Shared houses, when they aren’t working well, can be a pressure cooker of rule infractions, slights, power plays and passive aggression. Everyone is ‘at home’: in that personal space where we expect to be ourselves and feel safe from the things in the world that poke our vulnerable spots. That fact can make the significance of offences loom large when we are on the receiving end while they seem minor to the person committing the offence.
When you come to talk to Michael, try to remember that; and that that process can work both ways.
You and Elaine are clearly put out by Michael’s transgressive behaviour, but try to bear in mind that from his perspective the system of not having shared basic consumables and people getting upset over his using a hairdryer that was just lying around in the common area might be really frustrating. Or he might be stewing over something else entirely that you have no idea annoys him.
It doesn’t much matter, in the end, who has the moral high ground. What matters is that you don’t have a functional system in your house just now and your current approach of trying to keep your stuff away from him and being cross when he uses stuff you forget is making you and Elaine stressed.
You asked :
How can we tell him that it's not ok for him to use our stuff and that
he must purchase his own, while minimizing potential conflict?
Which frames the problem not as
‘how to have a harmonious system in the house
‘how to make Michael conform’
If you are more interested in the former, here are some things to consider.
- don’t make the conversation about how terrible he’s being or how you and Elaine are suffering. You might be justified, but it is unlikely to help. Of course you have to make reference what isn’t working, but focus on what happens next rather than what happened before.
- Try to see things from his perspective (even if you don’t think it is a justifiable one), he has moved into a house where the rules have been set in response to issues which arose when he wasn’t living there. (arguments… regarding whose turn it is to buy)
- Michael is a citizen of the house too and as such can reasonably
expect to have a say in what the rules are.
- You and Elaine might think about what changes you could accept. You
have the current system as it was best for avoiding arguments, is
that still true? Could it be time to reappraise the system, involving
- Be prepared to adapt.
Stepping aside from how you might communicate with Michael for a moment, can we break the problem down? There seem to be two categories of ‘things’ causing conflict:
- Household consumables, ie things which help keep the house hygienic
- Personal goods and consumables, ie personal hygiene items and
It may be worth having a trial period of a communal buying strategy for the first category while reinforcing the ‘off-limits’ nature of stuff in the second.
From my own experience I’d recommend focusing on getting a financial contribution on a regular basis for the household consumables rather than trying to get people to buy them on a rota. It does mean it is likely that you and Elaine may be the ones to most often have to get the stuff from the store, but that may be the price of a more harmonious household.
So, to pull that all together, my suggestion would be to look for a suitable time to talk to Michael, plan this and take note of how he is disposed. There is no point in trying to have the conversation if he is busy, stressed, on his way out etc. and try something along these lines (obviously no-one can give you a complete or fully appropriate script, there are too many variables, but as an example…
Michael, I know we filled you in on what the house rules were when you
moved in, but it seems like some of them aren’t working out that well
and it occurred to me that you should really get a say in how we do
I recommend keeping this as your opinion, not ‘we’ or ‘Elaine and I’, as that could make him feel you’ve been running him down when he isn’t there which may make him less disposed to be compliant. This approach also moves things on quickly to a situation he has a say in rather than one where it feels like you are telling him to obey your edict.
You could follow up with something like:
We’ve always bought toilet paper and detergent individually in the
past, but how would you feel about everyone contributing five bucks
every couple of weeks and then whoever is going to the store can get
what we need out of that? We could put the cash (suggest place) and
keep a note of what we need to get…
I’d recommend dealing with his use of your ‘things’ on an ad hoc basis and if he doesn’t get the hint accept that you have to keep more stuff in your room than you used to or escalate that to the landlord.