Unless you intend on squatting in disused houses after you graduate, student life at university is the first and last time you'll enjoy such a carefree lifestyle. Your second and third year is usually spent sharing a house or flat away from campus with your friends and it's probably going to be the weirdest experience of your life so far. Some people have the time of their lives, some don't, and so if we're going to be honest about this, student living is a lot more than house parties and hot-boxing your landlord's conservatory.
Here are some of the less-than-great aspects to sharing a place with your fellow students...
1. Be prepared to see strangers' poo - a lot of it. There is a clearly a gap in education, be it at home or at school, in which correct flushing and cleaning after the use of a toilet was missed out. I hate to break it to you, but the chances are that if you yourself are not a culprit of leaving a caramel cave leading to the u-bend after using the toilet, someone else in your house definitely will be. Good luck bringing it up with your housemates too, it's not an easy conversation. "So, um, have you ever considered fibre in your diet...?"
2. There's an asshole that will only communicate with you through passive aggressive notes - and they think you're an asshole too. Unfortunately, this is me. I'm that asshole. Instead of trying to convey messages face-to-face to every person in my house, I find it easier to leave notes in places that everyone will see. Sometimes these notes are friendly, like last month when I thanked someone for cleaning the kitchen so well, to the less friendly, more passive aggressive one I left by my housemate's door last week telling him he was the loudest human being I've ever met and I hated living with him. Notes aren't a good route to a peaceful house dynamic, so try to stay on talking terms and generate some house rules that everyone agrees to...and that you can then use against them when they start being morons.
3. Sometimes people think it's funny to invite strangers in your house. A course-mate of mine got deliriously drunk one night at a house party and was found in an alley by some guys who then carried him to their house where they let him sleep on their couch and put a bucket by his head, just in case. That's a good story because he wasn't sick and made his way home in the morning. But sometimes it doesn't work out so well...
4. There will be someone totally incapable of sharing or considering others. Whether it's getting them to actually do their share of the housework or making them understand that washing-up liquid and toiletries don't magically appear, some people just do not want to think of anyone else but themselves. They steal your stuff, they use your plates and cutlery, and they'll probably deny everything if you accuse them. It's no surprise then that some students take revenge on these asshats.
A friend of mine told me,
"I have a housemate who absolutely refuses to contribute to the buying of commonly used household goods, whether it's hand-soap, toilet paper, or anything else that can and should be shared. He has a year's supply of soap, toilet paper, shampoo, fairy liquid, and every other utility stuff stockpiled in his room. [...] And yet he has a habit of using the things the rest of us share, without contributing to the cost. One day we realised we were losing an excessive amount of milk, so we decided to all chip in together and purchase strong laxative, poisoning our own milk supply.
Initially we thought it was going to be rather amusing giving someone an excruciating amount of the squirts, but then it just ended up like some shitty Bay of Pigs. There were no ideological victors that day, only someone who kept really needing to poo."
5. Hygiene - not everyone values it. You may be blessed with housemates who wash regularly, who clean their clothes and who enjoy a life less infested with microscopic bugs. But the sad fact is, at least one of your friends is secretly disgusting and you'll only find out when you live with them. A hotbed of grime and shame is the shower, as one student told me:
"I was horrified to find that as I stepped into the shower one morning, the previous user had not removed his... 'seed' from the shower wall. Luckily, we had two showers."
So buy some bleach, buy anti-bacterial everything, it could get pretty terrible.
6. Some people don't get privacy. Although I don't know anyone who leaves the door open when they masturbate, everything after that seems to be permitted in a student house. For example, there's going to be a night when, as you start to fall asleep, you'll begin to hear groans and grunts and the creaking of a bed...and you're going to have to find a way to sleep without horrifying images in your head. But, as a student, the likelihood is that you'll be groaning and grunting at some point too (apparently) and, depending on the sort of people you live with, it could go in a weird direction, as one student recounted to me:
"So, post-sex with my boyfriend, the condom falls on its way to the bin and the entire contents manage to empty themselves on my bed (ew, I know). I'm about to clean it up when my housemate knocks on the door and, before I can even reply, comes straight in. She'd just had an argument with her boyfriend and needed to talk. So she walks straight into my room, plonks her bum on the corner of my bed and lands right on the wet patch. Completely oblivious, she tells us her woes and I'm trying my best to keep a straight face and look concerned. It seemed to be working as she doesn't notice a thing. Until she got up. Her hands slowly moved to the back of her trousers and she looked confused and disgusted. I braced myself for confrontation but she said, "...Anyway, I'm off to my room. Thanks, guys. I needed that talk."
My housemate and I have never spoken about this incident since. Still, I'm pretty sure she knew what she sat in. Moral of the story, knock and wait."
7. Some people don't care how much noise they make, so try not to end up living with them. The slamming of doors, the thudding footsteps of the childish housemate who jumps down the stairs, the enthusiastic conversation at 2 o'clock in the morning - these are the new instruments in the soundtrack of your life. I have a housemate who seems unaware that arriving home at midnight singing out of tune and monotone about blueberries is simply not OK, he slams doors so hard the house shakes and he makes the kitchen into the worst percussion band you've ever heard. If you like constant noise, then go for it, live with those people and have a bunch of noisy fun, but when exams are looming, when that deadline is staring you in the face, let's hope everyone keeps it down when you need them to.
Maybe none of this will happen to you, maybe just some of it will. I know people who live with people precisely because they're all noisy, or they're all messy, it's what draws them together and they enjoy their loud, mangy lives. And I know others who've escaped a crappy house and now live in a paradise. It's not all doom and gloom but sometimes you need a dose of the reality that a lot of people want to ignore. So my advice? Set down the ground rules, organise monthly house meetings where everyone can moan and complain about problems in the house, and, whatever you do, make sure you keep talking to each other. Why? Because if you don't you'll never understand why someone in your house decided to burn two fresh eggs in the box and leave them charred on the patio.
Seriously, what were they summoning?