Just about everyone lives with roommates for at least some portion of their lives and it is not always smooth-sailing. We each have our unique styles of living, but the reality is when we share a space with others, we must make some sort of sacrifice or compromise. While this is not a bad thing, it can become messy. The best practice for avoiding roommate troubles is to plan ahead and be proactive. Here are some key tips for living with roommates.
Tip #1: Keep your space clean
Whether it is your bedroom or the community living space, keeping the area clean is a key part of living peacefully with a roommate. Initially, messiness may be easy to ignore, but odds are your respective habits are sure to get under each other's skin. To avoid conflict, try your best to tidy up after yourself, especially in community areas like the kitchen and bathroom. No one wants to clean up after someone else's mess, and this can lead to a lot of frustration between roommates. They key is to pull your weight, but don't clean up after them- they shouldn't expect you to tidy up their mess, and this relationship could lead to a lot to resentment. However, they should understand the work you put in to make the shared space livable. For shared chores (like taking out the trash) try making a schedule and sticking to it. Don't be afraid to be assertive if they aren’t pulling their weight, but make sure to hold yourself accountable for doing housework. By maintaining these balances and boundaries regarding cleaning, you're sure to avoid conflicts as you and your roommate learn to live together.
Tip #2: Set Ground Rules
Every relationship comes with a set of guidelines: Ask before borrowing your sister's clothes. Don't cheat on your partner. Let your teacher know ahead of time if you need an extension for your paper. Roommates are no different. In living with another person, you are part of a relationship where you enter each other's living spaces, accommodate for each other's daily routines, and overlap with each other's possessions. Setting up ground rules is essential for a respectful — and hopefully joyful — roommate relationship. Accordingly, one of your first conversations after settling in together should be about establishing these mutual guidelines. These guidelines can include general expectations for cleanliness in common areas, division of labor for chores, designated quiet hours and visitor policies, and food-sharing and dietary restrictions. They can also include personal requirements, such as each of your comfort levels with sharing possessions, or your pet peeves, quirks, and habits. Finally, a few supportive guidelines might strengthen your bond with your roommate. For instance, you can agree to check on each other by text if one person isn't home by a certain hour. You could also set aside a certain time each week (e.g. Sunday dinners) to spend together. Keeping a record of these ground rules can come in handy when you're resolving future conflicts together, so remember to write them down!
Yes, we all want to be the "chill roommate," but that doesn't get in the way of being transparent, upfront, and clear about our needs from the beginning. This initial conversation about ground rules, albeit a little bit awkward, can save you from many conflicts in the future.
- Direct: This one is fairly simple, but not necessarily easy. Bottom line, if something needs to be said, just say it. Don’t imply it, or get upset with your roommate without telling them why. Don’t assume your roommate can read your mind or anticipate your needs and wants because we are all different. And start early! Let your roommate know about these things before it becomes an issue!
- Reasonable: Direct, assertive communication is only effective when your requests are reasonable. Before discussing needs and wants with a roommate, make sure you’ve done some self-reflection and you are sure that it is a fair request to make of that person. Remember that when you live with someone else, you each will have to make compromises.
- Assertive: If you’ve been practicing direct communication, congratulations! But make sure you stand your ground. Being assertive is about being confident and self-assured about communicating your needs and wants, without being aggressive. Don’t allow your roommate to tell you what you need because you know best.
Tip #4: Split the Cost of Living Expenses
Being roommates does not mean just sharing your space but it also means sharing many other things, including the cost of living. Although the cost of living such as rent or utility cost is divided up, there are other small costs that can put your relationship with your roommate at risk. It can be quite annoying to live with a roommate who has to be hounded for their half of the rent every month or who never chips in for toilet paper. Many people have a tough time talking about money though, in particular asking to be paid back money that they’re owed (especially when you’re having to ask a second or third time), which complicated this roommate problem even further. What should you do? Thank goodness for payment-sharing apps, such as Venmo or Zelle, ask your roommates to download an app that helps the paying each other back for things easier. You can send direct request to them whenever you are owed money. An app like Splitwise which will help you settle up each month by showing exactly what each person owes and for what. This way, you won’t have to make any awkward and repetitive requests, and you can both always see whether there’s money owed.
Tip #5: Set Social Boundaries
Lastly, it might feel awkward or unnatural setting rules and boundaries with your roommates, especially if you also consider them as friends. It is important to remember that personal bonds or relationships shouldn’t get in the way of establishing a healthy living environment, even if it may feel uncomfortable in certain situations. That is why setting social boundaries can be helpful to let someone know that you are roommates first, and then friends if you choose to be so. However, do not feel pressured to be best friends with your roommates or to spend all your time with them. Even though you will most likely be spending a good amount of time together in your shared space, all parties should also acknowledge that each person can have their separate social life outside the shared space. Hence, communicating social expectations and acknowledging each other’s personal life outside your living environment can help you maintain a stable and non-problematic roommate relationship where each side knows what to expect of others and respects their boundaries.