How To Start a New Life in Your Friend’s Closet…and Be a Good Houseguest

By Naomi Finkelstein

I recently moved out of my large 1-bedroom apartment in Chicago, sold all of my furniture, got rid of as much as I could stomach (it was hard – I love things!), and crammed the rest into my parents’ house in the suburbs. I then packed two suitcases and hopped on a plane to Oakland, CA to start a new life. No job, no apartment, just a couple of great friends with a spacious closet (which is now my bedroom) and the promise of a bearable winter.

If you’re as lucky as I am to have friends in a cool city who are willing to offer you some space while you figure out your life, you can make it go a long way. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your extended stay with friends!

Clean Up After Yourself – and them, too.

mattress1Don’t leave dishes in the sink. And if THEY leave a few dishes in the sink, go ahead and wash them while you’re washing yours. Also, if they make dinner and share it with you, clean up after everyone, including the pots and pans. You’re staying at their place, rent-free. Show your appreciation by taking a bit of the load off them.

Ask if there’s a chore that you can be in charge of. Maybe you can monitor the garbage or kitty litter situation. Also, if something is dirty and you’re not sure whether or not it’s your fault, clean it. Then you don’t have to worry that they feel like you’re trashing their house – on the contrary, they might even want you to stay longer!

mattress2If they don’t have a spare bedroom, invest in an air mattress. It’s much easier to fold up a blanket and stand the mattress against a wall during the day than it is to put together a futon or fold-out couch every morning. Do everything you can to keep their living space comfortable for them.


Be sensitive to their schedules. Find out what time they get up, take showers, etc, and make your plans around them, ideally letting them know that you plan to take a shower before or after them, for example, so that they can be sensitive to your schedule, too.

Talk about going in together on common food items like milk, eggs, and juice. There’s no need to take over their fridge with extras of things, so instead of getting your own, make a contribution to the weekly shopping expenses and agree on what’s shared and what’s personal.

Check in with them now and again about the situation. Ask them how it’s working for them and if there’s anything that they want you to do differently moving forward. Keep the lines of communication open!


Think of little ways to express your gratitude for their generosity. Don’t bombard them, but it’s nice to make at least one gesture every week or so. Just so they know you’re not taking them for granted. Here are some ideas:

1. Make dinner! (If you don’t cook, order delivery or take them out.)
2. Buy flowers!
3. Are they driving you around? Offer them gas money. If they’re lending you their car, fill up their gas tank every once in a while. Same goes for toilet paper. That is – replenish the toilet paper. Don’t put toilet paper in the gas tank.

Take Care of Yourself

Make no mistake about it – staying in someone else’s space can wear on a person after a while. Take care of yourself by planning alone time and make sure you’re poised to stay healthy during this transition. Bring earphones so you can watch TV on your laptop after they’ve gone to bed. Bring ear-plugs and a sleeping mask so you can sleep if they’re moving around. And finally, if you’ve just moved to a new city, use your friends’ expertise on the area to get food and leisure recommendations, tips on public transportation, and all the juicy secrets of the city. And get out there! Learn the city, figure out what neighborhood you wanna live in, and put down some roots of your own.

Naomi Finkelstein has recently relocated from cold and windy Chicago to sunny California and is starting her new life…living in her friend’s closet.


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Naomi Finkelstein is an educator and an artist of many sorts who has lived in Madrid, New York, Chicago, and now the Bay Area. She's had as many as four roomies and as few as none. A yoga and vegetable enthusiast in a totally non-annoying way, she loves people, places, things and ideas.

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