How to be a Good Roommate

"How to be a good roommate" over three succulents in the background

How to be a good roommate and communicate with roommates that drive you insane.

I have had many roommates and each one provided a different experience. I had some really good ones, I have also had some pretty bad ones. I have a post on finding and selecting roommates here.

Assuming you are in the process of finding roommates, or you already have a roommate and may be experiencing conflict, I will explain how to prevent conflict to the best of your ability and how to deal with conflict. There are a few things to consider first: if this person the right fit for me? What do we need to discuss before we move in together so this is a positive experience for both of us?

The best way to determine best fit is an interview and conversation.

This should be done in the vetting and selection process. I have another post about finding and selecting roommates here.

Ask them about…

  • Their schedule: are they a night owl/morning person?
  • Are they a homebody or a partier?
  • How often do they like to have friends over?
  • Where do they work?
  • What does a dirty kitchen look like to them?
  • Are they sensitive to certain smells? Maybe they hate the smell of Patchouli, but that’s your favorite scent and it might cause trouble.

After you select your roommate, here are a few things to talk about before or on move in day.

  • Quiet hours: when is a reasonable time frame for both of you?
  • Responsibilities: how will you divide the responsibilities of maintaining the house/apartment?
  • How will you divide house supplies? Does everyone have their own laundry detergent? Will you share and whoever uses the last of it replace it?
  • Are there designated parking spots?
  • Are shoes allowed in the house?
  • Are there clear boundaries? Are they absolutely not allowed in your bedroom? How will you designate bathroom space? Kitchen cabinet space? Can they use your dishes? Can you use their dishes? Is food up for grabs?

You may have skipped this step. I generally do and address these things as they come up because for the most part because I have lived in my house since 2015. For the most part, I’m pretty comfortable sharing everything and keep the house clean to my standards because I know I have pretty high clean expectations.

Now that you probably know the general house expectations, the first week or so is a “testing the waters” period. This is the period where you and your roommate are still awkward around each other (if you didn’t know each other before). For the most part, this is either the best or the worst week of living with your roommate. After this week is over, you and your roommate are beginning to become comfortable living together and this is when people stop caring.

How to be a good roommate

The key to being a good roommate is to not stop caring. Always care about whether you might be keeping your roommate up, if you are unsure, ask them if you are being too loud. Care about whether what you are doing is making things difficult for them. Did you block them in the driveway when they needed to go to work? Did they have an early morning and you decided to obsessively move furniture late into the night before?

Another key is to be receptive to suggestions and things that upset your roommate. If your roommate asks you to not leave your dishes in the sink, stop leaving your dishes in your sink. Work harder at not leaving the dishes hanging around too long. If they ask you to clean up your mess in the bathroom, do it. If they let you know that you were too loud the other night, make sure you are quieter in the future. Think about what it feels like to ask someone else to change their behavior for you. It can be nerve wracking. Respect that when someone asks you to change your behavior, even if it feels like an unreasonable request.

Here’s a truth bomb, if every request your roommate makes feels unreasonable, most likely, you’re the problem. If accommodating the person you live with sounds absurd, maybe you shouldn’t live with roommates. If you have never gotten the deposit back, or you always have a bad roommate experience, odds are, you are the bad roommate. realizing this takes a certain amount of self awareness. Most bad roommates are bad roommates because they lack self awareness.

If your roommate asks to have a meeting with you, make time for it. You both live together and you are just as important in making the relationship work as they are. If there are problems between you and your roommate. Be open about it. Don’t avoid it and don’t be passive aggressive about the issue either.

There are some things that you may think are behaviors good roommates have, but you are not obligated to do:

  • You do not need to clean up after the other person. You are not responsible for their messes.
  • You do not need to hide away in your room, to prevent disturbing your roommate. You and your roommate are going to disturb each other a lot, you just need to know how to address it or ignore it, together.
  • You do not have to be friends or even best friends with your roommate(s). It would be nice if it just happened, but you are not obligated to be friends with them or even like them. You are obligated to respect them as they respect you.

Now these are only a few things you can do to be a better or a good roommate. This isn’t accounting for the other person. So what do you do if you have a roommate that is inconsiderate, loud, messy, and doesn’t want to talk about issues in the house? I have a few strategies, preventative measures, and solutions below.

When you have a bad, or an almost bad roommate

Open communication and clear expectations

Have clear expectations. Do not fault someone for not being aware of an expectation they can’t or don’t meet. If you have expectations that are deal breakers if they are not met, tell them before you both agree to live together. Make it clear which expectations are a must and be receptive to theirs as well. If you can’t accept each others’ expectations, it’s probably not a good fit.

If you are like me,  you had unacknowledged expectations that you thought were basic human decency things. You didn’t realize they were something that needed to be addressed. I won’t be the first to say this, but it is incredibly frustrating when this happens. It’s difficult to address these expectations openly and assertively, especially if you like, or want to like the person you are living with. It’s even more difficult when you are reminding them to flush the toilet or to not leave rotting garbage on the counter. It’s also easier to call someone out on their shit when you don’t like them.

If you want to preserve your relationship with this person, ask them to sit down with you. Open with something you enjoy or like about them before presenting your grief. You may also want to include something you think will make living with you easier for them. End with a compromise or solution. It might go something like this:

“Hey Julie, living with you is a lot of fun and I’m glad we are able to be roommates and friends. I think we could both do better by establishing quiet hours. I have a hard time sleeping at night when you are up late and making noise, and I know you have issues with me being loud in the morning. Maybe we could establish quiet hours. How does 11pm to 8am sound?”

There are a few rules to remember when having this conversation:

  • Use I language and words like “we” and “us”
  • Don’t focus on the past. Don’t bring up what they did two months ago, or a week go, that is irrelevant … talk about the future.
  • Talk about the issues openly with your roommates. Don’t skirt around anything, because it may make the issue worse.
  • Don’t put this conversation off! If its important, talk about it sooner rather than later.

Picking your battles

Are you upset because a boundary or expectation was violated, or are you just irritated? Has this problem happened before and will it happen again?

One time issues are not worth your time. If the issue becomes a regular occurance, that’s when you need to sit down and talk to your roommate about the problem. Don’t make it about them. Make it about “us” and “we.” tell them you are upset because “we can’t agree on certain things.” Ask them to change their behavior or compromise with them.

I used to get so upset over the tiny things my roommates did. It didn’t help that I didn’t like them. It was a waste of time and energy to get upset about every small thing. It’s a waste of time to get upset in general if you aren’t going to address the issue. Again, if the problem is ongoing and affects your life more than it is a little irritating, sit down and talk to your roommate.

What happens when your roommate can’t make time to talk to you?

If your roommate will not make time for you, or atleast says they don’t have time, it’s probably not a good fit in general. In this situation, they know they are doing things that are upsetting and they are avoiding the conflict. If they continue to skirt the issues or can’t make time for you, it’s probably time to move on and find a new living situation, or kick them out. It all comes down to respect. They don’t respect you enough to treat you like a housemate.

If you have talked to them about the issue in the past, more than once, and there is no difference, they don’t respect you enough to change their behavior. If they don’t respect you, it’s a toxic situation and you need to get out of it. This is easier said than done if you signed a long term contract or a lease. I suggest that when you are looking for places to live that include a roommate situation, you look for month to month situations so that if you have a bad roommate, you can give your 30 days notice when it feels right or when you need to.

Get creative with solutions

If all else fails, remove yourself or the problem from the environment where the problem will occur. This won’t always happen so you have to be willing to take a risk and live with consequences. Granted, you should only act on things you know will have minimal negative consequences.

So 95% of the dishware in the house is mine and I allowed it to be communal. The dishes were constantly accumulating in the sink because my roommates were lazy. We would run out of dishes if I didn’t break down and clean up for them. The other issue was that the dishwasher would fill up, I would run it, but the dishes my roommates used never made it into the dishwasher. No amount of asking, begging, or nagging would make a difference. I even tried public shaming and posted pictures of the sink on social media with the caption “three weeks of dishes that aren’t mine.” this worked a few times, but caused my roommates to resent me as much as I resented them. But they didn’t respect me enough to make a real change.

So I separated all of the dishes I wanted and used and made it clear that my roommates were not use them. They could use the ones I left for them, and I left them a lot. I then washed all of my dishes by hand so I didn’t have to wait as long in between running the dishwasher and subsequently running out of dishes. I did this because all other forms of communication failed and I was tired of cleaning up after my roommates. I did this until they moved out. It was slightly inconvenient, but I stopped running out of dishes. I simply stopped caring about the dishes in the sink until they got disgusting and began to smell.

dishes piled in and around a sink
This is not the worst this sink got. There were dishes around the sink too that needed to be washed.

This was a pretty normal scene at my house if I didn’t break down and play maid or house mom.

Knowing when its times to say goodbye

Sometimes the roommate situation just doesn’t work out and someone may have to leave. This is either you or the other person. Who goes is situational. Talking to the problem roommate, or being the problem roommate is awful.

Hopefully, at this point it has become clear that someone has to leave because of the issues and tension. I would say that whoever was in the house first would be the one to stay with some exceptions. This is a tough conversation that I thankfully have only had a few times with the same person. They moved out.

Sometimes our prides get in the way of us making a decision and we stubbornly stick around because we hope we can force things to get better. I can say this isn’t worth it and if there are other options, take them. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but you should never be miserable in your home.

Do you have any useful tips or strategies for dealing with roommate conflict? How do you make sure you are a good roommate?

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