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Ground control: Liberty Phelan’s guide to being a good flatmate

Group of people hanging out in the kitchen of a flat.
Thursday 14th October 17.06

"They're away from their families. They're away from their friends. They (can't feel) the sun or the breeze," - is this quote about first years at Edinburgh uni? No, it’s from a member of NASA’s astronaut selection panel. In looking for advice about flat-sharing, who better to turn to than astronauts; the experts in getting thrown together with a bunch of people for one of the most intense experiences of your lives, all while sharing a confined space. Here are their best tips:

  1. Communication - this is surely the most common downfall of flatmate relationships. Astronaut Anne McClain says it is completely essential. This isn’t to say you should bring up every little thing that annoys you- you can let some stuff go. But if there’s a flatmate you’re not close with, maintaining a level of friendliness and warmth by just asking how their day was now and again, has two big benefits: it will help dispel anxiety on both sides that there’s any animosity, and it makes it much easier to bring up a problem if one arises.
  1. Forgive yourself for making mistakes - Kjell Lindgren, an astronaut who spent 141 days in space with five crewmates, had this advice. He once spent three hours fixing an exercise machine in space before realising he got the left and right side mixed up and had to redo the whole thing. He said ground control ‘told me not to feel bad about it and move on’. Think of the exercise machine as your burned dinner and ground control as your inner voice. Living by yourself for the first time is hard and everyone will do something embarrassing at some point. So don’t worry when it’s you, and always treat your flatmate who doesn’t know how to turn on a microwave with love and compassion. 
  1. Self care - you might think of self-care as an indulgent concept invented by Big Scented Candle, but it’s actually recognised by NASA as a critical part of a successful mission. Anne McClain explained that the most important parts of self-care are ‘hygiene, managing your time and your stuff, getting sleep, and maintaining your mood’. This won’t just make you feel better, it will help you be a better flatmate too.
  1. Romantic partners - Jan Davis and Mark Lee are the only couple who have gone to space. They got together in training and they had to keep their marriage a secret because NASA does not allow couples in their crews. The important take-away here is that they were both astronauts who contributed an equal amount - if someone stays in the flat they are part of the galactic mission to keep the flat clean and tidy. So make sure your beloved does their washing up and doesn’t take too long in the shower. 
  1. Teamwork - NASA says good crewmates ‘volunteer for the unpleasant tasks, share credit, and take the blame’. They encourage crews to ‘actively cultivate group culture’. Surveys of astronauts have found that cultural differences can be a large factor in causing tensions. The whole point of uni is to meet people from outside your bubble so this is bound to happen, whether you are from opposite sides of the Thames or the globe. Take the time to get to know each other and make space for different viewpoints.

Hopefully, this advice will help you turn your cold, dark uni flat into a home where everyone feels listened to and accepted. Don’t worry, you can definitely handle it- it’s not rocket science. 

Image: Tanya Pro via Unsplash Images