33 Ways to Avoid Roommate Hell
BY CHRISTIE BRYDON
It all starts with sharing bunk beds as siblings. Before you know it, you’re squeezing three twin XL beds into a tiny dorm room with strangers, and after that, you’re scouring Craigslist to find the least axe-murdery roommate. All possibly followed by sharing a house with a significant other, kids, and pets.
Sure, it’s nice to have company, and share chores with someone else (not to mention the rent), but we’ll admit that the strains of sharing your living space, personality clashes, and varying hygiene habits can make you wish you were living on a deserted island – all by your lonesome.
Roommates (the good, the bad, the ugly) are a common reality. However, common doesn’t mean harmless—so we made a survival guide. Browse the common pitfalls and take advice from some city-savvy, seasoned veterans of the shared abode realm. We gathered stories, tips, and warnings from Zipsters to guide you through the complex world of co-living spaces.
ROOMMATES: CHOOSE WISELY
So you’ve got an empty room. (Or you’re trying to move into one.) Across the board, many agreed: “You should never room with your best friend.” As much as it might make sense to live with someone you know you like, the sheer number of hours you spend together may backfire. Sure, it’s great that your shared love of House of Cards means you never have to fight over Netflix selections, but it gets awkward quickly when you have to transition from “can I borrow that jacket?” to “where’s the rent…seriously?”
If you don’t go the established friend route, there are endless people out there looking for someone to split the rent. How can you find a trustworthy stranger? One Zipster recommended, “Check their LinkedIn profile. Do they really do what they say they do?”
Regardless of your relationship, it’s always a smart idea to see what you’re getting yourself into. What happened to the last guy? Expert advice: “I asked why they were looking for a roommate—why was that person moving? (Did these guys run the last one out of there?)” If the former roommate left for just causes – like she just got a new job or moved in with a significant other – then you’re probably in the clear.
“When I was looking for roommates, I looked for relaxed people…and schedules were a big thing. Since we all work different schedules, I knew it’d be easier to get shower time in the morning!”
“If you have or live with kids, get a dog to gobble up all the crumbs!”
“I looked for people who were friendly and respectful, but had their own interests and social groups.”
“My roommate was my best friend in high school, but what a lot of people find when you live together and go through that big life change…we ended the year fine, but not great.”
“Roommate red flags: You have no common interests at all. They have opposing values from you. They don’t take care of their stuff (they won’t take care of the apartment either—goodbye security deposit).”
“One time, my friend lived in a two-room convertible apartment with two girls who were not very nice. Both the bathrooms were inside their bedrooms and they would lock their doors at night, so if my friend had to use the bathroom at night, she had to walk down the street to Starbucks!”
COMMON AREAS: PERSONAL SPACE INVADER
You want to feel comfortable in your home, but maybe not so much that bedrooms and living rooms are indistinguishable. Respect for common spaces is a big point of contention for a lot of households.
The best rule of thumb? Lead by example. If you’re okay with personal belongings in shared areas, feel free to kick off your shoes (and don’t complain when others do the same). If you want to come home to a tidy spot, keep your things in line and remember to take your laptop back to your room when you’re done. People are less likely to enter a clean space and leave it a mess.
If that doesn’t work, speak up. Or just keep picking his stuff up and leaving it outside his bedroom door. He’ll get the picture.
“In my dorm room, we split it literally down the middle. It was a symmetrical room, so we each had our side.”
“Our apartment is technically a four-bedroom, but there are only three of us. We decided to pay a little more in rent to keep that fourth bedroom open, to make more room for our dogs and to have a guest bedroom. And four girls with one bathroom would’ve been a struggle.”
“With two people and only one bathroom between us, my roommate and I had to decide early on how we would work out urgent bathroom needs, when it was occupied for non-toilet purposes. We settled on getting an opaque shower curtain.”
“Once two girls who roomed together on my floor in college got into a big fight. They put up a tarp in the middle of the room so they wouldn’t have to look at each other.”
“Do Not: Get an antique, wooden, rusty barn door delivered to the apartment that is so heavy you cannot lift it. Leave it in the living room leaning against the wall for 9 months. Every time your roommates ask when it will be moved say you’ve been really busy lately, but you’ll get to it within the next week.”
CHORES: THE BATHROOM IS REACHING HAZMAT STATUS
Probably the biggest source of conflict in any home is cleaning. (Ugh.) Unless you’re blessed with a mop-happy roommate that keeps it sparkling with no expectations of help, you might have delved into the world of chore wheels or passive-aggressive notes written from the perspective of a sink full of dirty dishes.
The key is to appreciate what is happening and openly communicate about what is not. One (very wise) Zipster shared, “Everyone always thinks that they clean more than their roommate. It’s not true. Even if you are the only one that takes out the trash, you might not notice that your roommate is the only one that sweeps the floor.”
When the laissez-faire approach turns into the…never-gets-done approach, try splitting up cleaning duties on a hard and fast line. You take the kitchen, someone takes the bathroom, and another covers the living room. Or every other Sunday, you all clear your calendars and spend the morning sweeping and scrubbing together.
“We have two bathrooms, so my roommate and I split them up—I keep the downstairs one clean and she tackles the upstairs one.”
“My boyfriend used to work on Saturdays, so I’d always take that time to clean the apartment when it was empty. Now, we’ll team up: he’ll do laundry, I’ll fold. I’ll cook, he’ll wash dishes. I do all the grocery shopping.”
“We all have pets, so we have a co-parenting method. One of my roommates has to work really early, so I do the morning shift of taking the dogs out, and she’s home earlier at night, so she has the night duty.”
“Make sure you establish upfront what cleaning products are okay. I had a roommate who was a neat freak, which was great…until I was constantly bombarded with the icky chemical smell of different spray bottle cleaners and insect repellent, which made me gag and nearly killed my cats.”
“Some roommates do a Chore Wheel—but I found that no one ever stuck with it. In my best roommate situation, we would all pick the task that was least annoying to us. I didn’t mind cleaning the bathroom, one roomie was in charge of vacuuming and trash, and another was on kitchen duty.”
“It’s a waste of energy to call out every little thing. Pick your battles.”
“Don’t make a chore chart, never do your part, and then complain that the place is a mess!”
FINANCES: I.O.U.’S DON’T PAY THE RENT
Money is tricky. No one wants to pay more than their share and it’s complicated when a roommate insists on getting the more expensive dish soap
When you’re splitting utilities or other bills, many recommended apps like Splitwise and Venmo. While Venmo is great for easy, one-time payments, Splitwise will manage a running tab of all kinds of expenses—from rent to that one time you bought a vacuum cleaner on Craigslist—and tell you who owes what at the end of the day.
For a more manual system, try stashing your receipts in a pile and settling out weekly. Or adopt this Zipster’s system: “We all put $10 in a jar every month and whoever goes out to buy paper towels, etc. takes it from there.”
“We put all the bills under one person’s name and she splits it evenly on Venmo. It takes some trust, but it works fine for us.”
“I shared a room with my boyfriend in an apartment with three other people. I didn’t split the rent five ways, but I did split utilities evenly.”
“I pay for gas and electric and my roommate pays for internet. If one of us ends up paying more than the other any month, the other will buy paper towels, cleaning supplies, or whatever general things we need for the apartment.”
“Even when you’re married, finances get tricky. My husband and I have separate checking accounts and a joint one for household stuff. We also do our own laundry, because he doesn’t understand the concept of laying flat to dry.”
“Don’t cover rent or other expenses for roommates unless you’re okay with never seeing that money again.”
“I know someone who used to share all groceries with their roommate, so they’d just put all their receipts together and at the end of the month, they’d add them all up and split them in half. But what about the times when his roommate was buying expensive things just to split with his girlfriend? Or cooking for other friends? It wasn’t even.”
COMPANY: FRIENDS, FAMILY, AND FREELOADERS
“Mi casa es su casa” has its limits. It’s your home, not a library, so it shouldn’t have to be quiet all the time, but it’s also not exactly comforting to come home to a crowd when you really wanted to get some peace and quiet.
The common theme here is communication. Most people agreed that a quick heads up is courteous, even if you’re just having one friend over to watch a movie. That way, others can rework their plans if they had their sights set on a Hulu marathon. Ask that your roommates do the same—and give a few days’ notice for a bigger gathering. If you’re throwing a party of your own, make sure to invite your roommates (and it’s nice if they can add to the guest list).
What about when it’s more than one night? Visitors that turn into permanent fixtures in the apartment can get tiresome quickly, but how do you break it to your roommate that you don’t love having their girlfriend around as much as they do? This might be a time to set rules. If it bothers you, say that you’d like three nights a week to yourselves. Or if you don’t mind the guest and simply want free reign of the kitchen, work out a compromise.
“We always give each other a heads up before we have people over.”
“We let each other know when we’re having people over, not as permission or anything, but just as an FYI. A quick text is so easy and it’s nice to know if you’ll be coming back to an empty place or a full house.”
“It’s a red flag if they let friends/family/SOs live in the apartment rent-free for extended periods of time.”
KITCHEN: YOUR FOOD KEEPS DISAPPEARING (BUT THE DIRTY DISHES ARE STILL THERE)
There are websites dedicated to angry Post-its written by someone-took-my-lunch victims. While this isn’t the office fridge, roommates often run into fuzzy boundaries of whose is what.
If you bought it, and don’t want to share (totally reasonable), then label it. Or divvy up the shelves so that your stuff is clearly in one place. For shared areas, like the produce drawer or the kitchen door, try assigning a different colored rubber band to each person and wrapping yours around your groceries. (Note: For those with cats or dogs, use different-colored tape or markers. Rubber bands are a potentially fatal choking hazard to our curious and furry friends.)
Generally, our Zipster base agreed that sharing general items, like spices and condiments, can work well and avoid repeats. But beyond that, food preferences and money matters point towards separate menus.
“We had a shared cabinet with the basic condiments, like olive oil, and then people bought their own protein and veggies. Once a week, we would do family dinner where we all cooked together and made one big meal.”
“Our food situation is really casual. We have such different schedules that we don’t overlap for meals very much. Sometimes the fridge is a hot mess, but one person is in charge of cleaning it out. We have our own cabinets, but the fridge is a free-for-all.”
“If you don’t know your roommate(s) well, I think it’s important to spend some time together at home so you don’t feel like you’re living with a stranger. I think people used to do this by watching TV together, but now that many people prefer to watch their shows on their laptops (usually in their rooms), the kitchen is one of the last areas to bring roommates together.”
Eat food that isn’t yours. C’mon, people, let’s be part of the solution.
REALITY CHECK: YOU’RE JUST GONNA MISS THEM SO GOSHDARN MUCH WHEN YOU MOVE OUT. SNIFF.
Through all the ups and downs, there’s no denying that roommates can become some of your closest friends. Living together provides endless opportunities to connect, whether over IKEA furniture-assembling or while working together to handle a noisy neighbor.
One day, when you’re enjoying the sweet, open space of your very own place, you might find that…you miss having someone else around. So appreciate these good times.
“We had a tradition that on December 1, we got our Christmas tree together and played music and drank wine, and we’d take a photo in front of the tree to send to our parents as a Christmas card.”
“Before I even moved into my new apartment, I met up with my soon-to-be roommate to help her haul a couch into the living room. It was an adventure of challenges and success, and turned out to be a pretty great bonding experience together!”
“I started off with one of my roommates as a pleasant, at-a-distance acquaintance, and he ended up becoming as close to me as a brother. I thought I would be happy when he moved out so my boyfriend could move in with me, but I ended up feeling surprisingly lonely the first few weeks without him. Fortunately, we keep in touch.”
“The best time is Sunday mornings. I’d just yell ‘coffee!’ from my bed and one of my roommates would make a pot of coffee. Then we’d sit around in our pajamas and talk about our weekends and bond. Bonding over coffee and pancakes.”