I’ve been thinking about reciprocity among friends, but also in a shared housing environment. I have a close friend who, over the years, has given me clothing she no longer wears, plus kitchen appliances and cooking utensils. Whenever I try to reciprocate, she tells me it’s unnecessary. However, I found a way that suits us both: I offered that whenever she has the urge for retail therapy to call me. And that’s worked out in a manner that’s mutually beneficial. She cleans out her closets and storage space while I get some great stuff, but when she’s feeling stressed, she can talk it out with me. Can this form of reciprocity work in shared housing?
What Exactly is Reciprocity?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA) the simple definition of reciprocity is “the quality of an act, process, or relationship in which one person receives benefits from another and, in return, provides an equivalent benefit.” Perhaps from my above example that technically it might not be equivalent, considering the dollar value of the goods versus talk therapy among friends. But here’s the catch: we’re friends; we don’t say I’m providing you with $500 of clothes; therefore, you owe me five hours of your time to listen to all my grievances. Friendship doesn’t work that way. It’s give and take in both directions.
Relationships and Shared Housing
When I think of living with someone in a shared housing environment, I hope it’s much more than a transactional relationship wherein I pay rent for room and board. My ideal shared housing scenario is developing a friendship where we both look out for each other’s interests. When I look back at my previous shared housing experiences, I developed a relationship with my two flatmates that allowed for reciprocation—mutual give and take. For example, a car that refused to start led to an offer of getting a ride. That favor was later reciprocated by picking up a forgotten shopping list item at the grocery store. I believe this back and forth of favors builds a firm foundation of friendship.
The True Nature of Reciprocity
While we advocate the practical financial aspects of saving money in shared housing, we’re also strident supporters of the positive social aspect of forming a connection between home-mates. Of the many, many people we’ve interviewed over the years, who live in shared housing, one of the most enduring relationships is between Sharon and Deb, home-mates who found each other and have made life infinitely better for one another by building a non-sexual, intimate relationship that Deb so aptly described, “…having someone who knows what time you were expected home and worries when you’re not back on time. It’s someone who brings you a cup of coffee on a morning you are running late. It’s someone who will chase the spider out of your bathroom . It’s getting an answer when you hold up two outfits and say “Which one should I wear?” It’s never having to worry about whether you will get any birthday cards this year. It’s being on the inside looking out, not the outside looking in.”
And this is what we believe is the true nature of reciprocity in sharing housing—it’s one of mutual respect, kindness, and friendship.