How can we be the best housemates we can possibly be?
July 3, 2012 1:40 AM   Subscribe

Best practices for living with a housemate. Difficulty level: we're a couple.

After two years of living in overpriced sublets in Amsterdam, we've taken out a lease on a great two bedroom place with the intention of finding a housemate. The catch: we're a couple.

My question: what are the 'best practices' for professional adults living in a shared house? With a follow up - how can we make sure our potential future housemate feels comfortable living with a couple?
posted by nerdfish to Human Relations (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Don't fuck where your housemate can hear you.
If you do, don't fuck so that your housemate can hear you.
posted by flex at 2:13 AM on July 3, 2012 [8 favorites]

And go easy on the PDA.

Also consider the things that are an issue because there're two extra people instead of one, rather than the fact that you're a couple - like how long people have to wait for the bathroom (unless you have an en-suite), and the quantity of your stuff that spreads through the house.
posted by fearnothing at 2:43 AM on July 3, 2012

It might be helpful to designate a day once a month to sit down and have dinner together and discuss house issues, etc. I think there's a danger, since you two are a couple, of getting into the habit of discussing house things just between the two of you and accidentally leaving your housemate out of the loop. Also, having a designated day would make it easier for your housemate to bring stuff up with you guys, since they won't have to try and catch both of you at once on a random weeknight, etc. And I know that people in a couple can function independentally, but I've lived with couples before, and it can just feel sort of awkward to only talk to one half of the couple about something house-related, because you know that they'll probably pass it on to their partner, but then again, they might not, and then what? Having a designated day would also help out with scheduling things, because it would give everyone a chance to say, "Oh, I was thinking about inviting some friends over next Saturday for coffee and cake. Would that interfere with any of your plans for that afternoon?" etc.

Also, I've lived in a number of different housing configurations. One of the loneliest was when I was living with a couple in what was clearly their apartment; I was just a short-term renter. What I mean is, they already had their own rules and routines and ways of doing things, and I felt like I always had to adapt to their way instead of us mutually adapting to each other. Because of this, I lived there for six months and it never once felt totally like my place. Be aware that as a couple in a three-person house when you're all making up house rules, etc, that if you and your partner agree about something, then you're always going to be in the majority. Consider asking your new housemate if they have things that are really important to them in terms of day-to-day living (how clean they like to keep certain areas, if they like having one designated laundry day a week, etc) and then actually do some of those things your housemate's way, even if you and your partner wouldn't usually. That will go a long way towards making it feel like a shared living space.

Also, now that I think of it, when I was living with that couple, a designated laundry day would have been a really nice thing, because they always had more laundry than me, and so if they were doing a big push to get a lot of laundry done all at once, sometimes it was hard to get my stuff done in enough time to have a dry, clean pair of pants when I needed them (we didn't have a drier. I'm guessing you guys won't either). By designated laundry day, I mean, for example: 5 days a week, anyone can do laundry whenever. 1 day a week belongs to your housemate, 1 day a week belong to you guys.
posted by colfax at 3:45 AM on July 3, 2012 [11 favorites]

Living with a couple is difficult because you are almost always outvoted (couples usually back each other up), so you will have to be very careful to make the third wheel feel as if it's a fair living arrangement. No matter how hard you try, the singleton will be frustrated at times. (As will you. There is shit you wouldn't even notice if it came from your partner that would drive you up a wall if it came from a stranger.)

Before anyone moves in, make it super clear which places and things are for the couple only, which are for the singleton only, and which are for all to use at will.

Show prospective roommates your recent bills and how the payments would have broken down for that person.

Figure out what is and is not acceptable in the private and public areas. Use concrete language and examples to make your intentions clear. For example: "We will all restrict private activities to the private areas. The public area is a public area. We will dress and behave in the public area as if your parents and ours were sitting there together having tea. (Which may well be the case some days.) We will not be sitting there in our underwear with people we met at the pub that night." That sounds a bit stiff and silly in writing, but you have to make your boundaries clear like that before you get into something you regret.

If I were you, I would test-drive this idea by inviting someone (friend or relative) to stay for a month. Tell that person to pretend to be a stranger renting the extra room. Make notes about good and bad stuff ("Left the bathroom dirty again. Laundry a mess. Loud music after 11:00.") and practice how to deal with problems and encourage good behavior.

But no matter how hard you try, things frequently don't work out in such situations. Make it easy for the roommate to leave without huge complications and hard feelings. If given a month's notice, if the bills are paid, and if there's no damage, you will happily return the deposit and part company with the roommate. Don't mix your lives with the roommate's such that it is difficult to part company. Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Maybe you could agree to a probationary period after which time you could ask the roommate to leave if you aren't happy (and if that's within the law)?

Read up on local laws. You all have to do what is required by law, so be sure you and the roommate know what is required of everyone. And I guess there's also a landlord in there, right? You need to be sure you're doing what the landlord and the law allows and requires or you could find yourself in shit.
posted by pracowity at 3:59 AM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

For the most part, as far as your housemate is concerned, try and make decisions and allocate responsiblities as three people, not as a couple and a single person. ie. rotate chores amongst the three of you, not between 'the couple' and 'the housemate'. This gets tricky in that in most couples, one person will usually take on more of certain tasks ("he likes to clean, I like to cook, that seems fair"), to a roommate that could just seem like "she never never cleans up!!".

I would make an effort to get a place where you and your partner can sort of live separately - at least make sure you have your own bathroom. Even better would be renting a two-story apartment (like as part of a house), where you+partner can live on one floor and the housemate can live downstairs.

In general, living with a couple sucks for everyone involved, unless you make a huge effort to either not be couple-y or you make an effort to find a place where you can live somewhat separately from your housemate.
posted by Kololo at 5:54 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Make sure you work out ahead of time, and let the housemate know, how you are dividing rent and bills. Some people think a couple who share a bedroom should pay 1/4 rent+bills each and the housemate pays the other 1/2. Other people think everyone pays 1/3 each. Make sure the housemate knows ahead of time how you're doing it so you don't all assume you're doing it different ways.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:18 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

As pracowity says, for heaven's sake go to your local Wijksteunpunt Wonen for advice on your legal rights and responsibilities (they will also let you know whether your contract is legal, and make sure that you're not being charged too much rent). Please, please do this. I've seen too many people, tenants and sub-letters alike, get themselves into all sorts of problems which could have been avoided if only they'd taken advantage of the free advice available. If you have trouble with the site just PM me, but please go to the inloopspreekuur with a copy of your contract.
posted by rubbish bin night at 6:34 AM on July 3, 2012

Mr. Murrey and I are doing this right now with our son. I think it works well primarily because our housemate is physically removed from us. He has the entire upstairs to himself and we have the downstairs and only share a kitchen and laundry. He is also introverted like us and we (for the most part) keep to ourselves. If you can find a place where your housemate can have some privacy and physical distance from you, it will help tremendously.

We were also really clear about our expectations. We explained in our ad looking for someone in that we were not looking for a 4th family member equivalent who would share meals and family time together. We were coldly blunt about it too. I think this helped us find a person who wanted his privacy as much as we did. This example may not apply to you (you may be far more open to buddying around with your housemate), but regardless of what you might want from a roommate, be brutally honest up front and you will likely weed out people looking for something different.
posted by murrey at 6:37 AM on July 3, 2012

Anecdotal but the thing I hated the most when I live with a couple was :

When I came home, she would rush to the door and look disappointed when she saw it was me walking in.

Other things: She filling me in on what they did so I would not hear them while they were having sex. (TMI!)

And one that has already been mentioned: them making household decisions without consulting me.

Basically, do your best to not make your room mate feel like they are living in your cocoon.
posted by Milau at 6:45 AM on July 3, 2012

In line with kololo a couple is not a single person. I know it sounds silly to say that because, duh of course thet aren't, but you'd be surprised how many people forget.
Rent, electric bills, chores etc. Shouldn't be divided by two. I know it sounds silly but I've known too many couples that thought sharing a bed somehow meant they suddenly ate half as much food, and left roomates to pick up the balance.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 7:01 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was part of a couple who shared a townhouse with a single roommate, and it went really well. I think the main thing is as a commenter mentioned above, we found a roommate who wanted the same things out of the situation as we did. We were all cordial and friendly, sometimes we'd watch tv together, and we did occasionally do things together, but mostly we lived our lives in parallel rather than together. We were all very considerate - if I was cooking, I'd offer him some, he did the same; we always asked before we used something of the other's. We had plenty of separate space, we had well-defined rules on cleaning and maintenance. And yeah, we divided the bills by thirds, not half and half. Having separate bathrooms made a HUGE difference, I'll say that. We had an en suite off the master bedroom, and the roommate had the main bathroom on the bedroom floor. We made a deal - I cleaned the two other half baths because he made sure to never use them (seriously, it was almost comical to see him ricochet up the stairs in his rush to get to "his" bathroom). All in all, because we acted like grownups and were polite, and like I said, we liked each other but we weren't too emotionally involved, it worked great. It was one of the best roommate situations I've ever had.
posted by lemniskate at 7:21 AM on July 3, 2012

I was in an apartment share situation with two other singles. Then one of the singles asked if her boyfriend could move in temporarily while they looked for a place of their own. Since we already had a bills distribution plan we had to readjust all that. We divided the rent by room and it was weighted more heavily for the better rooms, but the utilities were divided equally by person. I think it's worth separating out those two and trying to define what's fair for each, not just a total amount. Also, think about non-mandatory utilities: the other single in my apartment wanted cable TV and the couple and I didn't, so that caused some friction. Especially when it's two-and-one, if the couple wants a utility and the single doesn't, does the single still have to pay a third of the cost? What if the single doesn't really want it but might make use of it occasionally since it's there anyway?

Another issue: the couple in my apartment bought some shared pots/pans with the other single, and then when they moved out there was some argument about the ownership of the pots, so it would have been helpful if they'd written out who technically owned which pot from the beginning. Think about what else is going to be in the apartment - will you have shared furniture? Who owns it? If you own a sofa but it's in the common area and the flatmate spills something on it, will you expect them to pay to get it cleaned or repaired? How will the fridge space be divided? It's easy to say everyone buys their own food but what about things like salt and pepper, dishsoap? Who washes the kitchen towels?
posted by marginaliana at 7:55 AM on July 3, 2012

I lived with a couple for two years in college, but I knew them already when we moved in together; I was really close with one, a previous roommate, and knew the other only a little bit. In that situation the best things they did were to be inclusive of me when we were all in common areas, and for my good friend to not talk to me about their relationship drama. Those are definitely key if you wind up living with someone you know, or if your housemate becomes a friend. The couple I lived with aren't together anymore, but I'm still good friends with both of them.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:16 AM on July 3, 2012

This probably goes without saying, but if you guys are fighting, try to keep the tension in your own space. Try to keep the public space of the apartment feeling "public," as in, a place where you more-or-less act like everything's okay, the way you would fake emotional neutrality or even cheer if you were having a tense conversation right as the waitress arrived at your table. It's easy to let your relationship's emotional atmosphere fill up the whole house, but try to avoid that.
posted by salvia at 8:24 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My cousin live with a couple and did not like it. There was tension and unspoken resentment surrounding accumulated petty issues which the couple acted as a unit against her. For example there may be a cup left in the sink overnight unwashed and the blame automatically point to her and the guilty party would let her take the blame to abdicate themselves. She would have preferred honest communication.

Each person is different with preferences in the running of a household. Ensure you are all clear on responsibilities and all are able to pitch in. When issues arise, do not automatically stand as a united front against the new housemate. Communicate early any underlying issues. Let all parties have a say.

Boils down to this: make sure you both like the housemate as a person and they like you. Which usually means all parties are willing and capable to communicate well.
posted by oink at 12:01 PM on July 3, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice, guys. Rent and bills are quite straightforward, as the rent is all-inclusive. We've also been very explicit with the landlord about our future housemate, so they'll be able to both sign on to the lease and register.

I've taken everything on board. I think it helps that this we're moving to a new place, and we should hopefully be moving in at the same time as future roommate. It's going to be a three person house from the beginning.
posted by nerdfish at 12:54 PM on July 3, 2012

Response by poster: Actually, reading through again is tweaking my anxiety a little.

The house is over two floors, with a large living room and kitchen on the first floor, with two bedrooms and the bathroom on the second floor. As I've said, it's a new house and we're already thinking of it as a three person house. It's a big apartment, and we're frankly planning on setting up our bedroom so we can hang out in there and give future housemate privacy whenever they need it. There's a small wardrobe between the two bedrooms, and I'm hoping there won't be too much noise.

Both my partner and I are trying to be as thoughtful as we can in setting up this new three person house, but I am feeling pretty uneasy now.
posted by nerdfish at 1:36 PM on July 3, 2012

My husband and I are currently a late twenties couple with a roommate (who will be moving out soon to live in a different part of the country), and I feel like it's worked really well for all three of us.

Things that have seemed to work for us:

1) Pick someone who is a chill adult to be your roommate, and be a chill adult couple yourselves. That means no relationship drama that extends out into areas where it might make your roommate uncomfortable, no passive aggressive interactions as a couple (like Person A has a problem with the roommate, but always has Person B talk to the roommate for whatever reason), no weird discussing an issue to death as a couple and then springing the issue on the roommate in a way that can look like you're teaming up against him/her.

2) Always, always be aware that there can weird power dynamics of the 2-vs-1 kind, and work to keep it from being weirder than it must. For us, that's meant that we carve out different sort of relationships with our roommate, and we made it clear from the beginning to our roommate that hey, we're two individuals who make up a couple, and we often disagree with each other about the best way to run a household. So our roommate and I normally carry the vote regarding kitchen stuff (what we're going to cook when we all cook together, if we ought to join a CSA, etc), since we both like to cook. I let my husband and the roommate figure out tech stuff, since I really don't care, and they both do. My roommate and I chitchat about consulting work, since we both have work in that industry, and my husband and the roommate love all the same tv shows.

3) Be sure to have your roommate have an equal share in how your home looks. It can be tough as a couple, especially one that's already collected furniture and a particular decor to incorporate a third person's things into their stuff. Whatever - I may not love the sorta geeky items that our roommate likes to have around, but what matters more - decorations or relationships?

4) As a couple, the default should be that you two pay 2/3rds of whatever is common household stuff, and the roommate pays 1/3rd. In occasional cases this may be disregarded - if there's truly something that makes more sense to split 50-50 and everyone agrees that that's fair. But default to 2/3rds and 1/3rd.

5) Honestly, don't worry so much, but be up front and honest about your worries with your potential roommates when you meet with them. Get someone that you feel fits in well with both of your personalities, and that is mature enough to bring up issues before they fester, and you'll be okay.
posted by Gori Girl at 12:34 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

As the single person currently living with a couple I agree the two biggest issues for me have been couples wanting to split costs as "couple" vs "single person" rather than everyone paying for their own share and the 2 vs 1 dynamic when making household decisions.

I'm a fan of starting out with clear boundaries and expectations before someone moves in such as rules or discussion about rent, socializing/parties, sharing food, sharing the tv.

Here is a rent splitting calculator that I found really useful since we did have issues with how to split the rent fairly.
posted by forkisbetter at 9:40 AM on July 5, 2012

Response by poster: Thought I'd post a follow up in case this comes up in search for anyone. After interviewing a bunch of people we decided to go with the person we had the best gut feeling about, a newly graduated engineer starting his first post-grad school job. So far it's working out great! We regularly eat dinner together, talk openly about all the house stuff, and have a nice sit-together-and-watch-tv vibe.

I think it helps that (1) we decided to live with someone who's a lot like us - someone who works long hours and likes to have a nice house to come home to, (2) rented quite a big house, so we can have our own space, and (3) we have a cleaning lady coming twice a month.

Overall, it's been surprisingly straightforward and enjoyable. Thanks for all the responses!
posted by nerdfish at 3:27 AM on October 7, 2012

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