Over the course of your adult life—especially your young adult life—you’re bound to have a roommate or two. Perhaps you’re just entering college and are living in a dorm, or an apartment off campus. Perhaps you’re living in an expensive area where, if you don’t have a roommate, you don’t have a place to live. Or, perhaps you’re moving in with a long-time friend. Whatever the case, living with another person brings its own joys and stresses, but there are some things you can do to make the experience a positive one overall.
If you’re reading this before you move in with your new roommate, you’re at a slight advantage over those reading it while already living with a roommate. However, you can do this step at any time. Call a house (or dorm room) meeting, bring some snacks, a couple of pens, and a notepad, and start talking.
You’re going to create a roommate agreement. This may bring to mind Sheldon Cooper and his infamous roommate and relationship contracts from The Big Bang Theory, and while Sheldon has the right general idea, his agreements go into way more specifics than you’ll need.
The roommate agreement will be a set of rules to live by in the interest of fairness, peace, and friendship. It should include privacy rules—aka the so-called sexile. When one of you has a boyfriend or girlfriend over and needs some private time, do you put a note on the door? Do you send a text informing your roommate how long you’ll need privacy? What hours is this allowed? After all, you don’t want to leave your roommate with nowhere to go at midnight.
You’ll also want rules for chores, noise levels (which will partly be handled by the dorm itself, if you’re in a dorm situation), and bringing over guests.
While you should come to an agreement on room or household chores, such as who takes out the garbage, who sweeps and dusts, and so on, there are some chores that are yours, or your roommate’s, alone.
We’re talking about cleaning up after yourself. Go to any shared home and chances are you’ll find a sink full of dishes. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you do your own dishes after you eat, and your roommate does theirs, then the sink and dishes will remain clean. After you study, clean up your books. When you’re done reading the paper, throw it in the recycle bin. Make your own bed. The more you, and your roommate, clean up after yourselves, the fewer shared chores you’ll have.
If you and your roommate move in as friends, stay friends. Living together can add stress to your relationship, so make sure to do the fun things together that you enjoyed before. Did you like going to cafes and talking for hours? Make time for that. Did you enjoy going to the movies together? Do that, too.
Your roommate may also be a completely new person to you, someone your university paired you up with. Find out what you have in common. Even if you have many interests that don’t match, chances are you’ll have a few that do. Is there a show on TV that you both enjoy? Do you both follow a particular sport? Do you enjoy the same sorts of books? Is there an activity you both like to participate in? You’ll either find something interesting to talk about, or things to do together.
The String Principal
There was once a popular trope on sitcoms that went like this. The characters on the show as housemates found they could no longer get along, so they split the house (or apartment) into “your side” and “my side” by drawing a length of string from one wall to the other. This trope got old the first time it happened and made for the worst sort of bottle episodes. In a house or apartment situation, where each roommate has their own bedroom and other rooms must be shared, everyone already has their own space and just has to learn to get along in the other areas.
However, the idea makes a lot more sense in a dorm room, where on one side, you have your bed, desk, and dresser, and on the other side, your roommate has theirs. No, you won’t have a string stretched from the door to the far wall, but you each do have your own side. Keep your belongings on your side, and ask them to keep their belongings on their side. This will give each of you a sense that you have your own private space.
Respect Your Roommate’s Schedule
This includes when your roommate is sleeping, studying, working, and the like. Things here should be covered in your roommate agreement, but basically, it boils down to being quiet when your roommate needs you to be quiet, with the understanding that they’ll do the same for you.
Respect Traditions and Beliefs
You and your roommate may very well have different beliefs, and that’s fine. If they have a crucifix or Star of David hanging on the wall on their side of the room and you’re not religious, let it be. It’s not your job to preach to each other. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with getting into a respectful conversation about traditions and beliefs. Each of you should be able to expect respect in your shared room or home.
If you have a shared mini-fridge in your dorm room, or if you share an apartment and therefore a kitchen, decide how you will handle your food expenses. Will you pool your money and buy groceries together, so that you can eat whatever you want that’s in the house? Will you buy some shared groceries, and have some things that are separate? You might want to include the basics in your roommate agreement, and discuss the rest as needs change.
For example, maybe you want to make stew for dinner and have all the ingredients ready. Let your roommate know that you’re going to cook with those items, and not to eat them.
You should also discuss division of the utility bills. Perhaps your roommate loves to have their room cool, and has an air conditioner on often. That can greatly increase the electricity bill, so you and your roommate may decide that, during the warm months, they should pay more.
If you and your roommate have a fair set of rules and are able to become friends, you both should have a good experience. Of course, if you find yourself in an unbearable situation despite doing your best, look into moving. If you’re in a dorm, contact your school and ask what you can do. If you’re living in a shared house or apartment, save enough money for a deposit, and look for a new living situation. Ideally, though, you’ll get along with whomever you’re living with, and the suggestions in this article will help make your living situation happy.