Imagine… It’s your first year of University, you’re excited to meet your roommates, and you go into your dorm room with a sense of pride and anticipation. Dropping off your boxes and starting to set up your room, you wonder what kind of person your roommate will be.
Once you’ve finished setting up your room, you hear a knock at the door; there is someone else entering the room. “Hi, I’m ___. Nice to meet you”- they say, with a big friendly smile. You sigh with relief at the fact that your roommate isn’t rude and that they have proper manners. Your anxiety starts to disappear, and excitement returns as you continue small talk with this new person whom you have now allowed to share a living space with.
After this initial interaction, the relationship between you and your roommate can go one of two ways. The first is the way that all of us hope it goes – you end up becoming good friends and live together for the next 4 years. The second, (and unfortunately the more common route) is for small things to cause disputes and disagreements on ways of living, ruining your chances of living with them again.
Thankfully, my experience with roommates went the first way! I now live in a shared house with the same roommates I met in my first year. Having said that, here are some stories and quotes from my friends and family about the second experience, and some solutions that got them through the year.
One of the most common stories I hear about is stories of cleanliness and accountability. “Cleanliness” and how someone defines that varies from person to person. My brother’s roommate had a cup of Oreo milk out so long that it eventually solidified. Another one of my friends had a roommate who would blow dry her hair in the sink every day and not bother to clean up the strands of hair that were left. I personally would find both of these situations unbearable, but some people may not.
Another common story that I hear about is stories of noise volume. Noise, in general, can cause distress and can affect the shared space you have with your roommate. It’s important to remember that even though you may live in a shared space, you still deserve to have your personal space. If you live in a shared dorm and not a single dorm, there is a high chance that multiple people will come in and out of the dorm at all times. The high amount of socializing may be appealing to some people but can make others feel uncomfortable. My brother said he “had to realize that privacy doesn’t exist that much in a dorm” and he also had “no choice but to get used to it.” My friend also had similar experiences where people were being brought into the dorm without notice and created an uncomfortable atmosphere, so much so that she had to leave the dorm altogether.
So, suppose you are placed in this situation. Although there is a lot of emphasis put on struggles in university because of academics, your year in university and how you view that experience can suddenly switch and become negative because of roommate issues. Here are a couple of things that my brother and friend have done that helped them navigate and create a better living situation.
The first thing you should do is to acknowledge that this environment is different and that sharing a space with new people is difficult. This is also a time when you get to explore and understand your personal boundaries. Different people have different standards and understandings of what they would consider to be an invasion of privacy.
So, it’s important to understand where some actions cross that line for you and communicate it freely with your roommates. Some things that have worked for my house were to have meetings when anything was bothering us and to create a chore chart so that we keep the house relatively clean. It’s also important to note that having a more assertive tone can help you out in these conversations, as you want to emphasize the fact that you share a living space with them. You can also make slight changes to your lifestyle by leaving the dorm to go to the library, or in the case of a shared dorm, make restrictions on how many people can enter the room, and what times are appropriate to have guests visit.
At the end of the day, sharing a room/house with a group of people is different from living in your own house. There are certain values and expectations from your roommates that you should be upholding, and vice versa. Sometimes, understanding that there are certain compromises that need to be made can save misunderstandings and unpleasant conversations, and can help make sure you have a great school year ahead!