When sharing a living space with another person, or multiple people, disorganization can happen when there is miscommunication, or unclear expectations and routines. This is something you can address at any time with the people you live with, but it is usually helpful to discuss before moving in together. Whether it is with a partner, spouse, roommate or other relative sharing your house or apartment, setting expectations and clearly communicating can go a long way in maintaining a peaceful, clean, and organized home. Here are some things to consider when sharing a home:
Plan the Space in Advance
If possible, prior to moving in together, make a plan for how each room will be used. Determine a purpose for each piece of furniture. Take measurements and use the floor plan to map out how you both (or all) agree to arrange the place. If you are combining households, get rid of duplicate items before you move, or as you unpack.
Designate Some Separate Areas for Each Person’s Belongings
Depending on the size of the space, possibly give each person their own room, section of a room, or their own area, such as a home office space or a desk, that is theirs and theirs alone. This gives each person sole ownership of an area. In shared rooms, assign each person a dresser or chest of drawers, a nightstand, a side of the closet, bathroom drawers, etc. The other person or people in the house should agree not to use, rearrange, declutter, or add anything to these areas.
Use Color Coding to Further Separate Belongings
Perhaps each person selects a certain color towel, toothbrush, coffee mug, etc. You can always use labels or colorful tape or stickers to differentiate similar items. This will prevent arguments about who is using what, what belongs to each person, or who left something out, or needs to clean it.
Set Expectations for Cleanliness and Clutter Levels
Talk about how you want to run the household and methods that have worked or don’t work for each of you. Visually, some people need everything in sight, others prefer to have things tucked away in cabinets, drawers, or closets. Discuss each person’s definition of cleanliness. To some it is shiny floors and dust-free spaces, to others, it is just being able to have a walking path through a room. You’ll need to compromise when living with others, so find a common ground that works for all.
Decide How to Divvy Up Chores
Chores can be divided in whichever way makes sense for the household. Talk about which chores each of you likes to do most, or dislikes the least. From everything including sweeping, mopping, doing dishes, setting the table, dusting, doing the laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, taking out the trash, mowing the lawn, to pet care, write it all down and decide who should be responsible for each chore, and schedule when or how frequently it should be done. There are many chore charts and apps available to help with this. Discuss this and agree on a plan together.
Create a Laundry Schedule
As a professional organizer, laundry is the chore that seems most challenging for households, so I wanted to break it down further. Determine who will do the laundry. In some homes, each person is in charge of their own clothing, in other homes it is just one person in charge of it all. Either way, you will need to decide how and when non-clothing, such as towels and sheets, are washed. Set up a place for a few laundry baskets or hampers for each person’s clothing, and for linens. Because you’re sharing a washer and dryer, this needs to be scheduled to prevent overlap or disagreements. It can be as simple as Roommate A does laundry on Saturday, and Roommate B does laundry on Sunday, or you can schedule it in more detail to a certain time each week. Moving clothing from the washer to the dryer, emptying the dryer, folding and putting away clothing in dressers and closets should also be scheduled as part of this laundry routine.
Decide on Mail Processing Methods
Designate a space to place each person’s mail when it comes into the house. A small inbox for each person can help keep things separated. Schedule a regular time to look through the mail, at least weekly. Decide when and where you will take action on mail, such as paying bills. Create a plan for what to do with important papers once action has been taken, such as storing it in a file box or cabinet, or scanning it.
Set up a Shared Drop Zone
Set up a drop zone area near the entrance to your home. This is a place to store incoming mail, keys, purses, book bags, shoes, jackets, etc. Anything that you use on a daily basis can be stored here, so the items don’t go missing. Add a calendar to the wall, and a magnetic dry erase board or cork board to place important notes for one another. This is a great place to have a running grocery list and a chore chart, if you use one. This is the hub of your home, where everyone can post and share information.
Use Shared Digital Calendars
If you prefer not to have everything on paper, setting up shared digital calendars with the people you live with is a great way to keep schedules organized. Shared digital calendars can be used to keep track of when people will be home for planning meals together. You can also use it for chore schedules, appointments, home maintenance services, work schedules, social events, vacations, and more. Being able to immediately share this information with your household assists with communication and makes sure things run more smoothly.
Linda Samuels says
Disorganization can happen even when we live alone, but once your household has more than one person, it can be even more challenging. I love ALL of your suggestions and encouragement for open communication, boundaries, and clear expectations.
Nancy Haworth says
Thank you, Linda! I appreciate you commenting, and I am glad you enjoyed this post.
Seana Turner says
I think setting expectations is just critical. Odds are that any two people will differing ideas about what is acceptable.
Having separate zones saved me. My husband has an office with a door. Anything left strewn about goes in there, and then I close the door. He can live in a very messy space, but I have to say, over the years, he has started to come around. It’s fun to watch!
Nancy Haworth says
Thanks for commenting! Yes, those separate zones really make a big difference in shared spaces!
Julie Bestry says
So much wisdom around a topic where most people’s systems develop haphazardly (or can’t even be considered as systems). I like the color-coding, especially with regard to bath towels. I know some people prefer a household full of white towels, but that seems so boring. Better to let each person pick a favorite color (better yet, if the colors are complementary to one another) so that nobody accidentally grabs someone else’s towel.
Setting expectations (and living up to them) is hard, whether we’re talking about roommates or lifemates, but you’re right, you have to try. Great advice!
Nancy Haworth says
Thanks for commenting! I’m glad you like my advice!