Living with a roommate can be an exciting experience, but it’s not always easy.
When people share a living space, things don’t always go smoothly, and you may not always see eye to eye with your roommate, so misunderstandings and disagreements are bound to happen at some point. No matter if your roommate is a friend or someone randomly assigned to you, many things can create tension and lead to conflict.
It’s safe to say that having effective communication (talking and listening), making compromises to find solutions, and showing respect for one another is crucial for a good roommate relationship. Also, learning what steps you can take to address and resolve most issues or prevent conflicts before they even happen can make your living environment more comfortable for yourself and your roommate. To help you, we’ve rounded up some of the most common roommate problems you may encounter and ways to deal with them.
Different cleaning habits
Everyone has different ideas of cleanliness and different cleaning methods, so it’s not unusual that you and your roommate may disagree about the condition of your shared room or apartment. What might seem like a mess to you might not be a big deal for your roommate. As a result, you may feel that your roommate isn’t doing enough about keeping the place clean and may get irritated when they let the dishes pile up in the kitchen sink, leave things lying around or forget to take out the trash. Almost equally challenging can be the situation in which your roommate is preoccupied with cleaning. Even if you’re a tidy person, you may get annoyed by their obsession with keeping the place spotless at all times.
To prevent conflicts over cleanliness, set up some ground rules and a cleaning schedule that works for both you and your roommate(s):
- Create a reasonable chore chart and hang it on the fridge or in the common area. Assign tasks like taking out the trash, washing the dishes, vacuuming, or straightening up the place.
- Rotate chores to find out what works.
- Try to keep the mess to a minimum. Agree that common areas need to be clean, but personal spaces like bedrooms are up to the roommate.
- Establish what you can tolerate and what you cannot. For example, books lying around might be okay, but not food or dirty laundry.
- Give yourself and your roommate a chance to adjust.
Borrowing things without asking
Just because you’re sharing the space you live in doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re sharing all of your stuff and that it’s okay for your roommate or for you to borrow things without asking first. This goes for food too. Sure, some things make sense to share, like a microwave or mini fridge, especially when you’re living in a tiny dorm room. But, unless you have a “what’s mine is yours” type of relationship, and you both are totally fine with it, other things can easily create a conflict. Particularly when it’s not a one-time thing but something that repeats.
To prevent a potential conflict, talk to your roommate about borrowing things and let them know what you’re comfortable sharing and what is off-limits. Or that you don’t want to share stuff at all.
If you already talked about this, but your roommate disregards your agreement and starts using your stuff without your permission, here are some things you can do to protect your belongings:
- Install key or electronic locks on your bedroom, closet doors, or cabinets.
- Use a safe box or lockbox.
- Install sensors on doors, drawers, or closets so you can get notifications if someone tries to snag your things.
- If you live in an apartment, store your personal things, snacks, or shower items in your room.
Having guests all the time
A roommate who brings in their friends or significant other to hang out at all hours (of the day and night) can be a problem for a roommate who is trying to focus on studying (and sleeping). Of course, it’s okay to have guests over now and then, but it’s not okay to let friends in so often that they become “unofficial roommates.” This type of situation can be frustrating, especially when sharing a small space like a dorm room.
When it comes to guests, make a plan for handling visitors:
- Go over your schedules and decide when it’s acceptable to have guests and when it is not. For example, you can decide that it’s okay to have guests two or three times a week or over the weekend, but not when it’s an exam session.
- The roommate planning on having guests over should always notify the other roommate(s) whether their guests are staying for an hour or two or spending the night.
- Put a folding screen or two between the beds when sharing a room.
- Use headphones if you need to focus on something while a roommate is having guests.
- Stay with a friend or go to common campus areas when you feel you need a break.
Different sleeping schedules
Different sleeping schedules are often the reason behind many disagreements between roommates, mostly because of the unwanted noise. Some people want to start their day early. Some people prefer to burn the midnight oil. There is nothing wrong with being an early bird or a night owl until they find themselves together in the same tiny dorm room. And while it can be hard to live with someone with entirely different sleeping habits, it is doable and doesn’t have to be a source of conflict.
You and your roommate should be able to have as much sleep as you need, so here are some things you can do so your sleeping schedules do not become a problem:
- Be honest about your sleeping habits and respect each other’s sleeping schedules.
- Decide on quiet hours and set up a time when the lights have to be out. This means using headphones for listening to music, watching a movie, or using a personal light instead of the overhead lights for reading or studying while a roommate is sleeping.
- Use earplugs or a white noise machine/fan if you’re a light sleeper.
- Rearrange the room to block out noise or light.
- Soundproof your room, or use a soundproof curtain around your bed.
Money is one of the most common causes of arguments between people, and roommates are no exception. When living with a roommate(s) in a rented apartment or house, you don’t only share the space you live in, but you also share the costs of living in that shared space too. And living with a roommate who always needs to be reminded to pay their share of the rent or utilities or who never contributes to the costs of things you share can be extremely unpleasant.
To have a positive relationship and avoid disagreements over money, discuss finances with your roommate(s) and set up some ground rules:
- Establish a method for paying the rent and utility bills. You can divide the bills evenly or based on your income/use.
- Put everything you agree on in writing or a shared spreadsheet, including shared expense expectations and rent collection, before it's due.
- Set up calendar auto-reminders to your email.
- Use bill-splitting apps.
- Hold regular meetings.
- Shop for shared items together and split the costs. If you want to buy something and expect to split the costs, always discuss the purchase before making it.
- Buy big ticket items separately, so there are no arguments about who gets the TV or the couch when move-out happens.
- Try not to sweat the small stuff like who takes longer showers.
- Accept what you can't change, and if you need to adjust your living situation when the lease or school year is up.
Don’t forget that in extreme cases, if the problem gets way out of hand and the situation becomes unbearable, you can move out or find another roommate. If you live in a dorm, you can also try talking to your Resident Advisor (RA), who can help you deal with the situation.
Even if you and your roommate have the same cleaning habits, are considerate about each other’s belongings, and respect each other’s sleeping schedules, problems can still arise and damage your roommate relationship. And rent or bills are not the only things that can cause tension about money.
What if you or your roommate clog the toilet or forget to turn off the bathroom faucet, flooding your dorm room or rented apartment? Or if one of you leaves dinner or candles unattended, causing a fire in your room or apartment? Incidents like these could cost you thousands of dollars in damages and can leave you or your roommate in a bad financial spot and cause serious arguments about money between you two.
If you want to protect yourself from costly damages and avoid potential arguments with your roommate when disasters happen, consider getting renters insurance. Renters insurance can be an easy way to help you have peace of mind when renting an apartment or dorm room. Don’t wait until it’s too late – get protected with NSSI renters insurance today!