Sharing space with roommates can be challenging in the best of times -- and that's not mentioning the other times. You know, the times your roomie takes your food without asking (or replacing it), leaves a huge mess for others (you) to clean up, or brings a significant other home to stay for weeks (or months).
With a new school year here, and lots of folks moving into new apartments with new roommates and good intentions, let's get a few things straight about roommate etiquette -- and save a lot of headaches down the road.
Even better: Pass this along to your roommates, so you can all start off on the same page.
Be social. You certainly don't need to do everything together or be the best of friends -- but hiding out in your room all the time and declining every time your roommates invite you to do something sends a negative message.
Part of what can make living with roommates fun is hanging out together. Likewise, don't form a clique and exclude another roommate from activities. If a roommate situation is not working out, address it directly.
Share decorating space. That means you should all get equal wall space (if you want it) to hang art in common areas, and you should work together to decide on furniture arrangements and accessories. To each his or her own in bedrooms, but shared space really should beshared.
When you move in, it can be a fun bonding experience to tackle a household project together. Hit the local flea market together, paint a piece of furniture, or collaborate on an art wall.
Keep common areas tidy. Keep your personal items from taking up permanent residence in shared areas. The living room should not be a dumping ground for piles of unfolded laundry, teetering stacks of magazines, or crusty cereal bowls!
When you are done with something, put it back. Just because your roommate seems to always leave her stuff laying around doesn't mean you should, too. Especially in households with three or more roommates, messiness is a slippery slope. Set a good example, and it's more likely your roommates will follow suit.
Take care of your own pets. If you have a pet, do not expect your roommates to help care for it. Even if they were excited to have a furry friend in the house, it is not their responsibility to do the dirty work.
If you want to ask your roommates to care for your pet while you are away on a trip, ask first (don't assume they will do it!) and offer to pay them, or at least treat them the next time you go out. If it's your roommate who has the pet, it is fair to expect them to handle daily pet duties -- and provide a pet fur-removing brush for the couch.
Do your own dishes. This has got to be the most common roommate complaint of all time -- don't let it be about you! Do your own dishes promptly after meals, and if your roommate cooked dinner for both of you, get in there and wash up after. When handling roommates who do not wash their dishes, try speaking with them directly first, aiming for a tone that is firm but not angry.
In an extreme case of dish-neglect, try removing some of the dishes from the cupboards entirely (if there are tons) -- fewer dishes means the pile of dirties can never get too bad. Let your roommate know how serious it is to you, and begin keeping separate dishes. Their dirties can go in a dishpan out of sight under the sink until they are ready to deal with them, and your clean ones can be stored wherever you like (even in your room if necessary).
Decide how to handle groceries and stick with it. A roomie who eats your food without asking is right up there with the one who leaves the dirty dishes piled up in the sink. Let's hope you never have to live with someone who does both.
The best way to avoid conflict around food is to agree early on how you will handle groceries, and stick to it. Here are three common ways to handle the food situation, along with pros and cons:
- Share everything. For some, sharing food and splitting costs evenly works out without a hassle. Conflicts can arise if one of you has friends over a lot and feeds said friends from the (supposedly) equally shared food stash. If you go this route, be clear that the food is for roommates only.
- Separate sides of the fridge. Shop separately, and keep your paws off your roommate's food. This can be a smart choice if you tend to buy very different kinds of food (i.e., one roommate is vegan, another loves meat).
- Share staples, split the rest. This compromise sounds good, but can be a little tricky in practice. Be sure you agree on what exactly is on your list of staples, and trade off paying for them.
Share bathroom cleaning (and other onerous tasks). No one wants to clean the toilet or take out the trash, but it must be done -- and if one person ends up doing the dirtiest jobs all the time, tempers can flare.
Set up a chore chart somewhere easily viewed by all housemates, and use it to rotate tasks. Common courtesy dictates that each person should pull his or her own hair from the drain after showers, and replace the soap or TP if you use the last of it.
Don't monopolize the TV and stereo. With laptops and iPads, sharing the TV isn't quite as much of an issue as it once was, but it is still not fair to hog the big screen. Each roommate should have the opportunity to watch favorite shows and get an equal chance to DJ the sound system. And no judgments -- everyone is allowed to watch (or listen to) total junk from time to time!
Create a landing zone to handle mail.Especially among the first-apartment set, keeping track of bills can be problematic -- and it only takes one missed payment to wreak havoc on your credit score.
Make things easier on yourselves by setting up a single spot where mail always lands as soon as you walk in the door.
Make a spot for keys and a charging station for devices, and you won't lose them either.
Be respectful of your roommate's schedule.If you know your roommate has to get up early, be polite and keep noise down late at night.
Always talk to your roommates about parties in advance, and skip it if a roommate requests you throw the party a different weekend.
Respect personal space and belongings. Do not go into a housemate's room when they are not home, and do not use or borrow anything of theirs without asking first. If you share a bedroom, don't sit on or put stuff on your roommate's bed. And if you do borrow something (with permission) and it gets stained or damaged, it is your responsibility to have it cleaned, repaired or replaced promptly!
If your roommate has been taking your stuff without asking, have a conversation with her about it as soon as possible. She may have just assumed it was OK with you, so be clear about how and what you are willing (or not willing) to share. And be honest: If you regularly borrow your roomie's shoes, don't get your feathers in a ruffle when she borrows your sweater.
Keep up with your laundry. Big, stinky piles of dirty laundry will win you no fans, even if the piles are contained to your room. Keep that laundry moving, or make regular trips to the laundromat if you don't have access to a washer dryer.
For roommates who neglect laundry, the first step is getting them to keep it contained to their own space. Offering to go along on a shopping trip for extra hampers could be enough to get the message across.
Follow the golden rule. Treat your roommates as you want to be treated. When something is bothering you, tell them in a clear but polite way rather than letting bad feelings fester. And remember that small, nice gestures -- like bringing home flowers for the dining room table or a bag of cookies to share -- can go a long way to roommate peace.