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Dishes piling up in the sink and teabags mysteriously going missing? Writer Iona Macwhirter-Harley tells us how to deal with our housemates being human.

Picture the scene: you’re returning home to your student halls after a long day of blended learning. You throw open the front door, desperate for a cup of tea. Alas! Someone has not only used your favourite mug, but has also left it - unwashed - next to the sink. Unthinkable. You decide to take a nice, hot shower to wash away your anguish. Water on, room steaming up, one foot in the shower, you see it: an enormous clump of hair in the drain - your day is ruined. 

Living with other students is almost enough to make you want to escape back to the family home; they’re messy, loud, and - when it comes to halls - you often have no choice in who you live with. For most first-year students, it’s their first time living away from home, and becoming a semi-functioning adult can be a steep learning curve for the best of us. Hopefully you and your flatmates will become great friends; but if things aren’t instantly perfect, don’t despair! Understanding that your flatmates are just flawed humans, and that being the "annoying flatmate" is a fate we can all run from but never truly escape, can make their shortcomings easier to deal with. In the meantime, here are some common issues you might encounter with flatmates in halls, and how you might tackle them.

"Understanding that your flatmates are just flawed humans, and that being the ‘annoying flatmate’ is a fate we can all run from but never truly escape, can make their shortcomings easier to deal with."

They’re messy!

Some people turn up to university being used to their parents cleaning up after them, and others are just plain lazy. Your flat kitchen will be messy. If I can offer one piece of advice from personal experience, it’s that passive-aggressively stacking every dish in the kitchen together will result in those dishes sitting there forever. Once the dishes are mixed together, they officially become no-one’s-problem. Try suggesting that people keep dirty dishes in their bedroom if they don’t have time to wash them straight away. In terms of the rest of the flat, make sure that you are doing your share of the cleaning and just hope that others follow suit. But also, if someone is generally pretty tidy but slips up now and again, give them a break and understand that you - yes, you - will also forget to wash a plate one day. And if you’re the person who gives others a hard time for being a bit messy, you will never hear the end of it.

They’re stealing my stuff!

If someone is borrowing the odd teabag and is happy to return the favour, that’s one thing. But if you have a housemate who is making a habit of pinching your stuff, try setting boundaries with them as early as possible. After living at home, some people might feel like if something’s in the house and they need it, it’s theirs. If you have a mystery thief on your hands, perhaps don’t organise a whole-flat meeting straight away: now is your chance to be a little passive aggressive and pop a note on the item that’s being used. Letting the person know that you’re noticing your milk going down much faster than normal should be enough to get them to stop. They probably think they’re getting away with it, the bastard.

They’re inconsiderate!

Let’s say your flatmates are hosting afters every night and you’re struggling to get sleep for lectures the next day. You might think them at best rude, and at worst pure evil. If living with them is making you miserable, try explaining to them what you’re struggling with and why. Be specific and remember that they’re probably not trying to upset you, so approach them with an open mind. It’s always best to say things like “I feel…”, rather than accusatory “you are…” sentences which can make people feel defensive and end the conversation before it even begins. Hopefully they will understand, and you can reach a compromise which makes everyone happy. 

We’re all capable of being a bad flatmate: we might be particularly messy one week, particularly loud the next, or occasionally just a bit rude. We all, as humans, just have the capacity to be unbelievably annoying. So, try to be the best flatmate you can be, set an example of how you’d like everyone to act, and if someone is doing something that’s upsetting you, let them know. Approaching issues head-on is harder than being passive aggressive, but it’s the key to actually solving problems and making living in halls bearable. Good luck!


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