I need to share this space somehow...
November 16, 2013 2:34 PM   Subscribe

I like my housemates but hate sharing the kitchen with them. This is not good for housemate relationships. I can't move out. What can I do to mitigate things in the mean time?

There are a lot of factors contributing to this problem:

-Our kitchen space is very tiny. Multiple people cooking at once means sometimes literal bumping into each other and jockeying for burners/stove or sink space/implements we don't have multiples of. It feels claustrophobic.

-I live with a family who I'm not related to. (Mom, partner, nine year-old kid.) I did not think about how weird the dynamic of one single person+family would be when I agreed to live here. Nothing about the space feels like mine in any way, like I have any control over it.

-I hate the expectation of small talk. Cooking doesn't come naturally to me and it takes lots of my mental energy to simultaneously follow or make up recipes and make sure I'm not burning or otherwise messing up the food. But if I don't at least try to talk the room feels tense.

-Kitchens make me feel like I'm being judged extra hard. I don't entirely know where this comes from (and yes I'm already in therapy), but I feel like everything I do in the kitchen, from the music I play while I cook to the food I make, is subject to extra scrutiny. I know my housemates most likely don't care. I still feel it.

We're all pretty good about doing dishes on time, putting things away, etc--this is not an issue of kitchen cleanliness.

If I'm under other stresses anyway, which I am now, and I'm faced with the choice of sharing the kitchen or holing up in my room, I'll probably choose the latter. (We have no common space outside the kitchen, so if I'm not there I'm in my room.) It means I eat at odd times, or occasionally miss meals. It means I eat food that's less tasty to me because I can make it quickly and not have to cook while other people are. It means I spend too much money eating out. My housemates haven't said anything to me about this, but I'm pretty sure they've noticed.

I would really like my own apartment, but I'm really not in a financial position to do that now, and my lease just started last month anyway. I do genuinely like my housemates, and feel like it would be rude to just ask them not to cook when I do. (Plus we have somewhat overlapping schedules; it's just gonna happen sometimes.) I don't want the entire rest of this lease to be tense and awkward. Aside from continuing to work on the anxiety stuff in therapy, what can I do to make this better?
posted by ActionPopulated to Human Relations (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you talked to them about it? As in "It seems like I am in your way during dinner time a lot. Do you think we could work something so we can make better use of the space?"

Or perhaps they would let you have a hot plate and/or microwave in your room?

If you don't want to talk to them, cook at a different time, or hole up in your room, I'm not sure there are many other options. Or find another house-share situation.
posted by greta simone at 2:42 PM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

We don't have flatmates, but we do have a very small kitchen. And we've learned that, yeah, you have one person in the kitchen at one time or otherwise you're bumping into each other, causing all sorts of problems. And it's not even like trying to cook at the same time, it's just grabbing a mug from the cupboard while the other is washing dishes, or trying to throw away something while the other has the oven open. Just a mess.

You obviously have issues being in the kitchen when other people are in there, and that's understandable, so maybe you could look at adjusting your schedule? I know that you say they overlap, but do they really? I mean, could you have your dinner later? Grab breakfast a bit earlier?

Or could you keep some food items in your room? For example, if you're just having cereal for breakfast, you could keep cereal in your room and maybe get a mini fridge for milk. Or a coffee maker. That way, you avoid the breakfast rush.

You are going to have to make some changes. You're a single person living with a family. And, unfortunately, it's easier for you to make changes than it is for the whole family. So if you can't do that, then you're going to have to look for somewhere else.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:45 PM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

How's the freezer space situation? Could you maybe spend a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon to make a week's worth of single-serving re-heatable meals?
posted by lalex at 2:48 PM on November 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

it would be rude to just ask them not to cook when I do

Yes it would if you phrase it like that - why should they accommodate you, are you the landlord? However as previous people have noted, if you come at it from a "can we arrange a schedule" point of view, I'm sure something could be worked out (though you may have to be the more accommodating one - there's three of them and one of you). So you could sometimes have dinner earlier, or cook something ahead of time that is easily heated up in the microwave, and so on. And then from time to time it's their turn.

An alternative could be that you simply take turns cooking? Unless you have special dietary requirements, why can't they make some extra for you and then some days you cook for all of you? (Or if you hate cooking, even ask if they'd mind always cooking for you and you'd pay them.)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 2:59 PM on November 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you are cooking at the same time, combine meals? Otherwise you'll have to work out a schedule to deconflict your hours.
posted by TheAdamist at 2:59 PM on November 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I did this for a while! However, I paid them a little extra and they included me in their dinner... I ate dinner with them, but you could just as easily take a plate to your room. I'd have toast or cereal for breakfast, and make a sandwich for lunch.

Alternatively, maybe you could cook for everyone and they could supply groceries? or take turns cooking for all?
posted by jrobin276 at 3:25 PM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just to reinforce that it is not weird to schedule: when I rented a room with a married couple, I'd have my cooking done by 6:30, and they started at cooking around 7. If we were doing something special at an odd time (e.g. baking a cake for a party) we'd give each other a heads up to make sure that the other people didn't need the kitchen then for some particular reason.
posted by BrashTech at 3:33 PM on November 16, 2013

In my last shared house my roommates would call me the Phantom Of The Opera; they knew I was there but they rarely really saw me. Just like you, I liked my space. And my roommates. But my space even more.
So I did cook & eat at different times. No biggie. I noticed you said: "odd times", so maybe you have more rigid ideas about when to cook & eat, idk. It never bothered me to eat at odd times.
Sometimes I cooked more and shared with them and we sat together at the table. Or sometimes I just left cookies for them on the table, so they didn't feel like I was avoiding or rejecting them.

One trick is to grab some food (like cereal in a bowl or a sandwich) and kind of lean against the door case - standing half in the kitchen, half in the hallway. You can eat, you can talk but you're not in the way and kind of on the go. Worked for me to get the small talk in but not be forced to sit through a long meal together.

Or you could try listening to music or a podcast while cooking as a signal that you are not into small talk in the kitchen. Or you could have someone over for prep & cooking which would maybe take some pressure off. I guess the kid needs a somewhat stable routine though. So bring it up some day, that you'd like to establish a schedule for the kitchen.

Another thing: you said nothing feels like yours. So get a few things! Thrift stores are always well stocked with housewares and kitchen stuff. Buy some of your favorite food and just arrange it all in some corner of the kitchen. Before you say "no, there is no space, not possible" - think kitchen towel or spatula. Or hang a picture on the wall. Some stuff does not need a lot of space. Look, you're paying rent, you are allowed to claim some space and have your own stuff there. Maybe it'll help you feel more like at home.

Lastly, you said you have some other stressful things going on right now. It's possible this kitchen issue will get better with time as your other stuff calms down. And in case your roommates really noticed your changed eating routine (which I doubt) you can always explain that it has to do with all the other stressful things going on in your life at the moment. Good luck!
posted by travelwithcats at 5:09 PM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you could use a crockpot. Prep the night before when they are done with the kitchen and set it up and turn it on in the morning. Dinner is ready when you are!

Another way is to master quickly cooked meals: stir-fry's, cutlets (think riffs on scallopini, Marsala, picatta). Seafood cooks quickly. A rice cooker takes you away from the stove and holds cooked rice until you are ready for it. Many can be programed and used to steam veggies, make oatmeal, etc.

I prefer to cook alone. Cooking is relaxing for me and I like to be in that zone uninterrupted.
When I am sharing kitchen space I do better if I have everything prepped ahead of time and my little bowls grouped and stacked in the order I need them. A lot of prep work can be done ahead of time when the kitchen is not in use. A written game plan helps me not miss a step and also lets others know that I am concentrating.

Another thought, since you like the people, is to see if you could take your meals with them. Perhaps paying a bit and volunteering to do the cleanup could work. Then you avoid the stress of cooking in that space and the shared dining time could help create a more comfortable relationship.
posted by cat_link at 5:31 PM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm kinda like this and share with three unrelated roommates and occasionally their SO's. If I come down to find someone cooking, I'll just say, 'hey when do you think you'll be done? I'll just come back and cook then.' Along the same lines, if someone comes in while I'm cooking, I'll say something like 'oh hey, I'll actually be done soon, if you want to wait ten minutes I'll be completely out of your way.' No one really seems bothered by this. If they insist it doesn't bother them to cook at the same time I say that cooking is kinda meditative for me and I don't mind waiting until they're done.

After a few months of this I think they all get it and won't start when I'm in there. Likewise if they're in there I just ask if they'll let me know when they're done, and they do. Just act like it's normal and not a big deal and it won't be. For what it's worth I really do think this is pretty normal.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 6:54 PM on November 16, 2013

I was in this situation once. Any possibility that you not cook? That is what I did. I ate sandwiches, salads, and meals that required no cooking. It worked for me.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 8:42 PM on November 16, 2013

Does eating always have to happen right after cooking? It sounds like you could cook at more convenient times and still eat at the meal times you prefer. Alternately, you could make foods where the preparation happens a good while before the food is actually ready (baking, roasting, slow cooker, etc.)

Also, explain to them that you're still getting a handle on this whole cooking thing and that if you seem distracted (not talkative), it's because cooking still takes all of your concentration. Give them a smile here and there instead of talking.

Regardless, I know what you mean. I can cook pretty automatically and I still get claustrophobic when other people are in the kitchen, even if they're my own family. I try to just cook when the kitchen's empty.

You might also consider hanging out in the kitchen sometimes when they're cooking and you're not: that way you get your interaction in, are not just holing up in your room, and it'll be obvious that when you don't talk it's because you're cooking, not because you don't like them.
posted by egg drop at 11:39 PM on November 16, 2013

A few things could help a lot: slow cooker, stir fry, reserve dates, and a brief, casual, friendly discussion.

A good slow cooker: We use ours so much. When I woke up this morning, for example, I already had food cooked for the day because last night before I went to bed I put in the ingredients for a yummy bean soup to cook overnight. Your food can be ready when you come home, or you can do the overnight thing and pop it into the fridge in the morning to heat up when you get home, plus freeze the rest for more quick-ready meals that don't require a lot of shared kitchen time. (Our wonderful slow cooker also has a browning feature, so I don't even have to use another pan to saute onions, etc. I can tell you more about this if you are interested.) Add bagged greens for a quick salad, and taa-da!

Stir Fry: Cut up all your ingredients during off-peak kitchen time, store in the fridge, and your meal will take 10 minutes to cook, which you can do either before or after the family occupies the kitchen. Quick cous-cous or glass noodles will be done in the same time, or you can pre-cook some regular rice and heat it up while you stir fry.

Save the date: Make arrangements to have the kitchen to yourself at specific times that are convenient to your roommates (will they be watching a video Saturday afternoon? Your chance to bake a cake or concoct your fancy dinner), and ask them to let you know when they plan to eat out or be away, so you can plan more elaborate kitchen adventures when you have the whole place to yourself.

Communicate: Explain briefly without elaborating too much or making a big deal of it that you you are sort of "kitchen shy" and can concentrate better when cooking on your own, so you'll be arranging things to make this easier. Simple and straightforward, and then they don't have to wonder what the heck is going on. Once they understand, they'll most likely try to accommodate this on their end, too. I love the idea of leaving occasional treats for them when you do have the chance to spend some time cooking on your own.
posted by taz at 12:45 AM on November 17, 2013

Open up the lines of communication now and don't let it fester. I've had two different living situations where there was one housemate who was uncomfortable sharing the kitchen and would hole up in their room, we all tried to ignore it but I think it negatively affected our relationships. I don't think it's a bad thing to want the kitchen all to yourself or not be constantly making small talk, it's just difficult to not take it personally when it seems like someone is bothered by your presence. Therefore, you need to mention casually just what you said here "Hey, I like to cook when other people aren't around because I get sort of self-conscious and don't want to screw up a recipe. I just didn't want you guys to feel weird if I avoid the kitchen while you're in there. Could we try out a schedule for using the kitchen and let each other know if we're going to need the kitchen for a big meal or baking a cake or something? I could cook earlier at 5:30 on these days, etc." End the convo with promises to be flexible and let each other know if you need to switch it up.

As you get to know them, if you could work your way up to sharing meals once in a while, it seems like that could go a long way toward reducing the stress of the situation. In the long run, to feel like you have any control over the space you're going to have to get know your housemates and get comfortable sharing the space with them. If you always just leave when they come in, they'll always be "in control" in a sense.
posted by dahliachewswell at 10:44 AM on November 18, 2013

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