KitchenA flatshare is defined by two or more non-related people sharing a living facility. The advantages are obvious. By sharing an apartment or house you pay less rent, often for a higher standard of living than you would have living by yourself. Additionally, you avoid loneliness and often make new friends by living with other people. Therefore flatshares are especially popular among students and young professionals, although more and more flatshares come into being that also include people belonging to other demographic groups.

Besties or Rent Saving? The Different Types of Flatshares
  • Friends who live together

This sounds like a dream to many people: Living with your best friends and thus having lots of fun together. There are two version: Those who are friends already and decide to move in together and those who moved in together without knowing each other much and then became good friends. The result is the same; many nice dinners, drinks and movie nights together, but also the potential for trouble.

Friends living togetherBeing good friends sometimes lowers your respect, so you are, for example, more likely to eat your flatmate’s yoghurt from the fridge or borrow his or her bathing robe without asking. You might also choose much harsher rhetoric when you found out your flatmate did something that annoys you. Furthermore, especially for students, living with people you like, might lower your productivity and increase your alcohol intake. However, as long as all flatmates keep a reasonable amount of respect towards each other and their privacy and – most importantly – share similar limits of cleanliness and are generally easygoing people, living with friends can work perfectly well and is in my opinion one of the nicest ways of living.

When you consider moving in with friends, be aware that some of them, even if there is a deep friendship, might not be suitable for that because you just have very different habits in everyday life that are likely to clash. A long holiday together can be a good opportunity to find out if living together could work out.

  • The “purpose flatshare”

The opposite of friends who live to together is what I would like to call “purpose flatshare” (my free translation of the German word “Zweck-WG” as I couldn’t find a proper English translation). In this case, people are sharing a house, because they can’t afford living by themselves. They usually get along well and small talk here and there in the kitchen, but don’t spend much time together and wouldn’t consider each other as friends.

This flatshare type usually requires more respect. It’s easier to forgive a friend that he or she left dirty dishes in the kitchen or regularly plays the electric guitar in high volume than to forgive someone you don’t know too well. Purpose flatshares are therefore often the quieter version of sharing a home. It is especially suitable when you need to study or work a lot – living with friends is fun, but can also be highly distracting as you often get stuck chatting in the kitchen or watching movies together.

  • Other flatshares

Nowadays, not only students and young professionals, but people all ages can choose to live in flatshares together – constellations and variations can be endless. There might be widowed or divorced people, families or married couples renting out spare rooms, elderly people living together and people of different generations living together. However, flatshares shouldn’t be confused with communities. I am going to write about that concept in another page soon.

Typical Problems and how to avoid them
  • ­Bills, Food and other Expenses

BarbecueHow flatmates share bills, food and other expenses depends a lot on their relationship, their habit and lifestyles. The rent is usually divided proportionally to the size of the room, bills for electricity, internet and gas are divided evenly. In my opinion, it also makes sense to share expenses for cleaning agent, washing powder and food that everyone uses like salt, sugar and oil – unless some of the flatmates insists on using something the other refuse to use because it is too expensive, not organic, or whatever values urge you to use or don’t use something. Whether or not you also share the rest of the food depends on how you live together. For flatshares that have almost every meal together, it makes sense to share nearly all food expenses. If one is vegan and the other passionate carnivore or one flatmate almost never eats at home, you probably won’t share the food. In any case, it is important to talk about it to avoid future arguments.

  • Cleaning

Different cultures under the same roofEveryone has his or her own level of cleanliness that he or she feels comfortable with. Differences in this levels are probably responsible for most fights between flatmates. Unfortunately, usually the “dirtiest” flatmate defines how the apartment looks like. However, there are some possibilities to make people clean. A cleaning schedule is especially effective when the one who forgets about his or her turn is either slightly “punished” (and for example has to make a cake for the flatmates”) or – even better – a little rewarded. The reward scheme works best when it is intrinsic. A system that works well for many is to put a sign that says something like “your turn cleaning” on the outside of the corresponding flatmate’s door. When this person is done cleaning, he or she is allowed to put the sign on the next flatmate’s room door.

  • Noise

In my opinion the sensitivity to noise should be talked about before choosing to move in with someone. Some people already get annoyed by someone slamming the door when coming home late in the night. These people should make sure not too move in with someone who likes bringing friends home for a nightcap after clubbing, because bad vibrations will be unavoidable. Generally, it is important to find the right balance between respect and tolerance. If you know that your flatmate needs to sleep or study, turn down the music or your guitar amp, or use headphones. But on the other hand, also don’t be annoyed when your flatmate wants to have friends over and have some fun once in a while. Even when you have stuff to get done, join them for a few minutes for a nice chat and a cup of tea. They will probably be much more respectful when you ask them to slow down later than when you’re nothing but a grumbler.

International Flatshares: Several Cultures under the Same Roof

Tidy living roomEspecially in big cities, flatshares that include people of different nationalities are very common. This can create a space of international exchange (for example exchanging recipes and music from the different home countries), but also culture clashes and misunderstandings (very different eating habits, different attitude towards walking around with little or no clothes, language barriers). Usually these problems can be solved just like any other conflict between flatmates by talking about them and being respectful.

However, when you choose to be an international flatshare my experience showed that it is easier when you fully embrace this idea and avoid having too many people of the same language or nationality in the household – better mix it up as much as possible. When, for example, two of three flatmates are from Spanish speaking countries and the third one doesn’t speak Spanish, it is almost impossible to avoid some awkward situations, where the third housemate will feel excluded although all three housemates get along perfectly well. To avoid this, the two Spanish speaking housemates should make sure to switch to English or whatever language is usually spoken to the third flatmate, as soon as he or she enters the room – even when the two Spanish speaking people are talking to each other. By being polite and sensitive, a flatshare like this can work out as good as any other flatshare. However, I still like the idea of flatshares where only one language (English?) is shared by everyone and, to meet on the lowest common denominator, thus spoken in the household.

Did you know that…

… nowadays flatshares are common in many European countries, especially France and Germany, but also in North America, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries. However, in more conservative cultures such as many Asian countries and Latin America, flatshares are still rare because people tend to live with their parents until they get married.

… many famous fictional characters live in flatshares; in James Joyce’s Ulysses poet Stephen Dedalus and medical student Buck Mulligan share a room in a Martello Tower outside Dublin (if you want to learn more about them, read my article on Travelicious). Also Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson can be considered as flatmates.