Coping with Communal Living

Awkward. It really is. One moment, you’re living in your family home and the only people to argue dish duty with are parents and siblings. The next, you’re sharing employee housing with a group of strangers who may or may not have any interests, demographics, or habits similar to your own. I’m not certain if I’ve met all of my housing companions yet, and even more sure that I wouldn’t pass a cursory quiz reviewing the introductions I’ve received so far.

Here at my current assignment, it’s complicated by the fact that nearly everyone I’ve met seems to be older than me. Being the obvious youngest in a group tends to shift power away from me – something I never approve of, but can deal with. This coupled with the fact that we will be working together, in a relatively isolated location, for the next twenty weeks adds a level of stress to my living situation that I never encountered during my other brief stints away from the homestead. Perhaps the low stress of those occasions is due to living with sisters?

But my time in Wyoming last year, followed by the experiences in apartment living in Colorado had me somewhat prepared and one of the perks of driving out in my own car was the relaxed weight and space limits. In Colorado, luggage restrictions forced me to buy more than one item that I already possessed in one form or another. Here, I seem to have lugged along everything that I need for my immediate survival and happiness.

With the support of my ever expanding possessions, I’ve begun testing living systems that might make my life easier for the next few momths. Some systems seem to have already been agreed upon before I arrived. For one thing, there’s no arguing about clutter in the bathroom because the room in question is stark, barren, and empty. Well, there are the usual sink, toilet, shower, and tub fixtures, but no towels on the towel rack, no soap on the counter, and no cupboards or shelves in which to leave items. This can make using the bathroom a more complicated ritual, but I see the benefits of not having six girls fighting for room for their hair dryers.

Another system that I appreciate is the labeling of refrigerator shelves, designating this portion of the fridge for one person and that portion for another. Although we had a casual understanding of this in the Colorado apartment, I’m still fairly certain that some of my food ‘vanished’ after roommates had guests over. I’ve never been a fan of aggressive labeling (TOUCH AND DIE), at least in part because it always makes me want to touch and see what happens. A few passive/aggressive notes in Vail have turned me even further off of notes as a form of communication with strangers. So the refrigerator system is a nice, basic way to segregate cold food without crazily punctuated turf wars breaking out.

I have supplemented these methods of keeping the peace by bringing along my own dishes, dish towels, and finding places to store them in my room. If I keep my dirty plates in my room, I don’t feel guilty about cluttering up the main area and it’s easy for me to remember that I need to clean them up still. And since the dishes are mine and mine alone, I don’t worry that I’m leaving the rest of the people living here without a clean fork or cup.

The final step I’ve managed to take toward keeping spaces individual is setting my dry goods pantry up inside my room. I can evaluate what food I have on hand without blocking everyone else’s access to the kitchen and when I want a cup of tea at midnight, I don’t have to rattle around and disturb the peace.

So far, the ability to keep spaces and items individual instead of communal has lowered the possible points of friction rather drastically. I’m sure that, as time passes, my coping methods will evolve – but for now, I have managed to create enough private spaces that I don’t panic over having to deal with public spaces and that’s all I need for now.


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