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modern ms manners: how to live politely with other people – a note on housemate etiquette


‘A man’s home is his castle’ – Darryl Kerrigan (The Castle, 1997)

The wise words of Aussie “battler” Darryl Kerrigan remain true today – a man (and a woman’s) home is their council.

More often than not, the experience of ‘home’ is shared with another, with the ABS recording 2.6 people per Australian household in the last census. Whilst most live in a family arrangement, the data revealed that about 4% of Australians are living in a share household.

Having lived out of home for about 8 years, I have had my fair share (dorky pun intended!) of living in a share house. Thankfully I can say that I have been pretty lucky with my choice of housemate. There have been others, though, that unfortunately have not been in the same category, including a crazy girl I lived with for six weeks who would leave chunks of devon on the kitchen bench and hid a pet rat from me (I later found its remains outside).

Living with someone else inevitably leads to an element of compromise as you are sharing an enclosed space with another human being. This is only amplified in a shared living situation outside of a family, as you are dealing with different relationships.

Therefore, whilst Darryl Kerrigan’s advocacy for being the king or queen of your own castle is something that we all might aspire to, those living in share houses need to remain conscious of the fact that they are living with other people. In an effort to avoid any regicide that might ensue, I offer the following advice:

Living with someone else is kind of a big deal:

If possible, you should consider your choice of housemate carefully. Sure you might love partying with your bestie on the weekend, but the fact that she might leave clumps of hair in the sink is going to put a strain on your relationship. Be prepared for this and have a full and frank discussion up front about what you expect from each other.

If you enter a share house arrangement with strangers, having this talk is a bit more difficult. A conversation should still be initiated from the get go to avoid any later disputes. The last thing you want is to feel uncomfortable in your own home.

Pay Your Dues:

Pay rent. Just do it. It is not only bad manners not to, but it is illegal. Do not leave this until the last minute and do not leave it up to someone to have to chase you. This is not just being a polite housemate, it is about adhering to grown up obligations. Some people do not always feel comfortable about discussing money, but the fact remains that you are going to have to pay not just rent, but any shared bills as well. Again, an open discussion before these things become due is a great way to make sure everyone knows where they stand.

Leave some things behind closed doors:

It is hard to maintain an air of privacy in a share house. Part of living is sharing all elements of your life in close proximity with others. That does not mean that you cannot be a little discreet about some aspects of your living that might be best to leave to the imagination. For example, if you prefer to air dry after a shower, good for you! Just maybe check in on how your housemates feel about displays of nudity before you go for a post-shower wander through the lounge room. Any other naked encounters that you might privately engage in should also be kept private.

Keep it down:

Any noise consideration is again determinate on your housemates. If you are all musicians who love nothing more than staying up late jamming, then great. However, this might not be the best situation if someone is studying, or has to get to work in the morning. Remember back to a time when you had to deal with the noise from an annoying neighbour and consider that this is the same, except you are now that annoying neighbour (and you live in the same house).

Mould is neither a food group nor a tile colour:

Shared spaces are by their very nature shared, so keep that in mind. Your own room is your own domain (until you have created a mould/fungi/rat infestation, in which case it then becomes common concern) but keep common spaces like the kitchen, bathroom and lounge room clear.

You do not have to be pedantic, but take some simple steps like washing any dishes you might use, keeping personal items to your room and avoiding the leaning tower of pizza boxes. Products that will help you avoid any household disputes or outbreaks of plague include bin liners, exit mould and spray and wipe. If you do not know what these are, you probably are not ready to move out of home yet.

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