various tax deductions that might make it worthwhile. And you are building equity, although you shouldn't rely on the house/apt value increasing.

You have to factor in land tax and/or rates and/or water bills too, once you own, depending on where you live. And you have to have some way of getting your hands on the deposit, too.

But anyway, I just thought I'd throw that out there in case it's worth considering in your city. I get the impression that property is cheaper to buy and attracts better tax deductions in the USA than it is here, so it really might be worth crunching the numbers.
posted by lollusc at 8:37 PM on February 6, 2012

I'm a 27-year-old female grad student, and I'm a slob. The two messiest roommates I've ever had (one in college, one as a mid-20s young professional) have also been women. I don't think there are going to be any demographic silver bullets - it's largely just a personality thing.
posted by naoko at 8:38 PM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just throwing this out, but how much time and energy have you put into looking for an alternative living space? My son and D-in-L are absolutely fantastic with finding great spaces to live. both for themselves and friends. Right now they're in a house (admittedly small, admittedly old) with a yard that is only costing them $375 a month--and this is in an area where rent on a crappy small apartment is usually twice that. They just. keep. looking. Plus they're willing to look at alternatives. The reason this house is so cheap is that they take care of yards for the owner's personal house and two rentals. They're small yards, located close together, and probably take about two hours in the summer. They also voluntarily shovel snow in winter. Being meticulous helps, because the landlord appreciates the excellent job they do. If you're willing to be caretaker in an apartment, or perhaps to do a long-term house sit, those might be options.

Another idea. Could you perhaps find a tiny, tiny apartment and scale down to minimal living arrangements? There's all sorts of stuff on the net about living in 350, 600, 950 sq feet, so there are people that value living alone vs having lots of stuff.

One more: Find a place that can be somehow divided. For instance a friend of mine has a small house, two bathrooms, front and back door. She had some financial problems after her divorce, wasn't able to move due to being upside down on her mortgage, and decided she wanted a border, without sacrificing her own privacy. She put a locking door into the hallway, then gave her border the area with the living room, the kitchen, one bedroom and bath. She took the den and a bedroom and bath. She set up a small kitchen using the bar sink in the den, a microwave, toaster oven and mini-fridge. Her border pays the majority of the mortgage, is tidy, but not meticulous, and she doesn't have anyone in 'her' space. She was very scrupulous in her choice of housemate.

Perhaps you could look at alternative ways to do this.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:55 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you care about clean kitchens, the best roommate is one that never cooks. You know, the person that works really long hours and eats out all the time? Awesome roommates.

I also enjoyed living with a slightly older couple. Even if it was awkward occasionally, at least they had real furniture (which I didn't have).

Also, I agree with many previous posts that if you are the original person who found the apartment and then found roommates, that gives you more leverage to set the tone of the place.
posted by melissam at 8:57 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and one other possibility: you might want to look at subletting/housesitting. If you're looking after someone's place you're living with their furniture, cats and dogs, and looking after their plants, so you're not in your own space, but if you're a meticulously clean, tidy and bondable person you'll pay a fraction of the rent or mortgage cost for a stint in a clean, pleasant place.

The bad thing is that you've got to be mobile, and you have to be willing to shift every couple of months.
posted by jrochest at 9:05 PM on February 6, 2012

Not entirely sure what to say about gay lifestyles, being a married straight guy, but I was very much in your shoes for a long time. The best I ever did was to live alone (before living with my now-wife, who shares my sense of cleanliness), but it's possible to find other guys who are interested in having more than a dorm 2.0 to call home.

I'd have always given preference, when moving and living with other guys, to someone who advertised being "neat", seconded by "quiet and mature".
posted by ellF at 9:34 PM on February 6, 2012

I know some people who are very neat and some who are not. This is more of an individual personality thing than a demographic thing. Maybe you can find these people looking for roomies on craigslist. But your better bet, I think, is to find people like that and then live with them. Friends? Friends of friends? Friends of friends of friends?
posted by J. Wilson at 9:37 PM on February 6, 2012

You need to start looking more aggressively at spare rooms in people's houses. Looking for a room to rent is a drag and its easy to stop after a few, keep looking until you find something you liek the look of and then give notice on where you are now. There will be nice places but you have to work for them, look for something which has just been done up or where the landlord/lady is planning to live in. Avoid the places where it is obviously a bunch of recent filthy grads.
posted by biffa at 1:48 AM on February 7, 2012

I didn't see this obvious bit mentioned other than by lollusc, but whether you're looking for a sublet or rent a place and then looking for subletters, figure out what's acceptable to you, and target for that.

The most successful living with other people experience was with friends who agreed to be bound by a chore chart - nothing fancy, just committing to doing certain things certain weeks. Since we were just out of college, I won't say it was spotless, but it was worlds better than anyplace else we knew. Talk about expectations up front, to show that you're not going to flip out of a single cup lingers in the sink for a day, but that you do expect the common rooms to stay presentable, vaccuum regularly (and how often is that to you? weekly? daily?).
posted by canine epigram at 4:38 AM on February 7, 2012

Speaking as a former female graduate student who currently struggles to contain her own slobbishness, I would be careful to rely on stereotypes to help me find a new roommate.
posted by pickypicky at 7:12 AM on February 7, 2012

Here's your roommate-finding ad, which you pretty much wrote yourself:

Nice, non-psychotic, anal-retentive, seeks similar. I'm not exactly fresh out of college. I want to have nice things: a couple pieces of nice furniture, a set of quality kitchen knives, framed prints, mementos, decorative things. I want to live in a place I'm happy to call home.

~Add in a bit about keeping the place neat, respecting of privacy, etc.~

Seriously, if you put this out there you MIGHT actually find that Magical Unicorn that you are looking for. Magical Unicorn could read it, go pale, and say, "My God, I could have written this myself!", pick up the phone, and bingo! Roommate from heaven.

Years ago my friend and I were brutally honest in our roommate-finding ad. It went something like "Two semi-pathetic, financially challenged, perpetually single Bridget Jones types seek housemate. We work boring jobs and drink too much in the evenings while watching HGTV and knitting ugly sweaters. Cheerleaders and ambitious types need not apply." We eventually found a place that the two of us could afford on our own, but we had plenty of responses from people who would have fit right into our weird little world.
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:25 AM on February 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

For what it's worth, I think it's also hard to get the right person in this sense and also find a roommate who you gel with perfectly as a person in terms of other stuff.

My roommate and I are a perfect example of this. We're both grown up ladies who want to live in a home, not a post-dorm hovel. But we have really different ideas of what that means. She's a "doilies over the toilet paper" type of person who has this weird obsession with making the kitchen pretty as opposed to functional. I'm a lot more utilitarian -- good pots and knives, clear surfaces, an apartment with good "flow". I like pretty things, don't get me wrong, but I don't want to have to clear 15 throw pillows off the couch in order to sit on it. We also have extremely drastically oppositional taste, aesthetically. I've given up on trying to decorate, because she hates everything I suggest and vice versa. But we have a home, still. It's reasonably clean, and it's a place where I can spend $50 on kitchen equipment and not feel like it's going to be thrown away when someone doesn't feel like washing it. I'd love to have The Perfect Roommate who agreed with me on everything, but my current arrangement will do.
posted by Sara C. at 8:31 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can have your own "nice things" while living in shared housing. I collected vintage furniture before I even moved out of my parent's house (they were happy to have the garage space back!). You then have to be more proactive about finding your own place and renting the rooms out yourself, instead of trying to shoehorn your way into other people's places.

Maybe it is a function of the expensive area I live in, where even married couples can have a housemate, but I have known many shared households that live the way you would like to.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:07 PM on February 7, 2012

As a person who is doggedly trying to find someone like you to fill my empty room in my 2 bedroom apartment, I'd say just be as upfront as possible about what you want. Someone out there is looking for a roommate just like you.

FWIW I've lived with roommates my entire adult life, including with one other person, with a couple, and in a huge-o house share. I can say after living with 20+ people that no gender has a lockdown on cleanliness. Two of my most blatantly irresponsible roommates (we're talking way beyond just leaving out dirty dishes) were women.
posted by mostly vowels at 7:47 PM on February 7, 2012

The neatest apartment I ever lived in was with two (non-gay, not a couple) men. They unashamedly presented themselves as anal retentive neat freaks who would freak out and hold it against their roommates if the dishes weren't done promptly, the weekly chores were sloppy, etc.

They weren't really anal retentive neat freaks, but being willing to present themselves that way made potential roommates take them seriously and anyone who wasn't willing to deal with it self selected out.

Call it exaggeration for rhetorical impact, whatever, but don't hold back, don't apologize. You are not alone, you just need to be selective and up front and you will make some people a very good roommate.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:14 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm the OP. I ended up finding a house I share with three other people: a couple of gay guys around my age and a young woman. I've learned that I'm more than happy to compromise on cleanliness everywhere constantly because:
  • my housemates are sociable, approachable, and fun to spend time with
  • they take ownership of the messes they create and always clean up thoroughly eventually
  • they proactively take care of the house to make it more livable
  • they're conscientious about borrowing my things and always return them in identical condition
So, even when there's a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, I know that I can talk to my housemates without unpleasant tension, and that we're on the same page regarding most other issues. Hooray!
posted by Nomyte at 6:06 PM on February 3, 2013

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