At the right time in someone’s life communal living can be an excellent opportunity for numerous reasons – community, companionship, expanding your social circles, new experiences, reduced costs and so on. However, as with most opportunities, it can also have its challenges to overcome or reflect on before choosing to share.
These potential difficulties can of course be resolved, and also be seen in as presenting opportunities. It is good to consider these before choosing a co-living lifestyle and can also help you balance these against the numerous benefits, as well as consider what sort of people you would like to share with. Having fun and companionship together is one thing, but running a home more-or-less in the way you’d like is an important part of overall satisfaction with life.
Living with new people can sometimes seem like a lucky dip
One of the most common problems that pops up again and again in stories about difficult flat and house-shares is having housemates who may live in a very different way to yourself, and thus have an unwanted impact on your experience at home. Living with new people can sometimes seem like a lucky dip – the range of potential positives may be amazing if it is indeed a lucky, lucky dip, but if not, problems can arise as quickly as it took to click the reply button on the gumtree ad.
Jessica Brown writing in the Independent notes that those who most commonly share flats, students, have a lot in common – “age, lifestyles, education level, no pets and a general naïve enthusiasm” . However, older people are more likely to have lived in a family environment or alone and developed their own standards and expectations . Age is then a key factor in creating differences in ways of life – older people who live with younger people may find their expectations contrast with the more lax approach to living standards that 20 something students may have. Moreover, Rachel Churney a flatsharer in her 40s noted, she ended up taking the responsibility for organising things such as bills as she was the oldest in the flat. Better to share with people who will take more equal reponsibility and who also have some experience of running a home.
living alone, especially later in life, can be linked
with feelings of social isolation and a lack of integration.
Unsurprisingly research shows living with the wrong sort of people, especially those who may have different expectations of cleanliness or appropriate noise levels, can have a negative effect on overall personal well-being.
Conversely, what has also been shown is that living with the right people can have significant positive effects on many aspects of one’s life, which overcome many of the problems of living alone that some face. Consistently, studies have shown that living alone, especially later in life, can be linked with feelings of social isolation and a lack of integration – which can often be to the detriment of peoples’ mental health, and resultantly in general people who live alone have poorer mental health.
Flat-sharing with people who you have things in common with and get along with can offer emotional support and greater social integration. It allows one to enjoy companionship without any “emotional baggage”, as well as allowing one to expand their social network through friends of your flatmates. Sharing offers things as simple as having someone to talk to in the evenings, a new person to learn from and someone to go try experience new things with, which can make a huge, and positive, difference.
Finding these “right” people amongst the endless of pages of ads with people describing themselves as “fun” and “easy going” may seem challenging, however. In a recent Telegraph interview, Linda Thompson, a flat-sharer in her 50s, laments living with “complete strangers”, and research by Rugg has shown that the idea of living with people they do not know at all is often a cause of anxiety for people wanting to flat or house-share.
Thus, as pilot studies into the field of shared accommodation have shown, finding appropriate matches is a critical element in ensuring a successful and enjoyable living environment. This can be done by using services that actually match flatmates on meaningful criteria, and allowing potential sharers to meet beforehand, which avoids stark personality differences being found further down the line, as well as providing a sense of comfort and security. And with a study by SpareRoom showing 45-54 year olds are the fastest growing group of accommodation sharers, it appears there are plenty of people to find within this age category.
Even with this it may take some adjustment to sharing one’s space having previously lived alone. Sharing communal areas means sharing things like cleaning tasks and cooking facilities. This can be strange for someone who may have lived alone – only having to adhere to their own standards, and if these standards are continually breached, even for the most relaxed person, this can eventually be a cause of tension.
However, basic things can overcome these issues – simple communication to make clear what you expect as opposed to letting issues build, creating cleaning rotas or clear criteria about your expectations hygiene standards or playing music. Sometimes things are conveyed negatives in articles about communal living which, if looked at differently, can instead be seen in a positive light. For example, one article in “Mind the Flat” describes the difficulties of “close kitchen contact” – sharing kitchen space and appliances and washing up . However, this could also be seen as an opportunity to cook together, share a meal together or tackle the not so exciting everyday practical of housekeeping with someone else. Furthermore, as noted above, all these issues can be minimised by living with people that you feel you have things in common with.
Sharing accommodation does not only mean sharing a living space but also to some degree means an intertwining of finances. Like with many things in life, money can be an easy source of tension and unease between individuals – unpaid rent or bills would be anyone;s worst nightmare. However, if one is living with other, mature people, this is less likely to be an issue as it might be in other environments. Moreover, most rents and council tax are joint liability, thus being paid separately, and a series of new apps that automatically split bills can further minimise these issues .
Sharing rent can cut costs by as much as half,
with further savings being made on council tax and utilities
Moreover, the financial side of sharing is in general a definite positive for communal living. Sharing rent can cut costs by as much as half, with further savings being made on council tax and utilities, all of which allows tenants to live in areas they may not otherwise be able to afford, and leave more disposable income to enjoy outside of the home.
Moving into a communal living environment may be a big lifestyle change, and as with any big decision it is important to properly consider any potential pitfalls. However, many of these issues can be minimised or overcome by approaching the move in a practical and positive way, such as through finding appropriate people to share the experience with. Moreover, the opportunities and advantages can make any challenges seem less pertinent day to day. A more supportive and stimulating environment, a healthier mind, and of course a few more zeros at the end of the bank statement may make the threat of the odd unwashed dish seem not too problematic.
Anderson, P. 2016 What is it like to flat-share in your 40s, 50s and 60s? https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2016/jun/20/flat-share-40s-50s-60s-middle-aged-renting-rooms
Alexander, S. 2016, Living in a Flatshare in your 50s, The Telegaph
Sorrel-Dejerine, O. 2013, Houseshares: How do people avoid picking a terrible housemate?, BBC News Magazine http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24622858