Living in student accommodation (WHAT you NEED to KNOW)

Living in student accommodation (WHAT you NEED to KNOW)

One of the weirdest things about moving away to university is going from being with family and longstanding friends to being surrounded by people you have never met in your life, with no familiar faces in sight. Nowhere is this more apparent than living in student accommodation.

The truth about living in student accommodation

The chance that you will find yourself sharing your home with four or five people that you have loads in common with and end up being best friends is unlikely. I’m not saying it won’t happen—you may get lucky and have the perfect group of flatmates—but don’t count on it.

Regardless, you will bond with your flatmates in the early days because you won’t know anyone else. Once you start meeting other students, you’ll find people who you have more in common with and you will build stronger relationships with them.

Don’t feel that you have to force strong friendships with your flatmates, and don’t get offended if people you are initially tight with start to drift away after the first few weeks or months. It’s all part of the process of forming relationships within a new social group.

Even if you don’t become BFFs with your flatmates, the relationships you have with them are still important. Sharing a living space creates a certain kind of intimacy between people. You will get to know more than you would like about each other’s personal habits (some of which you may find quite weird) and you need to be respectful and tolerant of one another in order to make sharing a living space work.

With freedom comes responsibility

Living in student accommodation is a lot of fun. It gives you a liberating sense of freedom, but it also requires you to be responsible and self-reliant. You have to do your own cooking, washing up, cleaning, laundry, and other chores. You also need to be considerate of your flatmates. It is their home just as much as it is yours, so don’t be selfish and act like your wants, needs or opinions are more important than theirs.

Be courteous to the people you live with and, in turn, you should expect them to be courteous to you. Sharing student accommodation is a game of give and take. Remember the golden rule – don’t treat other people in any way you would not like to be treated yourself.

Word of warning: It can be easy to slip into bad habits and start acting in ways that are not good for you (eating unhealthily, having irregular sleeping patterns) or are annoying for your flatmates (leaving your personal belongings all over the place or using other people’s stuff without asking first). You will need to exercise some self-awareness and self-discipline to avoid either of these mistakes and stay on good terms with your flatmates.

See this article for a bunch of quick tips on how to be a good housemate.

Teething troubles

Don’t be surprised if you and your flatmates go through some teething troubles as you learn how to live with one another. You will each have your own expectations of what your home life should be like and it may take a bit of time to figure these out. Just because you think something is acceptable doesn’t mean everybody else does. We all have our own quirks—including you—so try to be tolerant.

Issues like different standards of cleanliness, playing music too loud, not washing up and other selfish or inconsiderate behaviours are common sources of tension. You need to be able to manage them in order to live harmoniously with one another.

It’s not unusual for tension to develop in shared accommodation over the first few weeks of living together. Usually, it’s because someone is being disrespectful or exhibiting selfish behaviour that is impacting everybody else. If this happens in your house, it might be worth getting everyone to sit down and agree on some ground rules.

This may seem over-the-top but it’s not – it’s adulting 101. Getting things down in black and white creates clear expectations. And having clear expectations (and maybe a cleaning rota) makes it easier for everybody to agree on shared standards and stick to them.

Think about it. If nobody knows what the acceptable boundaries of behaviour are, there will be continual transgressions that lead to constant nagging. So, somewhat counterintuitively, a lack of rules can create a more oppressive environment.

Sometimes it is the existence of rules, rather than the lack of them, that allows people to relax and get along in peace.

Dealing with difficult housemates

If everyone follows the basic principles outlined above, life in your new home should be sweet. However, some people just refuse to play nicely with others.

Living with such individuals can be difficult to deal with. There are some nightmare stories of living in shared student accommodation out there. Though truly awful situations are rare, minor disagreements, difficulties and tension between flatmates are fairly common. Knowing how to handle them can make the difference between living in peace and hating life.

The impact of ongoing household tension on your wellbeing should not be underestimated. Your home should be a safe space where you can relax and switch off from day-to-day stress.

Confronting people is stressful, so ignoring people’s bad behaviour or letting things that annoy you to go unchecked may seem like the easy option in the short term. The problem with this approach is that it solves nothing and often leads to larger problems that are harder to resolve. Instead of taking the path of least resistance and ignoring ongoing issues, you should be proactive and look to diffuse them as early as possible.

Your three choices

When you find yourself in a situation you don’t like, you have three choices:

  • Accept it
  • Change it
  • Walk away from it

It’s kinda hard to walk away from a flatmate problem because you live with them. So that leaves you with two choices that play off one another. If you don’t want to try to change something about the situation, you’re going to have to accept it. If you can’t accept it, then you have to change something.

Here’s how to approach changing a situation where your flatmate is causing a problem…

Don’t play the blame game

The key to maintaining good relationships is communication. By far the best way to deal with a flatmate’s problematic behaviour is to talk to them about it. Don’t go bitching to other people or talking behind someone’s back. Sure, you can ask other people for advice, but complaining to them solves nothing. The only way to solve a problem you have with a flatmate is to have an open, honest conversation with them.

This can be a hard conversation to have but don’t make excuses and put it off. If you want to make things better, you must approach your flatmate in the right way. This is a delicate art that requires diplomacy and emotional control. You need to be completely non-confrontational otherwise they will get defensive, making it hard to have a constructive conversation with them.

No matter how much someone annoys you, you still need to be respectful of them. It is their home as much as it is yours, after all. Just because you have a problem with someone’s behaviour, doesn’t mean that they are necessarily in the wrong. You may just have difficulty tolerating it.

Be mindful that just because someone is being thoughtless doesn’t mean they are being intentionally malicious towards you. Do not look to pass blame or judgment. Instead, frame the conversation as a matter of mutual respect, courtesy, and maintaining good living relationships.

Prevention is better than cure

If you get to the point where you are about to lose your shit with somebody over something, ask yourself this: Have you previously made them aware of how and why their behaviour affects you? If not, this is a sure sign that you have waited too long to address the issue.

Approaching them in an emotionally charged state will make it hard for you to deal with things rationally and will probably do more harm than good. Better to suck it up for now and deal with it later when you have calmed down.

If you had calmly addressed the issue earlier, before you got to boiling point, you could have avoided the stress, frustration, and anger that came with letting the problem go unchecked. Prevention is better than cure, especially if it allows you to maintain a positive home environment.

By addressing things calmly and early, you can avoid falling out with someone and creating tension that you can’t easily escape from. On the flipside, if someone pulls you up on something you do that annoys them, don’t get defensive. Hear them out, talk it through, and find a solution that works for you both.

Be smart; deal with problems in a calm, proactive manner, and you should be able to enjoy your first year living in student accommodation without any major issues. In fact, it will probably be pretty damn enjoyable.

Remember that you get to choose who you live with and the type of accommodation you live in after your first year. If your initial experience of living in student accommodation is less than perfect, use it as a learning opportunity. Then you can make informed decisions and have a more positive living environment for the rest of your time at university.