Getting Along With Roommates

When you move away from home, it might be the first time you’re sharing your personal space with someone other than a family member.

People from different families and backgrounds might have different ideas about how to manage their space, and different personalities can make living together a challenge at times. Some people like a tidy space, whereas others are fine with a little more of a mess. Some might prefer to stay up late, and some get to bed earlier. You get the idea.

Managing these differences can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding. Many people become lifelong friends with their roommates, or at least create an environment of mutual respect and understanding.

Here are some tips for keeping the lines of communication open, managing roommate conflict,  and creating a harmonious living environment.

Be Proactive

Before moving in or during the first few days of living together, create a plan for cleaning shared spaces and other shared responsibilities. Be sure to define what it means to clean a space. For example, if one roommate is responsible for cleaning the bathroom, list the duties that this includes: cleaning the shower, sink, toilet, and floor, and replacing the hand towel. 

Also, discuss how to split the cost of household items, like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and pantry items you might choose to share. You might split items and pay the person who purchased them via Venmo or Zelle, or take turns purchasing things.

Be Clear

Establish some ground rules around common sources of conflict. Those rules might cover things like: 

  • Drinking and smoking (whether these things are allowed, and if so, whether you plan to do them in the shared space)
  • Bringing friends over and having them stay overnight
  • Sharing food and clothing
  • Playing music and watching TV (how loud, how often) 
  • Focused or study time (do you want to block off time for a certain level of quiet in your space?)

It’s important you and your roommate understand and respect each other’s expectations and comfort levels. There are some areas where one of you might be a little less flexible, and other things you’re more willing to compromise on. You might not want your roommate to have large gatherings at night but are flexible on when and how loudly they play music.

Be Open and Curious

It might take some time for you and your roommate to get to know each other. You can speed up this process by sharing information about yourself that would be helpful for your roommate to know. Ask your roommate questions about their preferences and share yours.

For example, you might share that you always like to go to bed early, that you have a weekly video chat with your family, or that you put on headphones and don’t like to be interrupted while studying.

Be Up Front

If something your roommate has done is bothering you, talk to them. Although it might be uncomfortable at first, this will help you prevent a bigger disagreement down the road. 

It helps to go into the conversation assuming they have good intent. It’s likely your roommate doesn’t want to upset you and simply might not know how you’re feeling, or they could be going through something that’s preventing them from helping out. They will probably be more open if you avoid blaming them, and start by sharing your observations and asking questions. You might say something like, “I’ve noticed you haven’t been staying on top of the dishes lately. Is there something we can do to make it easier?”

Be Flexible

Recognize that different people do things in different ways. Even though your family might handle chores in a specific way or listen to particular music, your roommate might have different routines and preferences. Think of this as an opportunity to learn about different ways of doing things. 

If you feel frustrated with the way your roommate is doing something, consider whether they are actually being inconsiderate or simply doing what they know or what works for them.

Be Communal

Schedule regular check-ins to discuss any problems and develop a plan to resolve them. This is also a chance to plan some activities or projects together, like a communal meal or a roommate movie night.

Be Resourceful

If a conflict develops and you can’t work it out with your roommate on your own, try discussing it with someone outside the situation. Sometimes getting another person’s perspective can help you see the situation in a new light and find a path to fixing the problem. 

If you’re living in a dorm, discuss the situation with your resident adviser, or resident assistant. RAs are hired because they have lived in student housing for a while and should have received some training in managing basic roommate conflicts. If your RA can’t help, there are people in the housing office who might be able to assist you.

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.