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How to Be a Good Roommate and Deal with Those Who Aren’t

How to Be a Good Roommate and Deal with Those Who Aren’t

Roommate horror stories are pretty popular topics of conversation at college. Everybody’s got them. Follow a few simple guidelines to ensure you’re not the awful roommate everyone’s talking about—and learn to deal with your terrible roommate.

I know bad roommates. Last year my noisy, inconsiderate roommate constantly woke me up around three in the morning. Her side of the room was always messy and covered with clothes. Her suitcase from Christmas break didn’t move from the middle of the room all second semester. She used my makeup. She ate my food. One night, her boy toy stole my pillow off my bed. While I was sleeping on it. And she brought a kitten to live in our room (which, just by the way, is totally against dorm policies). Y’all, I don’t like cats. Not even kittens. But who did the kitty like best? Me. Whose bed did it sleep on? Mine. Who did it wake up every morning to be fed? Me.

Oh, and it gave our room fleas. FLEAS.

While my rooming situation left much to be desired, I know that I probably wasn’t the perfect roommate either. However, my roommate and I were still able to get along together fairly well (all things considered) and managed to end the year on good terms. There are a few basic things you can do to help start off a successful roommate relationship and some tactics to help alleviate even the worst of rooming circumstances.

Respect Each Other

First and foremost, you need to respect your roommate. I know, sometimes, it’s really hard. But when you’re living in tight quarters with the same person (or people), if you don’t respect them first, they sure as hell won’t respect you. Your parents have hopefully been teaching you what respecting others mean since you were about four. The same rules apply in college as they did in preschool.

  • Be Considerate – If your roommate is sleeping or attempting to sleep, keep the noise and light levels down. If your roommate is studying, don’t have loud conversations in the same room. It really should be common sense, but it is truly amazing how people don’t understand what it means to be considerate. If in doubt, ask yourself if you would be annoyed if your roommate did whatever it is you would like to do to you. If the answer is no, take it elsewhere.
  • Keep It Clean – Seriously, I cannot emphasize how many horror stories I have heard about dirty roommates. Hair in the shower, toothpaste gelled to the sink, bathrooms littered with magazines or dirty clothes. It’s gross. Respect means keeping your side of the room clean. Now, I’ll admit, I’m a rather messy person. I don’t like picking up my clothes, the concept of drawers, or making my bed. But at least once a week, I pick all of my stuff up off the ground and make my side of the room clean again. It’s a good habit to get into and it will make you a better roommate. And hopefully, if your roommate sees you keeping your side clean, they’ll be more inclined to keep theirs clean.
  • Keep Your Hands Off Their Stuff – Respecting your roommate means respecting their stuff. I already told you my former roommate used my makeup, usually without asking. Just don’t do it, especially with personal items like brushes and stuff like that. It’s gross. If you really need to borrow something of theirs, always, always ask before you do. If they say no, don’t get offended. Some people just don’t like other people using their stuff. This goes especially for food. It’s super annoying to open the fridge and see that your lunch that you planned to eat is now gone. If you eat your roommate’s food, it is absolutely your responsibility to replace it.

Set Ground Rules

Now that we’ve reviewed what it means to respect each other, you and your roommate should also establish some ground rules. It may sound a little Type-A personality, but it’s really just better to set up what each of your pet peeves are before the year gets rolling. For instance, I really don’t like it when people have phone conversations in the room while I’m studying. I don’t multitask very well, and I’d rather be writing my paper on Roman gladiators than listening to you tell your best friend about your raging weekend. Here is a list of things that you and your roommate should touch on as far as ground rules go:

  • Talking on the phone – inside the room, outside the room, on the balcony, in the closet, whatever. Make a compromise, but the tie should go to the person studying.
  • Smoking – This. Is. So. Important. If you have a balcony, establish if it’s okay for the smoker to smoke on the balcony. Be careful if you agree to smoking on the balcony or you could end up with your roommate’s chain smoking friends living out on your balcony. I don’t think smoking is allowed in any dorm room, but make sure to set your expectations early.
  • Visitors of the intimate kind – This seriously could warrant its own post. If you have someone of special interest with you, you need to remember that the room belongs to two people. Set up a sexile system. Rubber bands on the door work, but everyone in the world knows what that means. Try a post-it note or piece of tape on the door, drawing a shape on the nametags on your door, or some other symbol that will clue in your roommate that they probably do not want to walk into the room. Include a time limit! Really, it shouldn’t be longer than an hour. If you need more time, well, you know, I can’t help you. Compromise with your roommate. If you are the sexilee, be patient. College is an exciting, hormonal time and your roommate will sometimes (or very often) put his/her libido ahead of your convenience. Find comfort in the fact that they’ll have to offer you the same consideration when you get your chance of love. Additionally, check with your roommate if they’re comfortable with your lover spending the night if this proves to be the case. If they’re not, respect their wishes.
  • Cleaning – Discuss duties for cleaning and whose job it is to do what. Dividing responsibilities of cleaning will make keeping your room cleaner and it will help ease roommate tensions if you both pitch in. Taking out the trash, tidying the room, buying toilet paper, and washing the sink are just a few things to consider.

When All Else Fails…

Sometimes, no matter how much you do, your roommate will still drive you crazy. When respecting, cleaning, and ground rules don’t get you where you want in your rooming situation, all is not lost, even if it seems like it. There’s still a certain amount of damage control that you can do.

  • Deal with it – There are just some things that you are going to have to get used to when living with another person. Sometimes, you just need to suck it up and deal with it. For the most part, the things that annoy you are minor things that you can put up with for just one year. If you have trouble keeping your annoyances under control, remember this quote from Robert Anton Wilson: “You are precisely as big as what you love and precisely as small as what you allow to annoy you.”
  • Talk to your roommate – Sit down and have a conversation with your roommate about the key things that really irritate you about the situation. Maybe he snores. Maybe she keeps the TV on while you do homework. Whatever it is, don’t yell and don’t accuse. Be calm and friendly and simply explain your situation. Focus on the big aspects. If you start nitpicking or start getting mean, the situation will get out of control, nothing will get solved, and you’ll both be angry. Also, if you’re going to talk to your roommate about issues you have with them, you need to be able to take the issues that they might have with you. Be flexible and willing to compromise.
  • Talk to your RA – Do not do this before you talk to your roommate. Going above your roommate’s head is inconsiderate. You are big boys and girls now. You can work your problems out by yourselves. However, if you’ve talked to your roommate and something is still really causing a big disagreement between you and you roommate, you might need to get an outside party involved. If the situation really is irreconcilable, there is usually a process that will transfer you to a different room with a different roommate.
  • Get out of your room – This is probably the simplest of all solutions. When your roommate is in your room and doing something irritating, just leave the room. Go to the library or a campus computer lab if you need to study. Go to a friend’s room if you just need somewhere else to escape. Getting out of your room is good for you anyways, and some time away from your roommate will help keep tensions from getting too high.

Have a truly awful roommate horror story of your own? Let’s hear how you dealt with it in the comments.