relationships, roommates

What to discuss before moving in with a roommate

Today I tallied it up and realized I’ve had ~14 roommates throughout my adult life. Some have been great, some have been weird, and others have been straight-up nightmares. After getting out of a particularly difficult roommate situation recently, I’ve been reflecting on how the roommate issues I’ve faced could’ve been dealt with better. I think the best way to handle roommate issues is to try and prevent major problems in the first place, by making sure both (or all) roommates are on the same page.

Without further ado, here’s my take on what to discuss before moving in with a roommate:

Money. Is rent being split equally, or does the person with the larger bedroom have to pay more? Are all names going on the lease? Are all people paying into the deposit equally? Who will put which utilities in their name? Will that person pay the utility up front and be reimbursed, or will each person write a separate check out to the utility company? Does everyone want cable? Internet? A landline? Will these be split equally?

Household items. Will people take turns buying dish soap, sponges, toilet paper, etcetera, or will the costs be split each time? What items are considered necessities and will be shared costs by everyone, and what are not? Who is bringing which pieces of furniture? If new furniture or decorations are needed, are the costs being shared? If so, who will keep the items when it’s time to move out?

Space. How are common spaces being divided up, and what will they be used for? If there is limited car or bike parking, how will it be shared? If there is limited closet/storage space, how will it be shared? How much stuff does each person own and need to store? Whose photos and art will be hung in the living room and common areas? Can the kitchen cabinets fit everyone’s dishes and kitchen items? If not, who will put theirs in storage?

Cleanliness. How clean and tidy should it be? What items can be kept in common areas, and what needs to be in storage or in bedrooms? Can people wear shoes inside, or do they need to remove them at the door? How often will dishes be washed? Does everyone wash their own dishes, or is it more of a communal effort? How often will the floor be swept/mopped/vacuumed? How often will the bathroom be cleaned? Will there be a cleaning schedule? If someone is unhappy with the cleanliness level later on, how should they address it?

Food. Will roommates share groceries or plan meals together? If so, which groceries? Which meals? If not, can one person ever eat another’s food? If so, must they ask first? Must they replace it later? Should roommates label their food to help keep things straight, or is that viewed as rude? Should people throw away food that is rotten if it isn’t theirs, or ask first? Will people have designated shelves in the cabinet/pantry, or will everything be intermixed?

Quiet time. What time does each person go to sleep and wake up? Will anyone be studying at home or working from home? Will there be “quiet hours” during which no one will watch TV or have guests over, or is anything allowed at any time? Is any bedroom better protected from noise than others? If so, who gets the quieter room?

Guests. Who is allowed to come over? How often? Must they leave by a certain time? How many guests can a roommate bring home without first asking permission–one, two, five? Will you throw parties? If so, how often? What kind of parties? May friends and/or family guests stay the night? If so, how many nights, and where will they sleep? May significant others spend the night? How many nights per week? May they take showers there? May they have a set of keys, or be there when no one else is home?

Bathroom. What time does each person shower? Will any toiletry items be shared? What about hand soap? Will towels be shared? If so, who will wash them and how often?

Mail. Who will get the mail? Where should mail for someone else be put? Can one person sign for another’s packages if they aren’t home? Is there ever a case where one person can open another’s mail, if it’s a shared utility bill, for instance?

Privacy. May one roommate go into another’s room to put something in there when they aren’t home? Does a closed bedroom door mean “knock first,” or “do not disturb?” If a roommate forgets their clothes in the washer or dryer, may the other remove them?

Partying. How much drinking is too much drinking? Is alcohol going to be shared? Does anyone smoke cigarettes? If so, where is that allowed and not allowed? Does anyone who lives there smoke weed? Is that allowed inside even if smoking cigarettes is not? What about during parties or when visitors are over? Are other drugs allowed during parties or at any other times? If so, how often and in which rooms?

Personality. How introverted/extroverted is each person? How much alone time does each person need? Are roommates expected to be friends with each other,–chatting at night, going out together on weekends–or is this more of a business-type roommate relationship?

Pet peeves. What little thing really, really irritates each person? What quirks does each person have that the others should know about in order to avoid getting under their skin?

These things might seem overly obvious, but most of my roommate issues have stemmed from different ideas on what is normal or expected in a roommate situation. It’s easy to assume that there’s such a thing as “common sense” when it comes to living arrangements, but there isn’t. Everyone has had different experiences and comes in with different expectations.

I had one roommate who grew up with sisters say, “You can come in my room any time to borrow clothes, but please don’t wash them because I’m particular about how I do laundry.” I was glad she mentioned it because I did not grow up with sisters, and I am not okay with someone borrowing my clothes or, even worse, entering my room and rooting around in my closet when I’m not home. What would’ve been totally normal to her would’ve felt like a serious privacy violation to me.

Roommate issues are going to crop up no matter what. There’s no fool-proof way to avoid them. Still, discussing things in advance can help prevent the more major issues. Plus, it sets the stage for a roommate relationship based on open communication, which makes addressing and resolving issues easier later on.

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