Minimal Commonality

How to pick good housemates

05 Nov 2020

Good housemates are hard to find these days. In that respect, I consider myself lucky. My former housemates and I are all on good terms, and the initial search took little time. If I needed to go through the search process again, though, I'd optimize my selection for two factors: mutual respect and what I call minimal commonality.

minimal commonality: when two parties share minimal (non-zero) interests, beliefs, or traits

Mutual respect is key to any good relationship. You need to respect each other if you want to solve problems together. In addition, mutual respect allows you to respect each other's differences. Be careful not to confuse friendship with respect, i.e. living with friends who you can't call out for problematic behavior.

Minimal commonality isn't as widespread in housemate relationships since people want to live with people similar to themselves. This approach might not be ideal; why is the minimal commonality approach better?

It's interesting

Common interests, traits, and beliefs create opportunities for bonding. Personal differences create opportunities for learning. Both types are important, and minimal commonality creates a high learning-bonding ratio. This keeps your conversations fresh and interesting, while grounded in a shared understanding.

It challenges us

Like exercise develops a healthier body, challenging your opinions develops a healthier worldview. You can exercise by talking honestly and respectfully to people different than yourself. Unfortunately, our social tools don't encourage this healthy discussion. They prioritize connecting like-minded people, which promotes togetherness but atrophies your beliefs. Too much atrophy leads to an unhealthy state: in this case, echo chambers and tribalism.

When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

Mark Twain

It moves us forward

Each of us faces complex problems in our daily lives. Solving these problems can require insight and creativity, and a good way to find creative solutions is to explore unrelated and unfamiliar avenues. Luckily, these routes have experienced guides, who we can find by fostering minimal commonality in our relationships. The logic goes both ways: they help us, we help them, and we both move forward.


Shortcomings

Minimal commonality assumes your main priority is personal growth, and as a result is intended for younger people (i.e. me). Those of you who seek comfort and stability over personal growth might find minimal commonality unappealing.

Choosing commonalities

Minimal commonality means you get to choose a few common values or interests, and you need to choose them wisely. These tend to be domain-specific, but here are a few common examples:


I'm interested to see how this idea applies at larger scales than housemates. It could help us create "anti-tribes" and avoid echo chambers. Do you have anecdotal evidence to support or refute minimal commonality? Let me know!