As we’ve heard from our Prime Minister and a chorus of global leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic has led the world into unprecedented times. It can be difficult to pin down what directives like ‘social distancing’, ‘self-isolating’ and ‘quarantine’ mean, let alone know how to follow them. Ari shares how her household is approaching communal spaces, groceries, finances, setting boundaries, and more.
As a person who has navigated the world of share housing for the better part of the ten years (and still lives in one), I’ve come up with some common share house issues that might arise during all three of these scenarios. The take-home message is not to simply keep your distance, it’s also to be considerate.
Ari social distancing at home on her balcony in Hobart, Tasmania | Source: Ari Moore
What if you have a housemate who refuses to maintain social distance?
We’ve all seen photos of people who have decided to ignore the advice to avoid unnecessary mass gatherings. Most of your house might be doing the right thing and staying home to flatten the curve, but if one person is repeatedly socialising in crowded spaces it could be a risk to all.
In this scenario, it’s time to have a considerate but firm group conversation. Consider showing them the rapidly rising number of cases in Australia. The threat of coronavirus might be easy to dismiss if you don’t personally know anyone who is unwell, but this may not always be the case.
Social distancing doesn’t mean hanging out in communal spaces all day
Coronavirus is spread through droplets in the air, so all it takes is a cough or sneeze and those droplets will be airborne. It also spreads through contaminated hands or surfaces. While you can hang out in communal spaces, maybe consider restricting one to two people to a room, and the rest of the time settle into your bedroom. How to stay entertained during that time? Get stuck into those hobbies you never have time for!
What about communal spaces like the kitchen and bathroom?
Cook separately, wipe down surfaces after you’ve used them, wash your hands. Sounds easier than it is, but one way you can get everyone into good habits is making sure that all the equipment you need to clean is readily available. Leave out antibacterial products such as wipes, hand sanitiser, hand wash, multi-purpose spray and paper towels to remind everyone to sanitise stuff before and after use.
A clear reminder for Ari and her housemates to sanitise their hands is left out in their shared bathroom | Source: Ari Moore
Talk about money
Any conversation about money in a sharehouse is one to have as soon as possible, before you get to crunch time. You’re fortunate if you’re living with people with full-time work and the income protections of that; whose business isn’t reliant on the public; those on scholarships; or have ample savings. For everyone else, and many young people and students, financial positions need to be discussed frankly.
How far can savings take you? Can that person apply for a Centrelink payment, rely on family or community support, sell things, transition to working from home, or start another type of work entirely? There may also be a level of grief present if people have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.
Two weeks before my university closed everything seemed normal and I started a well-paying casual job on campus with a lovely team. On my last shift, most of my co-workers were told we wouldn’t be needed for the foreseeable future. I understood and agreed with the decision, but I can’t say it didn’t sting hard. Be sensitive to people’s situations.
What about the groceries?
Simple: one person going to the supermarket is less of a risk than the entire house going on a group excursion. Prepare a thorough grocery list, take turns deciding who goes, drive or walk if possible, and give that person cash or send a bank transfer afterwards.
Living with immunocompromised people or people with existing health conditions
Like bills, there may need to be a frank health discussion in your share house. It’s not just older people who are vulnerable to COVID-19. Think about how to manage the protection of immunocompromised housemates, or those with existing health conditions.
Maybe they don’t do the grocery run, maybe they have the first go at the kitchen and bathroom each day, and maybe they need housemates to be especially understanding if they’re anxious or stressed.
One of my housemates has asthma and allergies that impact their respiratory system so as a house we’re being particularly attentive to their wellbeing. For more tips on looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak, check out Beyond Blue.
Communication is key
Just because you’re self-isolating doesn’t mean you can’t communicate! If you don’t already have a group chat for the house, get one going. News and practical concerns first and foremost, but also,: all the memes. You might also want to game together, binge Netflix together with this Chrome plugin, or start a book club with online discussions.
Leaving the house
While local and international travel is now almost impossible, it may be important for a housemate to move elsewhere for the time being. Elderly or unwell family members may need their support, or the person may be anxious or depressed and feel they would cope better by relocating.
If a housemate is leaving, discuss what will happen with their portion of the rent and /bills while they’re away. This is becoming especially important day-to-day as states and territories close their borders with a mandatory quarantine period and domestic flights get slashed. There may not be time to discuss this properly later.
Now is the time to both listen to the needs of others, and assertively express your own. In a shared house where you may be spending a lot of time together in the coming weeks or months, it’s important to have open discussions about how, as a micro-community, things will proceed.
It’s easy to feel unsettled and overwhelmed in times like these. You’re not alone.
If you have questions or concerns, please call the Coronavirus Hotline on 1800 675 398. Please take care, look out for one another, and reach out to these support services if you need to talk to someone: Beyond Blue (Ph: 1300 224 636), Lifeline (Ph: 13 11 14) and Headspace (Ph: 1800 650 890).