D.C. is the land of group houses. If you haven’t lived in one / are currently living in one / just about to move into one then you know people who do. Living with a bunch of strangers and friends never sounds as hard as it actually is. It’s easy to think that if you all keep to yourself, everything will be just fine. Wrong. You’ve never been more wrong. You have to be proactive. You have to be on top of your shit. And you have to be reasonable. Follow our advice, and your house will be running like a well-oiled machine. At the very least, you probably won’t hate each other. Bonus: Learn how to throw a good house concert.
Things You Will Have To Share / Things You Do Not Have to Share
- The number one most obnoxious thing you have to share in a group living space is responsibility. Yeah, that’s right, responsibility. You thought I was going to say something like “condiments” or maybe if I was feeling slightly more abstract, “bathroom space.” But someone else will tell you about that stuff. Sharing responsibility is the most unexpected hard thing about living with other adults. It’s taking the trash around to the curb on Monday nights for Tuesday morning pick-up that causes the most arguments that come out of nowhere.This stuff is also tricky because it can be hard to negotiate in advance. You can make a schedule for who cooks when or decide to share eggs, but who’s going to take time off of work to wait for the Comcast guy/plumber/exterminator? (Oh, that’s the landlord’s job? Yeah, good luck with that.) The best you can really do here is try not to live with assholes, which is really the key to the group house arrangement anyway. You may be tempted to go to battle to protect your toiletries or travel mugs, but the main thing you have that you need to guard is your life. Not like, your actual physical life – although if you’re concerned about that, move and do it today – but your plans, stories, and privacy. You’re an adult, and that stuff is your own to share – or not – as you want. Two of the people I lived in group houses with have continued to be two of the very best friends I have. A couple of the others, though, I pretty much never spoke to again after we stopped living together. There was no ill will, we just didn’t have a relationship beyond the shared lease. And that’s very, very ok. Living with your close friends can be great in a lot of ways, but there’s something nice about the collegiate but distant housemate relationship. Sure, you can sit on the front porch and chat over a few beers with your housemates, but no one expects you to report out when you don’t make it home til 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning. -Trisha Brown
- Entering your first group house (or perhaps just a new one), you may find yourself flush with communistic idealism. I mean, four or five people under one roof, sharing food and drink and essentials, splitting the costs equally – it’s the dream, right? Wrong. You need to check that quixotic shit at the door, comrade. This isn’t a utopia. And if it is, it’s like that secret island settlement in Leonardo DiCaprio’s not-beloved The Beach where everything seems totally chill and then devolves into blackmail, gangrene, and shark attacks.
The smartest thing to do with a group house is to draw hard lines early on about what is shared and what is not. It may seem trivial, but it’s not. When it comes to dysfunctional group houses, the seeds of discontent are sown in cereal boxes with one remaining Frosted Mini-Wheat. So, here’s what to share and what not to share.
- Don’t share most food and drinks. I’m starting off a little controversial, but fuck it. If you’re living with more than one other person, don’t split food and drink purchases. It sounds like a great idea: “Hey, I’m going to Costco. I’ll get a bunch of salmon steaks, Vitamin Water, and Kind bars. That cool?” No, it’s not cool, Ben. Someone will always end up consuming less of these things, and they’ll be salty about it. Or someone will invite friends over, and suddenly shit is gone. And because it’s a group house, no one can really be held accountable, because who can prove whom consumed what? It’s the perfect crime. So, just fast-forward to the part where everyone buys their own shit. It’ll save you a lot of headache. You’ll also skip past that part where one person starts buying their own own stuff and passive-aggressively writing his or her name on it in all-caps with a Sharpie. In summary, opening the fridge or pantry, everyone just needs to ask themselves one question: Did I buy this? If the answer is no, do not consume it! Put the Oreos down, Peter!
- Do share condiments, spices, and baking ingredients. In other words, share things that someone can not reasonably come home drunk and consume in their entirety.
- Do share cases of shitty beer. Look, I’m not a monster. It’s cool to take turns buying and sharing shitty beer. Shitty beer is the lubricant of group house living. Also, beer takes up a lot of room in the fridge, so it’s impractical for everyone to cram their Natty Light in there.
- Do not share a bar of soap. A single strand of someone else’s hair on your bar soap may the most devastating sight in the world. What part of the body did that hair come from? Probably the scalp… but maybe not? You’ll never know! Fuck bars of soap!!! Shower gel 4 life.
- Do share other toiletries. Toothpaste, toilet paper, face cleanser, whatever. You can share these things. No one person uses an obscene amount of toothpaste. You’re pretty much guaranteed to get your money’s worth. Have one person do a supply run and split the cost. The same goes for cleaning materials.
- Do not share bathroom reading material. Gross. No magazines in the bathroom.
- Do share appliances. If you don’t have a vacuum cleaner or iron or toaster, then someone needs to man up and buy one. And whoever buys it then brings it with them to their next living situation. This avoid the awkward situation where you have a $20 stake in a Dustbuster
- Do not share chargers. You’re asking for trouble when you share chargers. Inevitably, someone is missing a charger, and standoffs more intense than the finale of Reservoir Dogs ensues.
- Do share books. Reading is fundamental!
- Do not subsequently share someone else’s book with your significant other: You’re going to break up! -Phil
How To Talk (Or Not Talk) To Each Other
- The best part about a person living in half of your living room is that they have to hang out with you whenever you want to hang out because they occupy a communal space, but if you need “me time” you can close the door to your bedroom. Unfortunately, living with three people in a one bedroom means another person lives in your bedroom so “me time” isn’t actually possible. Except one time, when my roommate ate six weed cookies and slept for 24 hours. I had a lot of “me time” but I didn’t really like it. – Tam Sackman
- Unless you have hard plans or something deeply urgent is happening (like the house is on fire, the house is flooded or other biblical storm-esque problems), there is no reason to knock on your roommates door. If you want to grab a drink, if you want to complain about the landlord, if you want to sit out on the front porch and talk about your respective days, text them. It’s the 21st century. We carry super computers in our pockets. Does it sound anti-social and weird? Yes. But you’re living in a house with other people who have different likes, dislikes and things going on in their lives. Respect that. Give them the opportunity to ignore you without making things uncomfortable and they will give you that same sweet gift. The only exception, is if you’re both hanging out in the living room / kitchen / common area at the same time. If that’s the case, read the room before you pester them to try that new fast casual place a couple blocks over with you. The hardest part about living in a group house is drawing these lines. Yeah, you might all rent a house together, but that doesn’t mean you’ve rented a block of their time. -Kaylee Dugan
Living in a group home requires a fair degree of diplomacy, deference, and patience. You’re basically all living in this quasi-commune either out of financial necessity (D.C. is expensive) or out of choice (why?), and at any given point your home can feel like an extended-stay hostel. But it can actually be really fun! And fulfilling! And can lead to some wonderful friendships that outlast the makeshift walls you put up to turn the den into a 7th bedroom. At the core of all of this is the Golden Rule: treat others as you wish to be treated. That’s it. It’s really simple.
You’re not going to have a lot of privacy in the common areas of a group house, so you might as well be mentally prepared for that. I always found that common courtesy and decency went a lot of way towards building up good will with the group – particularly if you are new to an established dynamic, as I was. Are your other roommates big Game of Thrones fans, but you couldn’t give two shits whether winter is on its way here or out? Be considerate and let them have the TV for that hour and change on Sunday nights – and if you decide to join in, save questions for before or after the show airs.
If you want to borrow something, ask. If you prefer people not borrow your stuff – or if they already did, don’t blow up at someone the first time. Instead be firm, but clear, as to why that was NOT COOL, GUYS without veering into clichés. If it becomes a serious problem, or you have a clash of personalities with one roommate, you’re going to receive many more sympathy votes from the other residents if you’ve always been even-keeled and reasonable, and ultimately, house harmony/dynamics win out more times than not. Honestly, you’re all somewhat functional adults at this point in life, so talk to each other with that as the underlying assumption. -Jose Lopez Sanchez
How To Throw a Group Party
- The only real key to throwing a group party is managing your expectations. The worst memories I have of throwing group parties can all be traced back to me being wildly unrealistic about how things would go. No one who is 23-years-old ever brings as much beer as they will drink. The person in charge of hot dog buns will instead bring Doritos, three extra friends, and no bread product of any kind. And obviously, some of your housemates’ friends are going to be assholes. In fairness, some of your friends probably are too. So either go into the party with realistic expectations, or go into it with a pretty strong buzz. In my experience, either will work and both is your best bet. -Trisha Brown
- First off, everyone but the people in your house are going to drop the ball when it comes to buying (or bringing) booze, so as long as you’re not throwing a party every single weekend (and bless you if you are) go get a keg together. Not only is learning how to tap one a bonding experience, but when you’re investing into you’re own party, you stop being petty about the small shit. You’re all working together toward one greater goal, and that goal is getting rowdy and then walking a few feet and crawling into bed like the good lord intended. Your friends may not like their friends and someone may make a very annoying mess, but there’s nothing better than partying hard while being at home. -Kaylee Dugan
How To Find A New Roommate
This is a big one. Finding a new roommate is a complex and delicate environment. You’ve created a habitat with you’re current roommates. There are silent understandings and histories between you, even if you only speak to each other once a month, and now you’re bringing a stranger into the mix. Or even worse, a friend (don’t live with your friends, live with strangers who will become your friends). There are a lot of small and little things to consider, here are just a handful of them.
- The person who is moving out should start the ball on this. You (probably) know you’re leaving before you even mention it to the rest of the house, so while you’re looking for a new place kick off with the smaller stuff. Take pictures of the room, craft the Craigslist ad and start being the point person for all the inquiries.
- Once you’ve told your roommates and everyone is sad, but understanding (or at least pretends to be) you can either give up the task and let the rest of the house be in charge of filling your spot, or (and this is what I strongly recommend) you can continue to be the main one searching until you’re walking out the front door. I know you’re busy with packing and moving and signing the lease at you’re own place, but you’re the one who has decided to get out of dodge.
- Remember that Craigslist ad we talked about? Put some road blocks in it to trip up the weirdos / people who wont even bother to read your carefully crafted paragraph. It can be as simple as asking everyone who reaches out to include their own short bio. Even something as easy and normal as that will be ignored, which tells you they are also likely to ignore some house hold problems. At the very least, if you wont sink five minutes into reading my Craigslist ad, then you’re probably not going to take an extra five minutes to clean the counter or replace the toilet paper roll and I don’t want you in my home.
- Okay, so you have some people scheduled to swing by the house (or you have some Skype meetings queued up) and you’ve managed to get all your roommates to show up and meet these people. The next step is to, as a house, come up with the questions you are going to ask people. This will obviously vary depending on who you’re interviewing, but having a series of agreed upon questions can help cut down on any unwelcome surprises when that new person finally move in, and it tells you what everyone’s priorities are in a new roommate.
- The rest of it, is all up to vote. Depending on how long you’ve lived with the group, you’ll probably be able to tell what they’re going to say as soon as that Craigslist stranger is out the door, but it’s still good to hash out what everyone liked (or didn’t like) about the person. I also highly recommend coming up with an ordered list of the people you like, because inevitably, your first choice will start ignoring your emails and then tell you three weeks later they found a different living situation, so come up with alternatives in the order you’d prefer. That cuts down on the emails and text chains trying to figure what the hell to do.
- Finally, when that new person finally moves in, give them some time to mess up and acclimate. They don’t know the house ecosystem and they will do something that annoys you. Don’t preach, don’t be passive aggressive, give them the benefit of the doubt and show them how you usually do it. You may not be here to make friends, but you’re not here to make mortal enemies either. -Kaylee Dugan
Venmo / PayPal / A Thing To Pay People With
There are going to be times when you need to pay someone right now but you don’t have cash and writing checks is annoying. Use the power of the Internet and all of your worries will disappear. Money is the worst thing to fight over and stopping by the bank is almost impossible to remember. Embrace the future. -Kaylee Dugan
This isn’t applicable for all roommate situations, but if you’re the kind of roommates who like to cook together and share more food than just condiments, having an electronic grocery list will be a game changer. The most robust of apps (like Homeslice) to the basic ones (like Google Keep), allow you to keep an easily customizable list of things to buy for the house, which is also good if you guys find yourself running out of basics like cleaning supplies and toilet paper more often than you should. -Kaylee Dugan
Because chore wheels suck, but the bathrooms aren’t going to clean themselves.
Living in a Group House as a Musician
Looking back, there have only been a couple instances in my life when I’ve felt sheepish about telling folks I make a living as a musician. Most of the time, I’m pretty open about it. It’s one of the first things I bring up when I talk to folks. It’s just part of who I am. My name is Jonny Grave, and I play guitar. Hell, if anything, I probably have a chip on my shoulder about it. “Oh, you went to grad school? WELL I PLAY GUITAR FOR A LIVING. Still think you’re better ‘n me?” And that’s usually when I’m asked to leave the party.
- Check your bravado at the door, fuckhead: Yes, you’re a rock star. Yes, you’re a badass. Yes, you’ll likely get a multi-million-dollar record contract, a mansion with a gold-lined swimming pool, a private jet, and a date with Jennifer Lawrence. However, when you come home to your group house after your gig, you need to be part of the group. You’re not above your responsibilities of cleaning up after yourself. You have to pull your own weight, just like everybody else. If you’re going to have a wild after-party, you need to clear it with your housemates first. If you’re going to come home from a gig at 4 a.m., you need to take your shoes off before stomping around on the hardwood. And, please, for Christ’s sake, don’t play guitar at 4 a.m. Just don’t. Everyone hates that guy.
- Pay up on time: This should really go without saying, but apparently, it’s not common sense yet. If you live in a group house, and each of the housemates pay a share of the rent and utilities, you cannot expect any leniency from either your fellow housemates or from the landlord. No one cares if that bar gig from last Thursday still hasn’t written you a check. If you can’t prioritize paying bills, you probably shouldn’t live in a group house. Pay your shit on time. No exceptions.
- Learn from your housemates: You know what’s cool about music? Everyone likes it. We might not all like the same things exactly, but we all like music. That goes for your housemates, too– they each have their own individual tastes and preferences. Get to know them. Learn them. Learn from them. There’s no reason you can’t politely ask your housemate to borrow their Chris Thile CDs, or to turn on their 90’s Jock Jams playlist for your party. Music is meant to be shared. Music in a group house should be a learning experience.
- Go above and beyond expectations: Remember that stigma associated with musicians? Yeah, that actually exists for a reason. Band practices suck if you’re not an active participant. House concerts are a pain in the ass to clean up. Recording is even worse. I have lived in houses where each of these things happened on a regular basis, and the way we avoided killing each other was by not only cleaning up after ourselves, but also going above and beyond. Got a show downstairs? Dust and vacuum before the show, then mop the floor after folks are gone. Are you recording in the house? Buy a shitty 12-pack, and get everyone a beer to shush up. Got a band practice? Obviously, clear it with everyone first. Also, maybe give your housemates some nice earplugs. Not the shitty foam kind, either. Hearos. Get those.
- Be yourself: Ever met a performer who just couldn’t turn off? The kind of guy who is still 100% “on,” even though the gig was over three hours ago? No one wants to live with David Lee Roth. Leave the gig at the gig, and just be yourself. Living in a group house has directly made me a better musician, but more importantly, it’s made me a better person. -Jonny Grave
On House Concerts
Some of the best shows I’ve ever played have been in living rooms, basements, kitchens, or hallways. I love a good house concert.
It’s really unlike any other kind of show. I know every bar is different, and every club yields its own little microcosm of cool, and every gig at those places are individual miracles. I know, I know, I know… But, after playing bars all over the country (UK, too!), I’ve learned that most bar gigs are really all the same. Load in, set up, soundcheck, play, maybe take a break, play again, get a beer, talk to folks, make friends, get paid, pack up, sleep, repeat. After awhile, they kind of blur together.
Not the house shows, though. Those are special.
I played my first house show at a group house on 16th st., called the 16th St. House. I dated one of the housemates for a couple years, and spent most of my nights at the house. On some night in October of 2010, my partner asked me to play an opening set for the Tough Cats. It was a mostly un-amplified show, in the basement, with maybe 40 people crammed into chairs. I was in love with house shows from that moment on.
For musicians, it’s great, because they break down the fourth wall almost instantaneously. For hosts, it’s great, because they get to have a real concert in the comfort of their own home. For the audience, it’s great, because they get to have an intimate experience without paying a ton of money. Do you know how much “backstage” passes cost these days? House concerts have that, and no one needs to have a wristband or badge.
Whether you’re a host, a performer, or a member of the audience, here’s some things to think about when showing up to a house show.
- First of all, thanks: No, seriously, you just invited complete strangers into your home just to have a show. Thanks for that. You’re helping the world be less shitty. Can I buy you a beer?
- Talking of beer: No, you don’t need to cater the party. You’ve done the hard part, which is opening doors to folks you don’t know. Did folks want you to provide beer for them? Fuck that noise. Put a big ‘ol “BYOB” on that flyer and call it a day. Let folks bring beer to you.
- Bonus Points– Food: What’s that? You’re hungry, too? Cool. Instead of “BYOB,” call it a potluck, and tell folks to bring whatever they enjoy cooking. I have friends who bake. This has turned out incredibly well for me in the past.
- Be a master of ceremonies: It’s your fucking house. Don’t be afraid to tell folks to shut up, because the next performer is on. If you see someone leaving an empty bottle by a pile of other empty bottles, politely remind them where the trash cans are. Maybe help the performers out a bit by telling the crowd about future shows, or merch the artist might have for sale. Hold court like the Queen. You’ll do great.
- Treat the gig like your mom’s house: Wipe your feet, take off your hat, make direct eye contact when shaking hands with your host, use “yes m’am” as often as possible, and say “thank you” at lease five times. Don’t make anyone regret inviting you.
- Be honest: Stages, lights, big PA systems, and the existence of a greenroom all create barriers between audiences and performers. House shows have exactly none of those things. Your crowd is going to see right through you. Maybe be a little humble.
- Keep it short, keep it sweet, keep it complicated: Want to tell a story before playing a song? Leave out some of the details. Why? It’s going to create a little bit of intrigue from the crowd, and give them something with which to approach you. The audience wants to get to know you. Don’t give the whole story away from the stage. Leave room for conversations to happen. Be interesting.
- Get the crowd involved: Sing along, clap along, hum along, tap a foot, dance… it doesn’t matter. Find some way of getting the crowd to participate. They showed up to a stranger’s house to watch you play. They want to be involved.
- When they do participate, tell them they sound great: We all need positive reinforcement.
- Same as musicians, treat the place like your mom’s house: Wipe your feet, hold the door, throw away beer bottles or Solo cups, replace the toilet paper roll if it’s low, thank the host, and keep quiet when there’s music. It’s not hard.
- “Suggested Donations” are not suggested: Pay up, shitheel. If this were at a bar, you’d shell out at least $6 for every beer you drink, and you’d probably drink four in a night. You can afford to slip a $20 into the donation box. If you’re the kind of person who believes artists should just play for free, you have no business being at a house show.
- Keep your phone in your pocket, unless you’re helping the artist: Want to text, send emails, or take a phone call? It’s fine! Just stay home, and don’t come to the show. If you’re at a show, then be there. However, if you want to take pictures or video of the act, make sure you send it to their social media pages. Nice pictures help us artists a lot. Videos are even better.
- Make friends: Talk to the artist, and talk to the hosts, sure. But also be sure to talk to other folks who’ve shown up to see the show. In coming to the same event, you’ll obviously have something in common. Start with that, and keep talking. This world is in shitty shape right now, and it’s not going to get fixed without strangers shaking hands. Be the change you want to see in the world, and offer a stranger a Solo cup of the wine you brought. You might just make a new best friend. -Jonny Grave
This might look like an article about how to clean up holiday messes (and it is), but these tips from the queen of clean herself are useful all year long.
Learn about how to live and make music with your roommates from the best.