Flat share kitchen etiquette

Women preparing a meal in the kitchen

Managing how to share a kitchen is the most important aspect of a flat share after how to share the bathroom.

The bathroom is a private place where standards of cleanliness and courtesy to others are most expected, but a kitchen is both a communal and a private space, so presents other challenges.

Preparing and eating one’s meals can be a relaxing and enjoyable time, but if you feel restricted in how you use the kitchen, whether flatmates are there or not, then it’s less so.

For those of us who have been married or in a long-term relationship, or even more so have had children in the home, then you’ll know that kitchen rules are not exclusive to flat shares. Kitchens can be a source of tension.

Being able to start to prepare a meal with a clear worktop surface and with clean pots and pans and utensils is the first step. There are standards of washing up and putting away that feature in this respect also. The key is to be able to start to prepare without having to clear up from someone else.

But the main difference with a flat share kitchen is that it is a shared space that, to some extent, can be used at the same time by others. When one chooses to cook might need some discussion, especially if a special meal with friends or flatmates is planned, but what are the best approaches to everyday kitchen rules?

Everyday kitchen rules?

As we always stress, when viewing a flat share, it’s best to have an early and open discussion about kitchen rules. Calling them rules is a bit over the top, but written or otherwise, accepted rules do exist in each flat share. Hopefully everyone who moves into a flat share understands that some compromise is needed, just as there is in a traditional family relationship, so what are the options?

There are various flat share kitchen options you can discuss with potential flatmates (owners too!)

  1. Have agreed and written kitchen rules – for those who like very clear boundaries then this might be the best option. Knowing that all surfaces should be wiped clean, cutlery washed and returned to drawers, and all food packets have to have one of those funny plastic pegs on, gives a sense of security and order. Having specific times when each person has exclusive use of the kitchen might also be included. For others this might be hell.

  2. Discuss kitchen etiquette – have the discussion but don’t write down the rules, allowing some room for interpretation and compromise. This might signal to the other parties that you are a ‘reasonable’ person and will accept not only their kitchen habits but also other differences in the way you live. It also signals you expect the kitchen to be clean and tidy and to show respect for each other.

    It could still include an intention to clear up after cooking and eating and an agreement that you’ll try and let the other person have the kitchen to cook and eat on most occasions. There is room for disagreement here, but also room for compromise and further discussion.

  3. Don’t discuss kitchen rules and see how it goes – this is risky. It could be alright if you really don’t plan on using the kitchen much yourself. This could be because of your work pattern or because you just don’t cook. It’s typically the approach taken by young friends moving in together, but it’s not appropriate to grown-up mature flat sharing.

    Even if you don’t talk about it up front, you’ll want to make drinks, and to eat off plates and with cutlery. You’ll also want some time to use the kitchen on your own. If you haven’t had the conversation when moving in, possibly for fear of not getting the room, then maybe you should discuss this later, once you know each other a bit?
  4. Have a person look after the kitchen – this sounds good, but a cleaner, even if they come every day, couldn’t make sure things were tidy and ready for the next person all of the time. This could work if one of the flatmates acted as a housekeeper, possibly for a reduced rent, or if one person agreed to run the kitchen each evening, preparing, serving and clearing up meals for all. Financial arrangements can be made and indeed are, particularly where there is a caring component to the sharing agreement. Live-in help is appropriate for the less able, especially in later life.

    This was in fact one of the ideas we had when we started Cohabitas. We realised that shared living meant that you could afford to pay for services communally; so why not have a butler or housekeeper to look after 5 or 6 people? Worth thinking about. Larger/better-off households do have housekeepers.
  5. Don’t have a kitchen – it is well documented that some apartments in New York and Hong King do not have kitchens. That is because all meals are take outs or are eaten out. There is a density and availability of restaurants in these cities that allows this. However, think about that longer-term. My daughter lived in Hong Kong for 6 months when a student and was desperate to get home and cook her own food on her return. She got fed up with the mono-sodium glutamate used in cheaper restaurants, despite the wide range of choices. Plus, you will need to make tea or coffee, and have some where to store your biscuits!

Kitchen as a shared social space

All of the above options relate to food and drink preparation and cleaning up, but of course a kitchen is much more than that in a flat share. It’s the place where casual conversation takes place, where quiet moments are spent out of your room, and, most importantly, where you have a sense of community.

Keeping a kitchen ‘communal’ is another important aspect. If the cleanliness and rules around kitchen use destroy that sense of belonging and community, then something valuable is gone. Flat shares are not and should not just be about having somewhere to sleep and eat. Kitchens are for preparing food but also for living in. You want a home not a room. Keep this in mind when starting or joining a flat share.

Ps. I am an option 2 person!

Flat share London

Rooms for rent in a shared flat

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