Roomie Rules: How to Adjust to Life with Roommates

Roomie Rules: How to Adjust to Life with Roommates

Photo of two women sitting on a couch smiling. Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash.

Having a roommate is one of the most memorable college experiences, and for good reason. Sharing your living space with others requires plenty of adjustment, whether you’re rooming with a total stranger or your BFF from high school. Living with roommates can produce some pretty tricky social situations; you have to be willing to make plenty of compromises while making sure you have the space (and sleep!) that you need. Whether you’re a dorm-sharing pro or just started your first semester of roommate life, check out these tips for getting the most out of your roommate experience.

Discuss your schedules ASAP

Imagine you’ve just met your new roommate – yay! So what vitally important question should you ask them as soon as possible? It’s not where they’re from, what they’re studying, or even who wants the bed next to the window. No, it’s “What’s your schedule like?” The biggest source of drama between roommates is disregard for each other’s schedules. If they are taking night classes, be aware that they may not be home till 9:30 or 10 at night and will likely be up for a couple hours after that. Likewise, you need to tell them about your 8 a.m. lectures so they’ll be prepared for your early-morning alarm. It’s also important to trade work schedules and to make note of each other’s personal preferences. Will they be out late every Friday night? Can they sleep with the lights on while you work or watch Netflix till 2 a.m.? Do you prefer to sleep till noon every Saturday, or will you be up at the crack of dawn to go jogging? Discuss your individual schedules in detail as soon as possible, and try to compromise on lights-off and noises.

Write up a roommate contract


Meme image of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory TV show with a caption that reads "Don't Violate the Roommate Agreement."

If you’re living on campus, your RA will probably bring up the subject of roommate contracts at your first floor meeting. These nifty agreements are perfect for heading off any potential conflict before it even starts. Essentially, a roommate contract is a list of responsibilities and promises between you and your roommate, such as “The air conditioning will always stay between 68 and 73” or “I agree to wash my dirty dishes every two days”. The agreements on a roommate contract may seem mundane, but little issues like these can become major headaches (and sources of arguments) when they’ve been ongoing for weeks. If you’re living in a dorm, get advice from your RA about drafting and signing a roommate contract.  If you or your roommate begins to slip up on the agreements, the RA can come talk it out with you both and mediate any problems. Roommate contracts are also good to have if you’re renting off-campus; hang it on the fridge or in another visible spot to remind everyone of their responsibilities. Just know that you don’t have anyone to enforce this agreement, so you and your roomies are responsible for keeping each other on track.

Don’t be a stickler for rules (but don’t ignore them, either)

For your living situation to function, you’ve got to strike a balance between being a rules freak and a doormat. Here’s an example: suppose it’s your roommate’s day to take out the garbage, and the trash can is overflowing, but you know that she had to pick up an extra shift at work and has an exam in the morning that she’s barely studied for. Don’t nag her about the garbage, and don’t wait around for somebody else to take care of it: just take out the trash. Be considerate and compassionate with your roommates, and try to be flexible about sharing responsibilities if you know they’re having a rough day (or week). That being said, however, it’s not fair for one of your roommates to continually shirk her duties throughout the semester. If this begins to happen, gently remind her of her responsibilities. If she shows no sign of changing, you and your other roommates may need to agree to take turns picking up her slack to ensure that everything gets done.

Don’t pressure your roommate to be your best friend 

Here’s the hard truth: you may not be best friends with your roommate – and that’s okay. If the two of you become lifelong buddies, that’s great. However, your main goal should be to simply get along with them in a respectful and supportive way, so that you can live your own life and let them live theirs without negatively impacting each other. Don’t panic if you and your roomie aren’t hanging out every night, or if they goes out with friends and don’t invite you along. Conversely, don’t feel bad about getting involved in your own activities and friend groups. You’re entitled to your own life, and if you don’t think your roommate would gel with your current circle, it’s okay to keep them separate. Just remember not to neglect your roommate completely, and try to hang out exclusively with him or her at least every week or so.

If you’re rooming with friends, expect your relationship to change a little

But what if you and your roommates were friends in high school, or you hit it off so well in class last semester that you decided to room together?  Even in these situations, the previous rule still applies: don’t expect them to continue being your best friend. This sounds harsh, but it’s just the practical reality of living with somebody. It’s one thing to chill with someone over Netflix and coffee, and another thing to listen to their alarm go off 20 times in one morning. You need to be prepared to handle potentially tricky situations that might strain your friendship a little. Some friends room together for years with no drama, and others feel their friendship begin to crack after the first couple of weeks. The important thing to remember is, don’t let your friendship with your roommate have a negative effect on your quality of life.  It’s better to talk out problems than to wait for them to implode.