I had $90 in my bank account when I left Ohio for New York a few months ago. I came on a whim, spurred by an interview for a job I didn’t get, but I stayed anyway. I got work as a barista the same day as my unsuccessful interview and proceeded to spend the next few months saving up while living between two places with a few kind folks and three very affectionate dogs. While I can’t say I didn’t piss them off from time to time—a guy on your couch or living room floor is going to get old no matter what—I’d like to say I didn’t piss them off as much as I could have. It’s not complicated, though.
1. Clean up after yourself. This is obvious for most people, but the key to being a good couch-crasher is leaving as small of a garbage footprint as possible. Clean your dishes, make the bed/couch/air mattress, and keep all of your belongings consolidated. Surprise your friends every now and then by cleaning the bathroom. The cleaner you are, the easier it is for your friends to forget you’re crashing at their place for free—and the more difficult it is for them to hate you for it.
2. Offer to pay for whatever you can. Chip in for some bills, buy dinner now and then, pick up some toilet paper or garbage bags. Try to replace anything you use: toothpaste, bath products, whatever. Offering to pay a share of rent doesn’t hurt, so long as it’s fair. Chances are your hosts will decline anyway. It’s the thought that counts.
3. Don’t have unexpected guests over. The spot is your shelter, really, and that’s it. You’re lucky enough to have the privilege of dumping in someone else’s toilet daily for free. You don’t need to bring other people over to do it, too. Think of that as an incentive for getting your own place.
4. If you don’t know your friends’ roommates, make sure to at least be ultra nice to them. While your friend is doing you a favor letting you stay on their couch, it’s even more of a kindness for a stranger to put up with you stinking up his living room for a week or two. Don’t be overly familiar, but don’t make things awkward. A little appreciation on your part will go a long way.
5. Try not to stay too long. This is one I admittedly failed at: I found a good spot with great folks and stayed there for a bit more than a month while I saved enough money to move into an apartment proper. For most people, this would be overstaying your welcome. A week or two is probably the most you can ask for without an understandable amount of bitterness arising. The best thing is to always be grateful for the shelter and if you sense trouble brewing in your host, bring it up. Try to stay somewhere else for a few days, if you can, and ask if you can come back later. Realize your buddies are doing you a favor – allowing you to live in the city while compromising their privacy.
6+. And, the two most important things: Always be grateful, and always be working toward living independently. In my case, if my friends hadn’t put me up while I was working too many hours in a café, I’d have never been able to get my own place. Likewise, if I’d been living on their floors unemployed with no end in sight, their kindness and hospitality would’ve very likely run out in a week.
Tons of people come to the city underprepared and rely on the kindness of friends and near-strangers in order to make it in a place that seems to be actively resisting them. For anyone of modest means, it takes a team of good people to move to New York without going crazy. The best we can do, as new transplants, is to acknowledge the debt we owe to those who help us get our bearings in this ridiculous place. When it comes down to it, just don’t be a dickhead, clean up after yourself, and have an endgame. It’s a small price to pay for getting out of the Midwest.
Shane Barnes lives in Brooklyn and is a writer and a barista and is really good at living in small spaces.