Archived: 5 tips to achieving a harmonious life… with roommates

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Whether the benevolent Residence gods have assigned you to a 4-bedroom townhouse, you found a bedroom off-campus for a great deal, or you’ve just moved in with a group of friends, you usually have to deal with roommates at some point. It’s just a fact of life. But there’s no denying co-existing in the same space can be challenging. If you find yourself grinding your teeth when you have to take out the recycling AGAIN, then you might need…


5 Tips to Achieving A Harmonious Life With Roommates*

*or at least not smothering each other with a pillow in your sleep


Talk it Out

If this article was titled “This one weird trick to living with roommates – RESIDENCE ADVISORS HATE HIM!”, this would be the only thing listed in it. Just talk about it.

We’re gonna go ahead and spoil the secret of being a human living in a society: the key to managing relationships is being willing to communicate and compromise. Yes, managing your relationship(s) with your roommate(s) is that simple. But while it’s simple on paper, it’s not always that easy in real life. It means you have to be brave and speak up when there’s something bothering you or you need to lay down a boundary (that’s usually the hard part).

So use all the resources you have on hand. If you live in Residence, your RAs are amazing at guiding you through those conversations. You can try sitting down and talking through a roommate agreement (there’s lots of templates online, or you can make your own with mutually-agreed-upon talking points). Be honest with your needs and expectations: if you claim to be a night owl when you’re actually an early riser, you’ll have a hard time seeing eye-to-eye on the issue of “my roommate headbangs to Arch Enemy at 12:45AM”.

If hashing it out in-person feels too scary at first, you can try to create a list with bullet points and using that to approach the conversation. But we promise: even if it feels super awkward, talking about it will feel better than secretly harbouring resentment for months on end.

A note on notes: we don’t recommend it, but sometimes you have to communicate through sticky notes. Try to reserve your written requests for things that are happy (“Take a cookie!”) or neutral (“Studying tonight, home late.”). If you’re bothered by something, address it clearly, tactfully, and in person.


Sharing is Caring!

… or not. Maybe you’ll share clothes, but your Nutella is off-limits. Maybe your pots and pans are all fair game except your rice cooker, because it was handed down to you from your great-great-great-grandpa. Maybe your conditioner costs $86 for a 3oz bottle and you will literally stab someone in the wrist if they even look at it, seriously, Brittany, hands off, I am not joking.

That’s up to you to decide. But you need to figure that out before someone uses the last of your milk and you have a dairy-related meltdown in the middle of the kitchen. Maybe that’s something you talk about when you hash out your roommate agreement, or maybe you feel it out as you go; either way, having a good idea of what you’re sharing and what you’re not sharing helps everyone.

Remember, you’re always allowed to pipe up and say, “actually, I’d prefer if you didn’t use that” at any time, regarding any of your belongings, even if you let someone borrow/use it before. In fact, we encourage you to say something like that, because your things belong to you and you get to decide how and when someone uses them. The key is just being polite and direct about it.


Division of Labour

Yep, chore charts. They might seem lame, but the reason they always show up on lists like this is because they work. If you hate taking out the garbage but don’t mind unloading the dishwasher, why wouldn’t you want to swap with someone who doesn’t mind garbage duty? If everyone in the house is equally “yuck” about your chore list, a rotating wheel that breaks up the weekly monotony (and regularly redistributes the most-hated chores) might be a viable option.

Having a physical chart stuck to the fridge won’t work for every household (and your guests might make fun of you), but there’s a lot of ways to keep track of chore responsibilities. You can all make weekly reminders in your phones, have a communal Google document, or try an app like OutHome. Whatever system you choose, make sure to check in with your roommates once in a while to make sure everyone is still on board: chore charts only work if everyone is pulling their weight.


Splitting Expenses (Or Not)

Keeping track is a good way to avoid resentment if you feel like you’re taking on more of a financial burden for certain things. This is especially important for common household items that everyone uses, like toilet paper or cleaning supplies. Even if it feels like you’re the only one in the house to buy paper towel, it might not be the case – maybe you don’t notice when it’s replenished, only when you’re the one doing the replenishing. In that case, tracking your split expenses benefits all parties!

Another tried-and-true method is just to pay for your own things, but that can sometimes lead to things like hoarding toilet paper in your bedroom so your roommate’s guests don’t use it… and that’s just an ugly situation for everyone. So, like, all things circumstantial, this is something you’ll have to figure out amongst yourselves. There’s lots of painless ways to track expenses, though: you can try the app Splitwise, the website RentShare, or again the good ol’ Google doc.

Also, avoid making a purchase, then deciding that it should be a split cost with your roommate. Surprise bills for an item you weren’t expecting to pay for is no fun, and wreaks havoc on everyone’s budget.


Talk it Out, We Mean It, For Real

Listen, we all have expectations and needs. And everyone has, like, a sliding scale of how important any given thing is to them. Just because you don’t care about a couple strands of hair on the bathroom counter doesn’t mean your roommate isn’t silently casting a hex on you and your firstborn every time she sees your hair sprinkled across the sink and counter.

Those expectations and needs are things you actually need to say out-loud, with your words. Or write it down on a piece of paper and hand it over. Your roommate isn’t a mind reader (we’re pretty sure?!), so both of you need to be on the same page. The best way to do that is to talk it out. That goes for literally everything we listed above.

If you decide that something isn’t working for you, even if you already established a ground rule, it’s perfectly okay to change your mind and re-evaluate your boundaries. And the best way to go about communicating that is – surprise! – saying it out loud (or writing it down, or sending a carrier pigeon, or whatever you gotta do) to the person who needs to know that information. The earlier you address an issue, the sooner you can stop silently seething about it and continue living a happy life. Or at least not smothering your roommate with a pillow while they sleep.

See? It turns out the secret to a harmonious life with roommates was inside you all along.