How you experience living with others depends on what year you’re in at uni.
Everything changes each time you move somewhere new. Situations, workload, location, friendships.
Since it’s the start of another academic year, I’ll run through some tips and experiences for each year. Just when you think you’ve got communal living sussed, you’re thrown into a brand new set of circumstances.
Support those not settling in so well
I wish I’d done this better. I was experiencing loads of new stuff myself, but I could have tried harder to help integrate those who were finding life away from home tough.
In my first year, one housemate was torn apart from being away from family and it seemed only a matter of time before they would leave. It didn’t take long. But in that short space of time, I could have done more to reach out and show a friendly face. I tried once or twice, but I wasn’t consistent, and that’s key.
Work as a team ESPECIALLY when one or two won’t pull their weight
You could easily adopt a ‘down tools’ attitude when one person isn’t willing to get involved in cleaning and other little jobs. But that makes it worse for everyone. Don’t choose to live with mess and muck as a matter of principle.
Start a conversation. Be kind when you speak to them about the situation. Anger will only make matters worse.
And don’t make it a five-against-one showdown either. Before having a house meeting to vent on that single subject, take a soft approach. One or two housemates could have a quiet word first to find out how things are and discuss the situation constructively. Gently does it.
If you’re lucky enough to have cleaners, you may not have these issues. But please spare a thought for whoever is making good your mess.
Prepare to learn a lot in a short space of time
If you’ve never lived with others, especially a bunch of strangers, you’ve got your work cut out. Some positive stuff, some negative.
Use this time as a learning experience, as you do with your degree work. You’ll face surprises, but don’t react too quickly (y’know, unless it’s a fire, in which case GET OUT!!!). Let each situation sink in and make a measured response.
Branch out beyond your own space
No matter what your living situation, university lets you find all sorts of new people. Now is the time to make new friends, connections and contacts. You don’t have to stick with the people you’ve been placed with in housing. While it helps to be on positive terms with them, there are many more opportunities to make new friends from the outset. Make the most of it.
Learn how to hack your life
Washing, cleaning, and admin. Delightful! It’s no surprise so many students ignore stuff like this until it’s crucial. If it’s not the end of the world, it can be left.
But now is the best time to learn how to make life work for you without resorting to professional help (i.e. Mum & Dad).
Take your laundry, for instance. Washing machines look daunting. They have loads of dials and buttons. But it’s not difficult. At all. I used to panic about temperatures, times, spin speeds, and all sorts of settings just to wash my clothes. In my first year, I only washed my own clothes in an emergency. Most of the time, I just got others to do it (yes, parents again).
This was a mistake. I should have taken responsibility much sooner. Five to ten minutes is all it takes to understand what’s going on. That includes looking up what all the cleaning symbols mean on clothes. You’re welcome. [What, that's not enough? You want a printable PDF of those symbols now? Oh, go on then!]
So long as the clothes get washed, it doesn’t really matter. Most stuff goes at 30 degrees (40 degrees is the norm, but uses more energy and often isn’t needed) and most stuff can have a good old spin session without worry. Those laundry symbols come in useful to find out those odd items that need special attention. Remember those ones and move on!
So this isn’t much about hacking, more about dealing with the issues from the outset. But it’s such a rare treat that your advanced work will seem like hacking to much of the world around you.
Just be aware that you’ll be in demand as the guru to go to…
Typically the year when you branch out to private accommodation if you haven’t already.
If you’re living with more new people, the first year tips apply. Read those first.
For the following tips, I’ll assume you’re living mainly with people you know and that you’ve chosen to live with.
These are good times, but you still need to be mindful. Even friends can be difficult to live with when they’re under your feet 24/7.
Respect the place
This goes without saying, no matter where you live. But some student accommodation through a private landlord may look weathered and worn from heavy use by other students over the years.
That’s no reason to treat your place without care.
Also, inform the landlord of any problems. Don’t leave them to get worse. If the landlord isn’t helpful, try speaking to your Students’ Union or student services for more advice.
Walls are even thinner
Noise can be a problem. Why? Because you have different deadlines, you come in at different times (including very late at night), you have different tastes in music, you have various ‘romantic’ situations, and so on. Just remember that you’re not the only one in the house. The occasional lapse is forgiveable. Don’t make it more than that.
You’re unlikely to find a way to give each person the same responsibility for particular tasks, especially if they are unpleasant ones.
A rota helps everyone pull their weight and allows you to keep on top of the most important household tasks.
Little and often. That works magic. When you leave stuff, it piles up and gets worse. A few minutes here and there makes a big difference over time. So, little and often.
Understand extreme personality traits
Some people are more fussy about cleanliness than others. It’s not unusual to live with extremes. While one shrugs at massive mess, another gasps at a fleck of dust.
It’s a difficult road to travel, so prepare. And listen. And seek solution at the earliest possibility.
Failing that, seek compromise.
Whatever happens, try to steer away from outright household battles. They’re ugly. You don’t want them.
Pay bills on time
Especially ones where it’s in a single housemate’s name. If bills are all inclusive or you’re all responsible for your own shares, that’s wonderful. If not, please PLEASE do the right thing and pay when you’re meant to. Don’t be responsible for giving someone else financial grief.
I was a Senior Student, so I went back to university accommodation. But being in my final year, the game changed and I was working on my dissertation among other things.
I didn’t hide away though. I went out a lot more.
Whatever your circumstances, a few things are different about your final year, because you’re closer to the end of your degree.
You need to knuckle down. If you haven’t already made changes, now is the time. Don’t be swayed to go out when you’ve got work to do. Make decisions for yourself and have clear reasons why that’s your choice.
You may need more of your own space. If you need to make your room off-limits, make it clear why. You’re not being anti-social, you’re being sensible. Of course you’d love to spend every waking moment having a laugh with your mates. But it’s not practical.
You may be busy and getting your selfish groove on, but you need to find some time with your housemates.
There’s something wrong when the people you’re living with forget you’re there…
Continue washing, tidying and organising
The odd jobs are the first to go when you’re trying to find time to fit everything in.
Bad move. You waste time living in a mess. It’s impossible to live when you can’t find anything, you’ve got nothing clean to wear, and everything is a general state.
I went to the laundrette on Sunday mornings, very early. I knew nobody would be around that way. I’d take some work to get on with while my clothes were being washed. The best way to avoid temptation is to leave your phone in your room. At a laundrette, it’s the only thing left in your way between work and procrastination.
With no phone to hand, the prospect of doing reading and coursework is (hopefully) better than staring at a spinning machine for an hour or two.
When you live with others, you have to take care of them. And yourself.
Sometimes it’ll be tough. You’re trying to work with the situation while it feels like others are messing you about.
Other times it’ll be brilliant. The group dynamic will work just right.
So you’re bound to go through all sorts of emotions, highs and lows. When things are good, cherish it and don’t take it for granted. When things go wrong, know that you will get through it.
For more tips, check out my 20 hints for living with others. Good luck!