Living with roommates is a great way to save money and share responsibilities, it can be the basis of a lifelong friendship, and it can even be a way to get a little help with your assignments when you’re stuck! Many people with roommates are just wrapping up that initial honeymoon phase around this time of year, though, especially students and others who moved into new places over the summer.
To help you avoid some of the most common problems that can arise when sharing a space, and to help your resolve other issues that may pop up, here are some of our favorite tips. We’ll have more in part two next week!
1. You’re roommates, not besties
It’s important to set and manage expectations for your relationship with your roommate early on. There are many types of roommate relationships, but the majority are simple cost-sharing agreements where two people live two separate lives sharing one home base. If you are looking for a friend to spend time with and attend events with, then you’re looking for a friend more than a roommate. This can also work, of course, and many friends become roommates just as many roommates become friends, but this is the exception and not the rule.
Give one another space, even being in the same room isn’t an invitation to conversation and interruption. A home is also a place where work occurs, and it’s a place where we go to recharge ourselves independently of others. You are not obligated to hang out with one another, so manage your expectations and be pleasantly surprised if a deeper friendship develops!
2. Have rules for what you do and don’t share
One of the most common problems roommates run into relates to private vs. common property. Just because something is in the fridge doesn’t mean it’s for you. Right from the outset, it’s important to set rules for what you will share and won’t and to abide by those rules firmly to prevent issues. The more clearly set these limits are, the more everyone agrees to abide by them, and the happier everyone will be. Don’t take a sip or a bite without taking a moment to ask permission, it’s often these little violations of trust that lead to larger problems.
If you agree to share your food, then it’s equally important to determine who is responsible for cooking and cleaning and when it will be completed by. Someone who agrees to do dishes but lets them all build up for a week not only isn’t living up to their end of the bargain, but they’re also inviting cockroaches and other pests to a feast in your sink!
Many roommates share furniture, appliances, dishes, and so forth. It’s important to establish expectations for this sharing that also recognize both persons live in and deserve to enjoy the home. Treat your roommate’s property with respect and they’re more likely to treat yours the same way.
Sharing responsibilities is another element of living together that it’s important to make clear in the first few days. You need to determine not only whose responsibilities are whose, but also what timeline these chores will be completed on, and most importantly, determine what doing the job properly looks like to both of you. A quick wipe-down is not cleaning to most people, but may seem to be to your roommate!
3. No mind reading: communicate!
We tend to take for granted that everyone else has had the same sort of experiences we have, that everyone is taught the same things and generally does things in the same way. The reality, however, is that even two people raised in the same household will do some things differently, let alone two people coming from different homes with different traditions, habits, and manners.
When you find your roommate doing something that annoys you or seems strange to you, find a positive and constructive way to raise and address the issue with them. People cannot read minds, and something that seems very obvious to you may not be so obvious to your roommate. By having a positive discussion, not only can you resolve the issue, but you’ll also improve your relationship.
Note: Passive-aggressive silence and angry notes do not count as communication, they only make things worse.
For example, someone coming from a household with multiple bathrooms may be used to taking long showers in the morning, but now that you’re sharing one this can risk you being late for work. Talk to them about the problem and discuss alternative compromises: either getting up earlier if they want to take a longer shower, or perhaps asking them to shower in the evenings instead of the morning.