For some, the word brings thoughts of dirty dishes left in the sink, annoying late night noises, and a total lack of privacy.
For others, it conjurs up images of eating together around the table, late night parties with your best friends, and people who are always up for hanging out.
If you live in London, it’s highly likely that at some point you have flatmates and be someone else’s. London is big, it’s bustling, it’s thriving, and it’s also super expensive.
This means that everyone from single students to married couple may be living with flatmates all across the city, which helps lower the rent and utilities bills for everyone in the flat or house.
I’ve lived with flatmates multiple times throughout my London experience, first when I was a student, and again when I had my first “real” job in Acton and was living in a house with 3 other people.
Some of my flatmates were just that – someone I lived with and tolerated well enough to have them in my living space all of the time. Others became my best friends and people that I still keep in touch with to this day.
I met up with one of my old flatmates and friends to reminisce on our time living together and why we became friends instead of enemies, and we came up with some tips for getting along with your flatmate when living in London.
If you’re about to embark on the flatmate journey or are finding that your current living situation could use a bit of help, this is for you!
Hey, sidenote! If you’re traveling to the UK or live in the UK, whether for a short period of time or as an expat, why don’t you join my Facebook group where you can ask questions, get advice or just look at pretty pictures of this part of the world! Just click here to request to join and I’ll add you!
You can also check out my ultimate guide to visiting London here, which comes with 70+ topics including how to stay safe in London, how to budget for London, and what to skip in the city!
Why I Loved Living with a Flatmate in London
As an American student and then expat who was living in the UK with few connections, living with housemates opened up friendships and opportunities to me that I never thought possible.
Not only did I have an easier way to make friends, but I was able to learn about British culture in a low-risk environment where I could be myself and laugh about the idiosyncracies of both Brits and Americans with people my age who were willing to chat and have fun.
Living with housemates also opened up London to me geographically in a way I never thought possible.
It can be very easy to stick to your “bubble” of wherever you work or go to school, but living with people who worked and had previously lived in other places in the city, suddenly I was being whisked around to restaurants in Shoreditch, hidden green spaces on rooftops, hidden green spaces in Camden and so much more.
I also found that when I was homesick, it made it so much easier knowing that I wasn’t returning to an empty flat but to people who would be happy to make dinner with me or just watch a rerun of our favorite show or just sit in a comfortable silence.
And this didn’t just go for me, but for my flatmates too who came from all around the world and the UK.
It can be a bit too easy to feel like London is swallowing you whole, and having flatmates helped me conquer the city and really find myself in it with a built-in support network.
Of course, living with flatmates did help me save money on rent, but the flatmate experience itself and the confidence it gave me was priceless.
Tips for Getting Along with Your London Flatmates
1. Do Things Outside of the House Together
For us, it was really important to build up a friendship outside of the flat together. This meant things like going to dinner after work, going to the park on the weekends, and seeing concerts and shows that we were both interested in.
Living with other people can be stressful, no matter how much you like them, but it’s a guarantee that if you’re friends with someone, it will go much more smoothly. It’s when you forge those bonds and get to know each other more that you start to make those lifelong friends and create memories that you’ll be sure to embarrass them with at their future wedding.
Furthermore, you don’t always know when your need to have a flatmate will end. You shouldn’t just be trying to “get through” the phase of your life where you have a flatmate, as in London there’s never a guarantee that you’ll be able to go without one if you’re hoping to live in the most central and “happening” places.
Making friends with your flatmates outside of the house helps you enjoy your current situation, rather than just wondering what’s coming up next.
Things to Do in London with Flatmates
We found that the best things to do to include as many flatmates as possible were things that didn’t cost tons of money and could be flexible, which would give people the option to join in no matter their budget or work schedule.
Some of the more popular outings were…
- having a picnic on Primrose Hill and watching the sunset
- taking advantage of one of the city’s museum’s “late night” adult-only events where you get to explore the museum without as many people around and a drink in hand
- going on an Oxford Street shopping excursion (perfect because you can buy or not buy depending on your budget, but it was fun to try on clothes and laugh at each other when we picked a particularly crazy option)
- finding your local pub and gathering there after work regularly
2. Set Established Rules
One of the easiest ways for flatmate situations to go amiss is to not have clear boundaries set. Even if you are friends, you need to be on the same page regarding cleaning schedules, payment schedules, and general use of the house.
What are the rules on friends coming over and staying the night? What about boyfriends or girlfriends? Who is responsible for taking out the trash? Who makes the payment to the landlord every month? What day does the rent need to be paid to that person by?
Don’t leave anything up to guessing. People can come into a flat with very different expectations of how basic “life” things are done, or may assume based on what they thought they heard. Make sure you agree on established rules for living that will make everyone happier and less likely to break a rule they didn’t know existed.
3. Use a Flatmate Matching Service
There are multiple ways to find a flatmate, including asking around if your friends know anyone searching for one and looking at a website that simply lists properties available. By far the best way to find a flatmate though, is through a flatmate matching service like Ideal Flatmate.
Basically, Ideal Flatmate believes in the idea that you shouldn’t necessarily be just searching for the right property, but also for the right people to live with. You’re going to be spending so much time with them that it makes sense to make sure you’re matched up based on your personalities and living expectations.
To help people find the right flatmates, they’ve introduced a flatmate matching quiz where you answer 20 questions to give their algorithm a good idea of who you might be compatible with.
You can also add a listing if you’re the one with a property and searching for flatmates, so it works whether you’re the one without a home or you’re the one with too much space in your home.
4. Be Honest
It can be hard to be honest with your flatmates, especially when it seems like things will just “blow over,” but you have to learn to be tactful and let your feelings out.
Passive aggressiveness can be a real detriment to a flatmate relationship, where people start doing things behind the others backs just to prove a point.
For instance, let’s say Tom (your new flatmate) leaves his dishes out every time he eats and doesn’t get around to them until 2 days later.
You could retaliate by leaving yours out for 4 days, which then causes him to leave his for a week because he doesn’t even realize you’re making a point and he doesn’t care, or he could realize what you’re doing and try and leave his as long as possible until you break.
Or you could just be honest and tell Tom why it bothers you that his dishes are left out and come to a solution (of course this only works if you have a reasonable flatmate, but that’s why you follow Tip 3!).
Also, when you communicate, imagine you’re using the same rules you should use when you talk to a loved one (no matter how much you do or don’t love Tom). Don’t tell him he “always” or “never” does something, and don’t make it about HIM, but about his behavior.
Explain what affect it has on you (as long as you reasoning is also sensible), and try and come to a compromise.
5. Get Out of the House Apart
We might be suggesting this as introverts, but there is nothing quite like having the flat to yourself after a long day or for a few hours on the weekend. It gives you time to recharge and feel even more at home in your space, which is essential for continuing a strong flatmate relationship.
Make sure that you’re both spending time out of the house, separately, to give the other some “room.”
If you have different work schedules, this might already be the case, but if your schedules are similar, be sure to still plan activities with some friends separately or spend some time doing things that interest you in London that your flatmate wouldn’t necessarily be interested in.
This only works if it goes both ways, but it can be a real lifesaver when life just becomes too much and all you want to do is blast Enrique Igelsias’s latest hit and not have to worry about someone else. Or so we’ve heard.
6. Assume You Can’t Use It Unless You Ask
No matter how close you are to someone, assume that you can’t use anything that they have bought unless it’s been previously agreed that it is to be shared. This goes for personal items, makeup, food, clothes, cleaning supplies, shampoo, stationary, ANYTHING.
If something hasn’t been clearly bought as a shared item that you take turns buying (for instance, toilet paper), ask before you use someone’s things. It may sound like common sense, but sometimes when you’re living with someone it can be easy to thoughtlessly use something that isn’t yours.
If you ask, it gives them the chance to say “Of course you can watch my Harry Potter DVDs, you don’t need to ask!” and then you have a clear rule/boundary (see Tip 2!) that lets you know that there will not be a problem if you do so in the future without asking.
If you don’t ask and use up someone’s cereal that was the only thing getting them through the day tomorrow, be prepared for a falling out – especially if it’s chocolatey.
7. Appreciate the Company
Having a flatmate that you get along with is like having a built in best friend who can live all of the highs and lows of life with you.
London can be lonely, sometimes, with everyone’s busy schedules and fast-paced lifestyles, and sometimes it’s really nice to come home to someone who notices that you’re there.
Learn to appreciate their companionship and all of the laughter and heart-to-hearts and crying over Love Actually. It’s nice to have someone willing to listen to you vent or bounce ideas off of or simply have there as another physical presence as you sit in silence, watching GoggleBox.