Choosing a housemate: the dos and don’ts

Edith Uwase met her housemate Louise Umutoni during their university days in Kampala. Both 21-year-old Rwandan girls were in a strange land in pursuit of higher education.
Before moving in with someone, make some ground rules to avoid clashing later on. Net photo
Before moving in with someone, make some ground rules to avoid clashing later on. Net photo

Edith Uwase met her housemate Louise Umutoni during their university days in Kampala. Both 21-year-old Rwandan girls were in a strange land in pursuit of higher education.

Umutoni had moved to Uganda first and was staying in a hostel with roommates she describes as ‘differently’ mannered. When Uwase joined the university a semester later, they bumped into each other a lot around the campus and finally began living together in the same hostel room. That was 2008.

Today, Uwase works for a non-government organisation in Kigali and Umutoni works in a government ministry in Kigali too. They still live together in Remera and now have a third partner, Uwase’s cousin Alice Mbabazi, who is slightly younger than them.

At first sight, the two have little in common; their dress codes are different. Uwase admits to be mostly a jeans or casual wear kind of girl even on working days. Umutoni on the other hand comes off as more conservative person; she wears formal wear five days a week to work and on the weekend she still dresses conservatively though casually. Alice is more like Uwase; she is in her final year in the university and takes after her cousin.

But despite what one would consider differences in character, the three seem to be excellent house mates and comfortable living under the same roof.

Costs of living at times necessitate that one shares a house with a friend to reduce bills and the burden of expenses that might be a little difficult to shoulder solely. The compatibility of housemates to a large extent determines if they will be able to stay together comfortably. At times, the housemates have a close bond that resembles a second family and they are comfortable, at times it is not so.

“When we first began living together, we did so because it was convenient as we were from the same country and it was easier to beat homesickness. It is then that we began sharing expenses and helping each other. We later moved out of the hostel to a small rental house during our last years of university. Though I completed a little ahead of her, we came back to Rwanda at the same time and chose to rent a house together rather than going separate ways to live with our parents,” Umutoni explains.

“Housemates don’t always have similar characteristics as many would expect, it is more of learning how to give each other space and live with someone else who may have different traits from you,” Uwase  reveals.

“We are not as similar as one would expect house mates to be. At least I know what would anger my housemates and what wouldn’t. I would be lying if I said all has been smooth all through, but what gets housemates through is empathy. You always have to ask yourself would I be happy if she did this to me?”

Though the idea of housemates seems like a solution to some in that housemates can even co-rent houses in fancy neighbourhoods, some say it would require a lot of rules to live under the same roof with a friend.

Billy Gasana, a 25-year-old part time university student, says that for him to live with a house mate, that person would have to have the same traits as him in order to have minimal arguments.

“I go out often during weekends and at times return home late. It would be inappropriate to have a housemate who rarely goes out as he would consider me an extremist of sorts. At times I like to have drinks at home, if he is the ‘saved’ type who doesn’t want drinks close to him, we would always get into an argument.”

Gasana adds that it would also be advisable to live with a housemate who is within your income bracket. “When you are sharing a house, it is important to make sure that your financial statuses are similar or else you will end up having one person having all the bills shoved his way. When your incomes are not very different you learn to live within your means and there are fewer temptations to spend unnecessarily,” he says.

To understand the characteristics of a good housemate you probably need to have one and learn from the experience, like Edwin Nsenga, a teacher in a private high school in Kigali.

“It is funny how you think it will be easy living with somebody just because you are related. A distant relative moved to Kigali and we moved into a bigger house as housemates. But I soon realised it is not even the big, mistakes like excessive drinking that get to your nerve; it is the small things like loving loud volume or the amount of spices he likes in his food. Soon after other greater differences begin to emerge and you think you would be better off living alone.”

Nsenga says that very good friends rarely make good housemates, if anything they make probably the worst housemates as you tend to expect too much from each other.  “Close friends moving in together may not be a very good idea, at first it may seem ideal but chances are that you will easily get bored by each others’ character and traits that one tends to ignore other times are manifested more when you live together. “

Nsenga figures good housemates are those that allow each other space and are less intrusive in ones affairs. “I think having housemates is a good idea but you should not live like you are in a boarding school with too many rules or like you are married and have to pass all details about your life to them.”

You would think that after spending time and talking to housemates like Uwase, Mbabazi and Umutoni you could write a manual on selecting an appropriate housemate, but then you’d probably realise that it is not as easy as ticking from a check list. It could be a collection of observations, predictions and circumstances that differ from one person to the next.


6 tips on how to choose a good housemate

1.First of all decide what you want from a housemate ie: If you are new to the area you may be house sharing as a way to create a new social circle and will therefore be looking for someone who shares similar interests and is open to going on the odd night out.  On the other hand you may already have a wide circle of friends in the area and just want somewhere to rest your head, so the age and interests of your housemate are irrelevant.

2.Work out whether your lifestyles will be compatible, ie: if you have to be up early in the morning for work and like to go to bed at 10pm, you won’t enjoy living with someone who works until late and gets home around midnight with half the local pub in tow…and vice versa!

3.Different people have differing standards of hygiene and one persons clean can be another’s dirty.  Be honest with yourself about how tidy you are and choose a housemate who is similar.  It’s no fun for anyone if you hate mess and your housemate is happy to leave dishes in the sink for a few days. 

4.Don’t move in with someone you are sexually attracted to - invite them out for a drink instead, if it doesn’t all work out at least you won’t be stuck living with them!

5.Make sure you meet all of the housemates before agreeing to move in.  Even if you have met 2 out of 3 and get on really well with them, you don’t want to find out you hate the 3rd person AFTER you have moved in!

6.Find out about any house rules and regulations and be honest with yourself about whether you will be able to stick with them.  In the interests of harmony, most households will have at least some written or unwritten rules and expectations, however there will be households where the list is extensive.  If you don’t like any of the rules on the list or are unsure you can stick to them all, it’s probably better that you don’t move in for your own sake as well as the rest of the household.


I would like a house mate who is reasonably quiet. A person who talks loudly disturbs others endlessly. Such a person is disrespectful.

Bihangane Sam, Businessman

The old saying is correct: patience is a virtue.  I wouldn’t want to live with someone who’s going to get mad every time I snore or leave my bed unmade.

Marvin Akamupira

It’s important to compromise as housemates. If I want my friends to visit my apartment for some time then my roommate should be willing to cope.

Joy Mugabo, Student

It’s nice to live with someone who is compatible with you. For example, if you like to go to bed early and get up early, try to find someone who likes to do the same.

Kevin Kiggundu


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