Roommate survival guide: Part 1

Posted: December 28, 2012 by UI Upward Bound in Uncategorized

So I thought today we could depart from the usual academic topics and instead talk about roommates. It’s near the end of the year, you are probably on Christmas break and don’t necessarily want to think about school right now (although quick plug: FAFSA filing starts January 1st!) Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about roommates.

If you plan on going to college, chances are you will have a roommate at some point. Maybe you will luck out and be matched with that perfect roomie, the Bert to your Ernie, the Lennon to your McCartney (pre-Yoko of course), your new best friend who never makes messes or uses your toothpaste or starts hoarding pizza boxes.


Now, I’m no expert, but the number of people I knew in college who had that “perfect” experience were less than two. One year I got stuck with a girl who insisted upon playing her bassoon at all hours of the night. She claimed that it was a “creative time” for her, which may have been true, but was still highly inconsiderate. A friend had a roommate who consistently ate all of the food in the house, regardless of who purchased said food, and then lied and hid the evidence (once even going so far as to claim that a “burglar must have broken into the house and eaten all of the groceries!”). That’s the funny thing about roommates — most people have a story to tell about a terrible one, but almost no one is able to say “all of my college roommates were awesome and not weird or inconsiderate at all!”

Weirdos and food burglars aside, let’s talk about some ways you can deal with roommates and prepare yourself for that time when you might be sharing living quarters with a stranger. I thought for the next few entries, we might do a survival guide about how to prepare yourself in advance for that weirdo who leaves their floss on the floor or dances to Ke$ha every morning at 5 am.


Today’s topic is: COMMUNICATION

For the love of Pete, TALK to the person you live with. There is nothing more awkward or horrible than sharing a room with someone you never talk to the entire year. Most roommate issues arise from a lack of direct communication. This is totally natural, because most people want to avoid confrontation with their roommates.

Here’s how it usually starts: your roommate is sitting on your armchair, eating a scrumptious burrito,  and some grease drips out and onto the cushion. You notice but say nothing, because hey, that chair was old anyway. Your roommate thinks since you didn’t object, you might be okay with it and doesn’t clean up the grease spot. The next week, the same things happens, and this time they leave the wrapper on your chair. Again, to keep the peace, you don’t say anything and throw the wrapper away yourself. Cut to three months later, your roommate has claimed your armchair as their own personal garbage pile. Your grandma gave you that chair! You are furious. You go on Facebook and write a bitter diatribe against your roommate, listing their flaws and telling an exaggerated version of the “grease stain story.” Your roommate sees this and is dumbfounded — why didn’t you ever say anything? Why did they have to find out this way? Now neither of you will speak to each other, and have a very uncomfortable living situation; far more uncomfortable than it would have been to initially confront them about the stain on your chair.


So how do we avoid this? Laying out ground rules when you first begin living with your roommates goes a long way. While it may seem lame to create a contract with your roommate(s), this one conversation at the beginning of the year can lay the foundation for fewer misunderstandings for the rest of the time you live together. The following is adapted from The Naked Roommate’s First Year Survival Workbook.

The Uncomfortable Clause

If you do something that makes me uncomfortable or irritated, I must tell you within 24 – 48 hours or I will NOT be allowed to tell you. If I do something that makes you uncomfortable or irritated, you must tell me within 24 – 48 hours. If neither roommate expresses him/herself within this timeframe, we are NOT allowed to talk to ANYONE about the problem (this includes “the internet”). We all promise not to fight, but we will listen, respect each others’ opinions, and try to get along.

Some common issues include (but are not limited to):

  • Being too loud
  • Having friends over
  • Sharing food
  • Body odor/hygiene
  • PDAs with boy/girlfriend in room
  • Being messy (cluttered)
  • Being dirty (moldy food, not doing dishes)
  • Getting up too early/staying up too late
  • Wearing your roommate’s clothes
  • Using roommate’s things without asking first
  • Not respecting your roommate’s belongings
  • Your roommates background, political views, values, religion, etc.
  • ??

If you address issues in a timely manner with your roommate, chances are you will be able to resolve it and get on with your lives, rather than let it fester and bother you for months.


If you have any tips for getting along with roommates, or ways you have successfully resolved conflict in the past, please feel free to leave a comment!




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