The concept of sharing an apartment is almost innately flawed with disaster; get a bunch of strangers together that very likely could have little in common, shove them in an apartment, and hope for the best. Anyone who has shared space with another human being, be it friends, family, a spouse or complete strangers, will tell you that it can take serious skill to make it work. Creating a “Zen-like” environment takes both resilience and patience.
I just narrowly escaped unscathed from a two-year apartment sharing period recently, leaving me baffled and somewhat traumatized from the ordeal. Below are three important need-to-know tips to bring a bit of zen into your shared apartment.
1. Safety first.
Your parents used to nag you about it, but of course, you never really listened. But safety is particularly important in shared apartments as all of your appliances, personal items, identification, technological devices and cash are within reach for anyone who can get to them. Not that you don’t trust your housemates, but personal safety and the safety of your belongings is paramount to create a “Zen-like” space, especially if you live in a party house or a house where people are constantly visiting or passing through.
- Make sure all housemates sign a roommate agreement before moving into the apartment. Sit down with them and go through each point to make sure everyone is clear about the details regarding personal property.
- When you first visit the place, check out the area. Does it feel safe to walk down the street? How far are amenities like the grocery store or police station?
- Check the locks on the doors and windows, are they secure? Is there a lock on your bedroom door from the inside and a key lock on the outside if you need to lock it when you leave the apartment?
- Have you discussed the use of your appliances in communal areas? What happens if something gets damaged? Your roommate agreement can outline these details, but it’s important to keep them in mind.
One house I wanted to rent had a small extension out back that was perfect for my needs, with just enough space for a bed and small desk, in a great location across the road from my University. I visited the house and met the housemates. They seemed nice enough, we all got along and had a lovely chat over a cup of tea. At the time I thought, “Brilliant, a great space, nice people… this is exactly what I need.”
After a few months, I noticed that one of my housemates starting driving new cars every week and I started to feel like there was something a little odd about him. Strange characters were knocking on the door late at night, and he started avoiding all contact with me and other housemates.
After an attempted break-in, some potentially stolen vehicles, and a run-in with police, we all very abruptly realized this particular roommate was not who we thought he was. This situation is obviously something you can’t predict, as I had no idea upon meeting my housemates that this situation was about to occur. So, how can a “Zen-like” space be achieved in these circumstances? Well, your number one rule is awareness. Check with your housemates if they have ever been convicted of any felonies, and ensure the house is safe before you move.
2. Clarify your needs.
Ask yourself, do you want to live in a party house, meet new people and share ideas (and often beers in the fridge)? For some, this might actually be considered Zen. A constant flow of people, dinner parties around a big table, weekend long stints on the couch completing the latest PlayStation release. Or maybe, like I was, you need to study, you work as a freelancer, or just need a quiet space to come home to after a long day’s work. Whatever your needs may be, identifying them early is the key.
- Decide what type of space you need and choose only the spaces/ people that suits you.
- Communicate your needs to your potential flatmates when interviewing.
- Ask them what their needs are to ensure that you fit into the equation.
I started a new job in a new area of the city and needed to quickly organize a place to live, so I perused Craigslist for an available room, found a great apartment, met with the roommates and was really happy with the clean, open, “Zen-like,” minimalist design.
I love cats, I really do, but the cat of the house was this young, scrawny little thing that was just slightly older than a kitten. My housemate liked to speak to it as though it were a “tiny-wittle baby.” But when her ‘baby’ got pregnant and I asked why, she said she didn’t spade because that would be “denying her right to have babies.” So the baby cat had six kittens that pooped and peed and ran all over the house (which the landlord specifically forbid in the lease agreement).
To avoid suddenly finding yourself living in a zoo, make sure to clarify with yourself exactly what you’re looking for, understand your own needs, and communicate them clearly from the beginning.
3. Be prepared to adapt.
As critical as it is for you to communicate your own needs, understanding the needs of others is equally as important in creating a peaceful and harmonious shared environment.
The classic example of needing to adapt to someone else is when you start living with a spouse for the first time. How can you create a “Zen-like” space when there are emotions involved and a relationship at stake?
The first time I lived with my fiancé was both exciting and a steep learning curve. When living in a one bedroom or studio apartment, there really isn’t anywhere to go, no spaces where you can zone out by yourself for a few hours in complete silence and peace, and nowhere to collect your thoughts without being in the presence of your significant other.
But zen isn’t really about that, is it? It’s about living in the present and experiencing reality fully. Sometimes that reality farts and stinks out the whole apartment. Sometimes it’s the toilet seat being left up, dirty underwear littering the floor or someone forgetting to pick up dinner on the way home. Sometimes it’s a couch surfer that overstays his welcome for more than a few weeks.
Adapting to living with others, while still setting boundaries between what you will and won’t tolerate, can help you prevent drama in your home and create a peaceful environment for all roommates.
- Asking potential roommates what they do, how much time they spend at home, if they have a partner or are single — these questions will all determine how much you will need to interact with them and how much space they will take up in the house.
- Identify what their needs are, e.g. If there are certain times your roommate needs to use the main communal area of the house, respect the need and stay out of that area during that time. Negotiation is key.
- You may not like their taste. That’s ok. But you don’t need to change them. If they have placed the ugliest flower pot in the middle of the kitchen table, leave it there. Maybe put something of yours somewhere else in the room if needed.
Creating a space together that’s both harmonious and reflects the needs and personalities of all tenants can be a virtual minefield. Achieving a “Zen-like” state in your home, especially when sharing with others, can certainly be a tedious task.
The practice of Zen is a practice of coming back to the actual right-now-in-this-moment self that you are. Adapting to the needs of others allows you to learn more about yourself, your own boundaries and any habits of your own that you may have never even noticed. It is imperative, for the state of your own mental and physical well-being and the harmony of your home, that all tenants feel safe and are clear about each others' needs.
Although these situations are difficult to avoid, ensuring you get to know them thoroughly and communicate what you’re looking for prior to moving in can prevent situations like this occurring in the future.
Tell us in the comments about what you have learned from apartment sharing!
Rachel Ryan a legal writer for legaltemplates.net. Rachel specializes in providing professional, diverse, and creative articles to equip individuals with the perfect tools for a variety of legal issues. When she’s not writing awe-inspiring content, she can be found contorted in an almost impossible yoga pose, meandering through a half marathon, or sipping on the latest supergreen smoothie.
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