Top 10 Tips for Living With Roommates

by Susan Evans

Felix & Oscar. Joey & Chandler. Bert & Ernie. Sometimes roommate pairings are a match made in heaven; other times, they’re a major disaster.

Here are our top ten tips to help you communicate (and peacefully coexist) with your college roommate.

1. Be honest about your likes and dislikes from the beginning.

  • Many colleges send out roommate questionnaires before the beginning of the school year; take this opportunity to outline the qualities that you’d like in a roommate.
  • If you like to be in bed by 10 pm, you’ll probably become frustrated by a roommate who consistently stays up until 3 in the morning.
  • If you can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke, you may want to live with a nonsmoker.

2. Be prepared to address any roommate issues immediately before they have a chance to become bigger problems.

  • For example, if your roommate puts in a heavy metal CD while you’re studying, politely explain that you prefer to study in silence, and brainstorm a compromise. The earlier you and your roommate discuss what you both expect from each other, the easier your transition into living together will be.

3. Outline basic room safety guidelines.

  • If your dormitory or apartment building prohibits specific items (candles, space heaters, alcoholic beverages, etc.), take these guidelines into account when decorating your living space.

WHN TIP – Lock Your Door! For the sake of each other’s safety (and to prevent items from “disappearing”!), always lock your door when you leave your room, even if you only plan to be gone for five minutes.

4. Establish a general cleaning plan.

WHN TIP – Agree Early: Clarifying cleaning roles before Hurricane Sloppy hits is crucial to maintaining a harmonious relationship between cleanliness and chaos.

  • Even if your idea of sweeping is a road series between the Cubs and the Yankees, you’ll need to take responsibility for the cleanliness of your personal space.
  • Ask your roommate about his/her preferred level of cleanliness.
  • Decide together how often you’d like to pick up your room: designate a weekly “cleaning day” or pick up messes as they occur?
  • Who’s responsible for each chore and/or shared spaces (bathroom, kitchen, living room)?
  • Should each roommate try to keep their belongings on “their side” of the room, or is it okay to store personal items in common living spaces?

WHN TIP – Chore Check List: It may help to post a written schedule on your bulletin board or refrigerator of weekly room chores and have each person check off their tasks when completed.

5. Mention your sleeping habits.

  • When would each of you ideally like to go to bed on weeknights? Weekends?
  • When do you need to wake up to get to class?
  • Can you sleep with music playing, or with the lights on?
  • Are you a light or heavy sleeper?
  • If your roommate wants to go to bed early, is it okay for you to stay in the room?
  • What happens when one of you stays out much later than the other?

WHN TIP – Respect for Bedtime: Discuss compromises for times when your bedtime isn’t compatible with your roommate’s. Do late-night studying in the library, a lounge area, or a friend’s room if your roommate is an early-to-bed type.

WHN TIP – Respect for Others: If you return while your roommate’s asleep, use a cell phone screen or flashlight to find your pajamas, instead of turning on overhead lights and waking up your roommate. If you’re an early riser, lay out your clothes for early-morning classes, and don’t use your hair dryer in the room if your roommate plans on sleeping until 10.

6. Talk about your study habits.

  • Do you want to complete the bulk of your schoolwork in your room, or would you rather study in the library and use the room to socialize?
  • If you choose to study in your room, what noise level do you prefer (silence, music, TV)?

WHN TIP – Scheduling. Let your roommate know in advance if you have an important test or project coming up. (Example: “I have a huge midterm on Friday, so I’d rather not have any guests over on Thursday night if that’s all right with you.”)

7. Discuss message-taking and other telephone etiquette.

  • If you and your roommate share a voicemail box or answering machine, decide what will happen if someone calls when your roommate isn’t there.
  • If your roommate’s parents call on a Friday night and ask where she is, should you provide them with her plans for the evening?
  • If an acquaintance calls and asks for your roommate’s cell phone number, do you have your roommate’s permission to give that number out?

WHN TIP – Roomie Communication: Post a dry-erase board outside your door so that you, your roommate and your friends can leave messages for each other. Use your discretion regarding the details of your messages—your roommate may not want your entire floor to know that she owes $164 in library fees.

8. Discuss what will happen when one of you has visitors. A few questions to ask:

  • How late should visitors be able to stay?
  • Can visitors come over on school nights?
  • Can one roommate have guests over if the other one is sleeping, studying, etc.?
  • Can visitors stay overnight or over the weekend? If so, where will they sleep?
  • Are there certain times when one of you would prefer not to have visitors?

WHN TIP – *E-hem* – What’s the Signal?? It’s especially important to discuss romantic visitors. If your roommate has a boyfriend or girlfriend, ask about their expectations regarding privacy. You may want to set up a “signal” to indicate when your roomie has “company.”(a hanger on the doorknob, a brief note, etc).

WHN TIP – Roomie Communication – Part Two: If you have a significant other, be courteous; no one wants to be shut out of their living space for an entire evening. If you want to have your room to yourself, ask your roommate first, and be clear about the date and time. (Example: “My boyfriend wants to come over between 7 and 9 pm tonight. Would you mind studying in the library during that time, or should I invite him over another night?” )

9. Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

  • How do you feel about having your roommate borrow your food? Clothes? CDs?
  • Can your roommate borrow your car or computer in an emergency situation?
  • A general guideline is to always ask before borrowing anything from a roommate.

WHN TIP – Claim Your Food! If you have food items that you want to save for yourself, write your name or initials on the packaging to indicate that it belongs to you.

WHN TIP – The “Thank You” Wash… If you borrow an item of clothing from your roommate, it’s a nice gesture to wash the item before returning it. (Make sure that the item is washable first and read the care label!)

10. Keep the lines of communication open.

  • Good roommate relationships require frequent communication. If you have a question about something that your roommate is doing, ask!
  • The best way to ensure that your roommate knows what you’re thinking is to tell him/her.

Photo Credit: Febrian Zakaria

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