October 14, 2010

Happy College House 101: Tips for Living on your own for the First Time. ~ Elana Staroselsky

When living with new people, it takes time to establish respect for differences in lifestyle.

Recently, when I went back home to pay my parents a visit, my 10-year-old cousin asked me: “Why don’t you live with your mom and dad?” I replied that I was in college and lived with my best friends.

She was in awe at my answer, and for a second I had to stop and think about it, too. Here I am two months into living entirely on my own for the first time, and it still hasn’t fully sunk in. No parents, no R.A.s (resident advisers in the dorms)—just me and my roommates in a house we’re renting for 12 months.

It was finally move-in day and we’d been counting down since signing the lease last January. Four girls, coming to CU from three states, with one house to share. Rooms were quickly claimed and slowly the house began to fill up with belongings, mattresses (before we bought beds) and random knick-knacks. The first challenge was the task of filling a house. My mom had always taken care of the furniture in all the living areas of my childhood homes…and suddenly we were presented with an empty house. The house needed a couch, a coffee table, a dining table, chairs, and everything in between that we would want (a TV being one of those “want” items).

Tip #1: Scrounge your own house for furniture and things.

You would be surprised at some of the stuff you overlook in your parents’ house that isn’t being utilized. I got lucky because my mom had been eyeing a new couch she’d spotted and saw my moving out as the perfect excuse to splurge and donate the old one to me. My roommates and I also found craigslist and Goodwill helpful, fun, and affordable. My personal favorite is when a treasure can be found at a flea market for a reasonable price. Old furniture is unique and sometimes redesigned tastefully by a previous owner.

Tip #2: Sometimes buying really cheap plastic furniture isn’t beneficial in the long run because the quality is even cheaper and it won’t last for long.

Many times, older furniture is higher quality and has much higher endurance than low-priced new, often plastic merchandise. The importance of the endurance factor has been proven with our dining room tables. The first, flimsy table we purchased has already become extremely unstable when our dinner guest rammed into it on his longboard! Our second table is much more heavy duty and so far has been much more reliable.

College students sometimes overlook the vital life-sustainer: food. When it comes to having enough extra cash for concerts, beer and anything else in the always-lively college bubble, feeding oneself can be neglected. The way in which my roommates and I have created a system has proven to be a big success. We compile a list about once a week of the agreed upon foods that we all eat and drink—things such as milk, eggs, O.J. and sandwich supplies. We each put in $50 cash for those shared items into a wallet we call, “The Kitty.”  If there is leftover money, it is put towards the next grocery store trip. Items that a roommate wants only for him or herself can be bought with their own money and labeled with their initials so that everyone else is aware.

My roommates and I have hardly eaten out this year. I think this is rather rare when talking to other students, but very lucky that three out of the four of us enjoy cooking. We have come to be known among our friends as having dinner parties and baking funfetti cupcakes. A slight conflict did arise when quality testing was taken to a whole new level. We define quality testing as “tasting” the batter or unfinished creation.

Note to self: It’s going to make the baker angry if you eat half the batter before it’s put into the oven—just don’t do it. There was also the time we baked one hundred cupcakes for a party at our house.

Pros: people loved them. Cons: we spent the next day peeling chocolate off our floor.

Once the house resembled a livable space, my roommates and I felt like we could finally relax and step back to enjoy our new independence. The social interactions within the house became of central importance. It has been a truly fun adventure sharing a house with roommates. Ranging from the time we trapped a mouse in our sink to succeeding in making sushi from scratch—it’s been an unforgettable time. Living in a house with roommates is an invaluable learning process.

Tip #3: I believe that there are a few outlooks that every roommate should have in mind when sharing living quarters. Each individual has personal strengths and when living together each person’s strengths can rub off on others. How can you have a positive influence on your roommates? Just working towards influencing each other in positive ways can help each individual gain qualities for themselves.

Tip #4: Another concept roommates should look into is what Outkast told us, “I know you’d like to think your shit don’t stink, but lean a little bit closer,” and this concept can be witnessed everywhere. You might not think it’s gross when you thumb through the communal turkey to find your ideal slice but to someone else your germs are not so easily dismissed. So, as my kindergarten teacher kindly reminded my class—how would you feel if someone did that to you? Ultimately, be mindful of your habits.

Tip #5: When something happens once or twice that irritates you, let it go. When you sincerely notice a nuisance about a roommate’s tendencies, say something. If you call someone out for a justifiable reason then that person will most likely take your request to heart.

Tip #6: Your roommates are not who you are. A house develops so many dynamics—and that’s what makes it so fun living together.

Each roommate is completely different from the other. In my house there is the procrastinator, the over-exagerrator, the responsible one, and the energetic one. The procrastinator bakes when she is procrastinating. The over-exaggerator panics about every little thing in her life. The responsible one makes us grateful for a mother-figure. The energetic one is me, and I’d like to think I make things a little more interesting during 1:00 A.M. study sessions. One of us has taken a liking to blaming another for anything that goes wrong in the house. The oven was left on, the bowl was placed in the dishwasher wrong, the word lemon was spelled wrong, are all instances where fingers were pointed.

It’s human nature to put blame on others, and I think when living with new people it takes time to establish respect for differences in lifestyle. As time goes on, I believe we will realize that we are all going to slip up in some areas and excel in others.

It’s a great thing when your house feels like home, and therefore you feel comfortable in it. But to continue growing, we have to push ourselves out of our comfort zones a bit.

It’s important that each roommate keeps their balance of personal activities, hobbies, and even friends outside of the house. The aura of the house is always going to be more often positive when the roommates come together after parting ways. By not always going out with your roommates you have more fun the many times you do go out together.

Each roommate has something you can appreciate about him or her. One roommate I can always count on to say what she sees or feels, one roommate I know I can always count on her loyal heart, and another roommate I know will always be at my side through the adventures we embark on. College is the crazy unpredictable ride all of the roommates have jumped on and now that we have all moved in together, we play huge roles in each others’ experiences.

Remember to try and make the best of every situation in your new home—and your house will be become home. One morning after an episode of us walking in on her running naked through the house, my roommate said, “Our house just doesn’t care what people think, I love it.”

Elana Staroselsky is a student at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the Journalism School and recently started interning with elephant journal.

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