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Things I Wish I Knew During Roommate Conflict

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

While the year has just started, something else may be starting as well — roommate conflict. Big or small, from what I’ve learned, it happens to almost everyone. It can be annoying, frustrating, and saddening throughout the year and cause a real hindrance to your college experience. 

I spent a year living with someone who I had a constant conflict with. I learned how to handle it, and I learned how not to handle it. I also learned in hindsight some things I should have done in order to make my experience a little better. Of course, there are options to change roommates or rooms in the middle of the year, but it’s a lengthy process and might not be feasible. Here are some things I wish I’d known when dealing with a troublesome roommate. 

Know the difference between being polite and being passive

I’m a clean person, but I’m pretty uptight too. So for a while, I thought I was giving my roommate grace by letting her be her messy self with her chaotic sleep schedule. At the beginning of the year, I made a few decisions that I regretted a few months later. I lied that I didn’t mind the TV on while I slept, even though it kept me up for hours, because I thought it was polite. I did all the cleaning because she was busy, and I thought it was polite. I was basically only in the room to sleep in order to respect her space while she studied or slept, to be polite. But then, I realized something: that I was making my life exponentially worse – losing sleep, losing space in my half of the room to her ever-growing pile of stuff — and she hadn’t changed a thing. I was letting someone walk all over me because I thought I was being polite. I was afraid to ask for simple things, and I was doing all my sacrifices in this shared living space. These are just my examples, but they show that my issue was that I was mistaking being polite for being passive. Learn what it’s like to share a living space and ask for what you need. 

Their words mean something

My roommate told me a couple of things about herself in our first weeks of knowing each other. One, her personality was blunt and snarky, and two, she’d never shared a room before and was self-admittedly bad at it. One problem was that the blunt personality turned into borderline bullying, and more importantly, she was bad at sharing space. But words are not the same as actions; acknowledging that you’re a bad roommate is one thing, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a free pass for continuing to be a bad roommate. So, words are important.

Your words mean something, too

The conflict goes both ways. My words–the slew of “it’s fine,” “no, you’re good,” and “whatever you want,”– was enabling the passivity that was making my living conditions worse. I learned that it’s important to express what you want. If I used my words and asked her to clean her stuff spreading to my space, she would begrudgingly do something adjacent to cleaning. It makes me wonder how much better it could have been if I’d used my words more often. On the other hand, my words had the capacity to hurt her as much as hers did me. Once, I was venting on the phone and didn’t know she could hear me. I said things about her over the phone I would never say to her face, and I hurt her feelings. It’s not good for either of you to harbor resentment against your less-than-ideal roommate, no matter how much they annoy you. The mature thing to do is not to complain behind their back. Though it may not be a quick, full fix, knowing the power of your words has a huge impact on roommate relations. 

Respecting your space, respecting yourself

Part of the reason I was so passive in the beginning was that I knew that my life was less hectic and stressful than hers. I’m a journalist, so I spend most of my time sitting at my computer, writing and researching and not much else. I have a job and clubs too, but she’s in STEM and spends hours upon hours working out math and science stuff I’d never understand, along with some time-consuming extracurriculars. I knew that I had more time to dedicate to cleaning, so her explosion of clutter and clothes and unwashed dishes in our space was due to me having the privilege to clean it up. However, this rationale faded after a while because I realized something. She would tell me that my classes were easier than hers and that my career of what? Just writing all day? Was less important than hers and didn’t require me to be as smart as her. Just as I don’t understand her career path, she doesn’t understand mine. My classes are hard, too. I’ve got a hectic life, too. It just looked a little different from hers. Respecting both your shared space and your different lives is important to a roommate relationship. I realized a big part of our year-long conflict was that she didn’t respect me. Be it my personal space or my personal preference to keep a clean space, or that my career and classes are important like hers. Asking for respect is hard, but realizing I needed it became important to my role in this ongoing conflict. 

There are always resources available!

One of the greatest resources available in your hall’s Resident Assistant. That’s what they’re there for! I talked to my RA a few times with questions about the best ways to deal with a troublesome roommate. However, both of you have to be willing to talk. We had a joint meeting with our RA but she wasn’t into it, so nothing really changed. My RA helped me with different topics I could bring up, but she also helped me think of ways I could do better. Because as hard as it is to admit, conflict isn’t a one-way street, and I wasn’t perfect, either. In addition to this method, I found my friends were helpful, too! Some had the same roommate problems and gave me advice on different ways to solve my own, and what did and didn’t work for them. A lot of people have trouble with their roommates, it’s normal. And everyone has different ways of dealing with it, and one may work for you.

Ultimately, this article is about things I wish I’d known because I never fully solved my roommate’s conflict. It’s what helped me fix it a little after months of suffering and what I found out after a lot of self-reflection. I moved out at the end of the year, at my wits’ end, and am glad to be starting over again next semester. Roommate conflict really puts a huge stressor on your school year, and in hindsight, it would have been better if I hadn’t let it fester the entire year and just learned something about myself and conflict resolution before it spun out of control. Everyone’s experiences are different, but there’s a chance that what helped me could help you and your troublesome roommate as well.

Madison Reinhold is Marketing Director, Events Assistant and Staff Writer for Her Campus at MSU. She leads the Design Team which produces content for social media as well as merch and recruitment, in addition to planning team events and contributing articles to Her Campus. Madison is a senior studying journalism with a concentration in writing, reporting, and editing, with minors in women's and gender studies and history. She also interns for MSU's Center for Gender in Global Context, creating social media content, contributing to their newsletter, and editing their department magazine. She previously interned for local non-profit The Women's Center of Greater Lansing. Additionally, she works for MSU's College of Social Science Office of Student Success, providing supplemental instruction to students. In her precious free time, Madison is attempting to write her first novel, playing fetch with her dog, Hazel, or finding a new niche history book to obsess over.