Living With Roommates by an Only Child

I am feeling a bit hypocritical as I write this, as I am an only child and going to be living in a single this year, but…as I have been in a roommate/suite mate situation for the previous three years of my college existence, I feel old/wizened enough to give a few tips.

Getting along with roommates is not easy, and can range from the best to the worst experience of your college career, and quite frankly, it is not very possible to control which way on the scale of good-to-bad your experience lands. A lot of it just depends on chemistry between you and your roommate, and how compatible you are by chance. There is not really a guaranteed way to become best friends, but there are certainly many ways to make co-existing in close quarters a tolerable experience.

If you struck gold and have found your soulmate, congratulations!!! But for others, it might be helpful to review possible areas of conflict and compromise. Being aware beforehand of the friction points can help you prevent many conflicts down the road, and remember, despite my attempt to wax wise and seasoned, there really is no single right way to interact with your roommate. Whatever floats both (or all) your boats (with certain exceptions) is the right way for you.


Location location location


Who gets the window bed? Who gets which desk? Whose stuff is leaking over to what part of the room? These are all questions that could cause some conflict, and that’s probably why it is important to be together when you decide.


Before buying very large/invasive items, get your roommate’s opinion and permission. Try to keep things fair: if one person gets to choose the bed, then the other one gets to choose the desk. Try to be as not messy as possible--I was definitely the messiest of my roommates, so don’t really take example from me, but if you are messy, try to clean up once every week to keep the space inhabitable, and not too hard on the eyes.




One of you loves parties and loud music. The other one likes silence. Technically, this was somewhat accounted for in that survey you took before school, but...well...things fall through the cracks.


Ground rules should be set early, and compromise is the magic word. Is there another place for you to study when your roommate is having a party? Is there another place for you to hang out with friends when your roommate has midterms? All of you should try and give ample notice for upcoming parties and important events, especially when they will impact others.  



The night-owl vs. morning lark. I had a roommate who used to get up at 5:30 AM to get ready for the day, and went to bed at 10 PM. I generally stay up until midnight (or later if need be) and sleep until I have to get up. We had problems with light, noise, and a slew of scheduling incompatibilities.


Compare schedules, and be aware of the other party. Try to enter/exit the room as quietly as possible, and use your phone’s flashlight instead of turning on the lights. Wear earplugs instead of asking your roommates’ friends to quiet down at 10 PM. These are small things, but can contribute to greater success in getting along with your roommate.


The Sexile


Sock on the door? No? Nobody uses that anymore? Alright. Here we are, the dreaded sexile. Maybe it will happen to you, maybe it won’t. A potential problem with sharing one bedroom is the prospect of guests and visitors, some of the romantic and/or sexual nature. The experience can be ultra awkward if not communicated well, but luckily, it does not have to be. It should be up to the one with a visitor to give notice regarding guests/visitors a good while in advance (with the specific time up to you), and they should have good trust in the person that they are inviting. No matter what, it is not okay for someone to jeopardize the safety of others in the building, and caution should be exercised.


Open communication is vital! And judgment should always be deferred on both ends. Set ground rules early regarding visitors, and if there is a long-term partner, introduce them to your roommate. The conversation might be awkward at first, but will spare a lot of hard feelings down the line.




Ah, the classic example of social loafing. Roommate 1 waits for Roommate 2 to take out the trash, and vice versa. In this kind of disgusting little round of game theory, the Nash equilibrium falls at a nice bursting bag of liquids, bacteria, mold, and foul smells. Really, nobody is the winner.


Make a calendar! All my previous roommates did this, and included tasks such as vacuuming, cleaning the fridge, getting the toilet paper, and taking out the trash. (You can include whatever tasks you want.) It creates a system of collective responsibility and accountability, and prevents the toilet paper from running out or the trash from getting too gross. And, it’s really, really easy!


Bonding Time


Make an effort to bond with one another! Grab a meal, take a class together, watch movies--people don’t always magically bond, and sometimes there needs to be some work done in order to catalyze the reaction. Make time for each other, and try to find joint interests (I have yet to find another person not at least interest in eating.)


Final Note


It’s not like the movies and TV shows—you do not need to become best friends who lie on the ground and talk about life, and it is absolutely okay not to like your roommate, as long as you respect them. Being successful at sharing close quarters depends very seriously on respect, compromise, and open communication, as do many other things in life. Try to keep an open mind and an open heart as you greet old friends and meet new people. Best of luck this semester!