Since graduating high school and leaving my childhood home, I have always lived with roommates. In college it was one, after graduation it became two, and just recently I moved in with three. Like most others who live with roommates, I share a living space due to financial necessity. Splitting rent obviously makes the expense of shelter and utilities more affordable.
I like to think that I put a good deal of effort into all the relationships in my life whether they be family, friendships or romantic relationships. Roommates are no different. Here are my tips:
1. Be Picky
It has always baffled me when I speak with someone who’s reasoning behind choosing to live with a particular individual boils down to, “we were both looking for someone to live with.” It just seems to me that deciding who you are going to live with deserves a bit more thought and consideration than that.
With the exception of family, you typically put a good deal of thought into selecting friends and romantic partners, right? Some make the cut and others don’t. Why should selecting a roommate be any different? However, I do realize that often due to timing and the aforementioned financial necessities, many people don’t always have the luxury of finding the perfect roommate. That’s where the next part of my “roommate success” comes into play.
2. Establish the Relationship
The most pivotal of steps when entering a new living situation is establishing the nature of the relationship. I have always become close friends with the people that I live with. Perhaps that is due to the fact that, despite my being a social butterfly, I cannot afford to go out every night of the week. So as many others do, I find ways to entertain myself within the confines of my own home and I prefer to do so with my roommates.
Whether it’s cooking meals together, a rousing cornhole tournament or just having a movie night on the couch, that is the type of living relationship that I enjoy and benefit from most. I would not mix well with someone who prefers a more isolated living situation.
That being said, there is nothing wrong with wanting a more isolated and separate living environment. Some people travel a lot for work prefer to relax alone when they are finally at home. Others simply aren’t looking for a friend, just someone to split the rent with. The key here is that whatever your particular disposition may be, you need to make these preferences known early on.
Pro tip: It is definitely best to establish this before you actually make the leap and move in with someone.
3. Respect their Space
The most obvious part of this step involves physical living space. It also proves to be the most tricky, as much of the living space is shared when living with roommates (i.e. kitchen, bathroom, living room etc.). What this often boils down to is cleanliness. Often times roommates become irritated when one doesn’t clean up the kitchen after cooking dinner. Or vise versa, it can be obnoxious when a roommate is obsessively asking you to clean the bathroom.
The best way to avoid escalating irritation and even potential confrontation is to establish expectations of the conditions of these shared spaces and then meet halfway. If your roommate prefers an immaculate kitchen, then perhaps change your habit of just throwing your dirty dish in the sink and instead rinse it off and put it in the dishwasher. Likewise, if you are a neat freak and your roommate is not, then you might consider adjusting your standards a bit. Small considerations go a long way.
The second part of this step involves personal or emotional space.
This is a particular skill that proved a bit more difficult in my own experiences. I am very extroverted and prefer to spend much of my time around people. However, one of my roommates, who has also become one of my closest friends, is much more introverted than I am. We have lived together for more than two years now, and while we do spend a great deal of time together, I have learned that when he is in his room, it is an unsaid rule that he wants undisturbed personal time. Recognition and respect of such emotional needs is vital to any living relationship.
4. Be Up Front
I often find that the most frequent cause of any roommate dispute is a lack of transparency. How many times have you heard a friend complain about their roommate and a particular bad habit, but then they casually reply, “no, not yet” when you ask them if they have addressed it?
This is also a particularly difficult step for me as I am very non-confrontational. However, I have found that as uncomfortable as it may be, it is best to address an issue or irritation rather than letting it stew. It took several different instances of letting my frustrations build to realize that issues could have been resolved weeks earlier if I had just told my roommate to stop playing his music so loud, or to stop letting his girlfriend stay over every night of the week.
Much like any other relationship, you learn from trial and error. Not every situation is ideal, but with a little effort and a lot of communication I think most living relationships can be enjoyable all parties. And if the above advice doesn’t work, it might be time to figure out when the lease is up…