Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Irritate or Celebrate

One of the interesting things you will start to notice when you live with others is that there is always a moment when all the little things that are not quite running smoothly at your house will start to pile up. You may notice that you or your roomies start to get cranky, avoidy (hiding in their rooms) or moody (a dark cloud hovers over their head at all times). If something doesn’t shift soon, the atmosphere in the house will become unbearable.

I tend to do the “tolerate until you drop dance”, constantly cleaning up those irritating signs that my roomies are alive – toast crumbs on the counter, popcorn on the floor, etc. but eventually my inner complaints start to creep out and become—heaven forbid—griping and gossiping. If I’m even half way interested in stopping the snowball effect before it gets worse, I realize that I’m merely the canary in the mine and that it is time for a house meeting.

Ironically the crankiness that has led to “it’s time for a house meeting” is actually a sign that something else is needed. And that something is not really a change in anyone else’s behaviour or compliance in following through on a request. Those are only excuses. No, what lies underneath the irritability and crankiness is usually a feeling of being disconnected. Giving in to crankiness actually does exactly the opposite of what is emotionally desired.

What is really needed is not more meetings (although you will still need to discuss issues). What is really needed is more time together. Like any healthy relationship, you need to spend time if you want to maintain harmony. Never being available for get-togethers might be a sign that you are unwilling to share deeply (time to see a shrink), you see your shared home as just a place to crash and not a place to live (time to move on) or that you are way too busy and need to get a life (see that shrink again).

With more time together, the little things that have been driving you bonkers are likely to fade away in importance. You will find better words to voice your requests and your roomies are more likely to be willing to comply.

So light up the barbecue, pop open that bottle of vino and schedule some together-time. Weekly pot-lucks, house picnics or Sunday dinners are great ways to enjoy each other’s company. And enjoy should really be what it’s all about. Recall hilarious episodes of earlier housemate mayhem over a glass or two on the patio. The giggles will dispel those grumpy cobwebs faster than all the meetings in the world. Once you sit down to your scheduled house meeting, you are going to feel more bonded and can probably go through your list of to-do’s and to-don’ts easily and pleasantly.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A Higher Vision

Years ago my brother walked into the kitchen of his shared home to find one of his room-mates, a dear friend who was managing the house, sobbing her heart out. She was exhausted by the amount of work she had to do to keep the house functioning and frustrated that there was so much tension, unpleasantness and lack of responsibility and ownership in the care of the house.

Despite it being a gorgeous heritage mansion in one of the fancier parts of town, it had become simply a place where people with little income came and “crashed” for a period of time. There was never enough money to comfortably manage the upkeep of the house (a situation that can easily arise with an absentee landlord) and since rent was calculated on vacancy, people would literally deduct days they were away on vacation and not pay for those days. In order to cover expenses she allowed more and more people to live in the house. This, in turn, caused conflicts over laundry, shower and cooking times.

The garden was neglected; furniture was placed higgledy-piggeldy in common areas with no thought of symmetry or design. The place had quite literally turned into a kind of rooming house where people came and went with little sense of commitment or care. The neighbours were starting to complain of the run-down appearance of the property and the city housing inspectors had been called in several times.

What soon became apparent was that there was no shared higher vision for the house, no over-riding dream and no bottom line or standard that could hold the place together. Without this set in place, the house had descended to the lowest levels. People lacked the communication tools to deal with upsets so there was little desire to work co-operatively and everyone tended to flee to the privacy of their individual rooms. It certainly wasn’t what she had hoped when she set up the shared home five years earlier.

What did they do that rainy morning so many years ago? Together, they sat down over a soothing cup of tea and created a vision of how they wanted to live. They dreamed of a place where people chose to share a home, much grander than any of them could individually afford, and live in elegance, beauty and harmony. They pictured room-mates who would share this dream and consider it their own home and not merely a temporary place to crash until something better came along.

When they raised the standard from “cheap place to live” to “elegant home” they created a higher vision. They began to attract new room-mates who also wanted to live in an elegant, orderly and harmonious home. With the shift in energy and intention, people began to be more committed and they found fewer turnovers and people choosing to stay for years rather than months. The longer people stayed, the more ownership they felt in the home; the more ownership they felt, the more they were likely to invest time, care and effort in maintaining this higher vision. In the next few years, the rooming house turned into a truly “conscious home”.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Romance in the Hallways & Other Roomie Tales

Sooner or later cupid is going to stalk the halls of your cosy shared home and either it’s going to be total bliss or utter hell. While it may be wonderful, loving and supportive for the lovesick roomie, it can have negative effects on the other housemates. And that’s why it’s best to have a few “handling horny housemate” tips on hand.

If the roomie’s main squeeze is showing up every morning at the breakfast table having depleted the hot water tank in a long luxurious shower and then helped themselves to the last drop of milk from the communal fridge, it’s likely that resentments will start to build.

Should the sweetie be there only on rare occasions, then it’s likely that these infringements will be overlooked. However, if they are showing up everyday then you have found yourself in the awkward position of having an unofficial resident, and let me tell you, there’s trouble brewing and it’s not going to be long before a major upset erupts.

One of the main problems with a part-time live-in is that it tends to create a conspiracy of two that excludes others. There is nothing as irritating as feeling that you are an undesirable in your own kitchen while the smitten couple share romantic giggles and whispers at the end of the table when all you want to do is sip your java and peruse the shared accommodations column in the paper.

Additionally when you confront your roomie with some indiscretion of their paramour, you may find that they turn to justifying their lover’s behaviour and possibly even issuing reverse threats. What was originally a relationship with one room-mate has become something quite different. While it is natural that your roomie will tend to align with their sweetheart, it is exactly this kind of alliance that causes cliquing and disrupts the harmony in a shared home.

The source of the problem is due to the fact that a new undeclared arrangement slid under the wire quite literally when everyone was sleeping. And, although you may balk at comparing a roomie’s new hottie with having a pet, there are some similarities. It would be a pretty thick room-mate that could arrive home one day with a newly acquired bull mastiff and assume that nothing would be noticed. Bringing a pet into the household is the sort of action that has an impact on everyone and therefore is subject to the Shared Living Law of “we have to talk about this”.

Similarly, there comes a time when it is necessary to discuss the changing living arrangements with the other roomies. A good idea would be to share this with your housemates at your monthly house meeting or to call an impromptu chat with this topic on the agenda.

“Roseanne is going to be around the house more often and I would like your blessing. What can we do so that everyone is more comfortable with her being here?” This would be an excellent opening line from a very conscious roomie. “I’m doodling Lloyd and that’s it,” would probably go over less well.

Naturally it’s the impact on the household that will make the difference. If the sweetie in question is chipping in financially for the extra costs of hot water and shared food, then there are likely to be fewer issues.

There may also be security issues. In our house, only room-mates have keys or know the password for the house alarm system. Guests are welcome, but it is expected that they are never left alone in the house, primarily because without a key and password they cannot lock the house when they leave.

Guests – even regular guests – are not the same as housemates and are therefore should not participate in household policy making unless agreed to by everyone.

Next week I’ll talk about what to do when the spark of romance ignites between two roomies.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Gossip & Other Deadly Room-mate Sins

There is no way around it: gossip is deadly. And yet, there is something satisfyingly juicy about talking about another person behind their back. Whether it’s a bit of scandalous information you are dying to share or a smidgen of malicious character assassination, gossip eventually leaves a bad taste in your own mouth and, worst of all, it destroys the well-being and harmony in any shared home.
We gossip about our room-mates because their behaviour irritates us or makes us unhappy or uncomfortable. Is one of your room-mates not doing their share of the household duties? Are they being lazy, messy or just plain forgetful? We complain about a room-mate, in part, to get the irritation off our chests, but we also want the behaviour to go away.
Of course, this kind of talk is totally misplaced. Talking to room-mate Mary is not going to solve our problem with room-mate Harry. Sometimes what we are hoping is that Mary will side with us in the condemnation of Harry – making us right. And, unfortunately, there is nothing quite as satisfying about being smugly right.
A couple living in our house once came to a meeting and asked that people not talk about them behind their back. While malicious gossip is unpleasant, it’s pretty unreasonable to think that you can stop people from ever talking about you. It’s just one of those things that people do. This kind of gossip is known to sociologists as social grooming and is seen as a way that people bond and reinforce social structures, family links, and build relationships. Social grooming is also used as a form of reconciliation and a means of conflict resolution in some species.
However, back-stabbing gossip is in a different category and will affect the atmosphere in the house whether we know that it is happening or not. The information seems to be absorbed subconsciously and when there is unpleasant gossip it tends to escalate the problems resulting in even more upsets and more incidents of anger and hostility. The energy in the home becomes cool and distant and people feel disconnected.
If we really want to solve the situation, it is essential that we be honest and talk directly to the person who can solve the problem – in other words have a chat with Harry about Harry’s behaviour. Keeping this house rule will avoid many unpleasant feelings in the house and ensure a caring environment for everyone.

The only reason to talk to Mary is if she can help you find a way to speak to Harry in a compassionate and clear way. This is not gossip. This is seeking support. But there is a fine line here as your desire for clarity can easily descend into talking about your room-mates behaviour in a condescending way simply to make yourself look good.
Gossip is particularly deadly when it is used (even unconsciously) as a means to divid people and form cliques within the household. Everyone deserves to feel respected in what is their own home. There is no way around it. If you want to have a conscious home that is the way of living you choose to live, then malicious gossip has got to go. While deliciously tantalizing, rumours and gossip should be avoided if you really wish to have the home of your dreams and enjoy the benefits of a caring and conscious shared home.