Student Life

5 Tips for Handling Roommate Problems

Finding a good roommate can sometimes feel like finding a needle in a haystack. You might hit the jackpot and find a great roommate, but more often than not it’s a luck of the draw. A compatible roommate means there’s a combination of mutual respect, understanding, and expectations. Unsurprisingly, living with a roommate sounds a lot like a relationship… and it kind of is. Like all relationships, both parties have to want to make it work and be able to make compromises.

Whether you’re in a fairly new living situation or find yourself arguing with your roommate over the same issues, here are 5 tips for handling roommate problems:

On Chores:

Chores and cleanliness go hand in hand. Many homes use a calendar schedule to divvy chores. This works for some people, but can still cause issues for others. Why? Because expectations of what is considered thoroughly clean differs from person to person and people’s schedules change from week to week.

1. Set expectations of what is considered “clean” for each area of the house, as well as a base level of how clean certain areas should be on a day to day basis. For instance, setting a rule that the kitchen counter has to be wiped down after cooking would be a daily chore, whereas a sweep and swiffer would be weekly. Set expectations of what is considered clutter. Something seemingly not a problem to one person could appear messy to another. Remember, everyone is raised differently, so what is considered clean and messy is always subjective.

2. Plan for alternate scenarios. With a calendar, it’s clear whose week it is to clean the toilets. However, what happens when one person is busy and are unable do their chore that day? Is there mitigation or leeway implemented? There should be. What happens when Roommate 1 has guests over (and their guests leave a mess) but it’s Roommate 2’s week to clean? Is Roommate 2 expected to clean a messy bathroom left by Roommate 1’s guest? It may seem petty, but establishing expectations upfront for all possible scenarios will make handling conflict easier in the long run.

On Boundaries:

3. Create clear and distinct boundaries. For instance, my current roommate and I have our own cupboards and our fridge is divided right down the middle. We established a rule that nothing gets touched or used without permission, including sauces. Some people are more share-friendly than others, and you should never expect someone to share with you just because you shared with them. A quote I think applies here is, “Giving should never come with a condition.” As a rule of thumb, do not offer if you expect the favour to be returned. Alternatively, do not take if you believe it comes with a cost.

On Conflict

4. Everyone handles conflict differently. Some people prefer being confronted directly, others detest confrontation and would rather leave a note. A forward individual might prefer being approached directly because it gives them a chance to talk about the issue at hand. As so, leaving a note might be interpreted as being passive aggressive, causing additional and unnecessary hostility. It might be foreign adapting to someone else’s communicaion style, but discussing and compromising is key to resolving conflict.

On Disrespect

5. Get out. We’ve all heard of a roommate stories from hell, or perhaps we lived it. We’ve also probably been warned by our peers that moving in with a friend is a bad idea. So what do you do when you feel ignored in your personal space? What do you do when no amount of discussions and remainders seem to resolve the problem? What do you do when your roommate flat out disrespects you?

Move out. Understandably, it’s not the most ideal answer, but if you can get out of the lease, DO IT. If you reach a point where you feel disrespected, anxious, unsafe, and uncomfortable in the space you pay for, the best thing you can do is to get out. Your mental health is important and you deserve to live in space you can feel at home in. It’s not a matter of who is right and wrong, but an issue with incompatible living space. There’s nothing wrong about walking away from a relationship/roommate that no longer benefits you!

What is your best roommate advice? Do you have a roommate horror story from hell?  Share yours by tweeting @iamjessicahuynh and @RUStudentLife.

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Jessica Huynh
Jessica Huynh is in her final year of Creative Industries, specializing in Storytelling in Media and Curatorial Practices. / iamjessicahuynh.com