How to Live with Roommates

What to do to make sure living in close proximity goes well.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #131

How to Live with Roommates

There’s nothing like the intimacy, shared friendship, and joy that comes from living with a good friend. You can hang out, go on trips together, eat greasy Chinese food in Chinatown at midnight, watch the Oscars together, vote on Project Runway, and cheer at the Superbowl. Then one of you will leave a dirty teacup in the sink, and the other will brutally assault you with a potato peeler in one hand and ear wax cleaning tool in the other. Clean vegetables, clean ears, clean dishes, that’s what her mother used to say.

How to Live with Roommates

And therein lies the rub. We’re all different. We have different habits, preferences, and ways of living, despite the best efforts of our Corporate Overlords to turn us into identical, featureless cogs. There’s nothing like living together to prove how incompatible we are, even with our closest friends. And make no mistake: this isn’t limited to apartments.

Ground Rules For Roommates

If you’re going to be sharing space with someone—friend or not—sit down beforehand and discuss the conditions. You may as well start with your pet peeves. A pet peeve is something that drives you nuts, for no good reason. They’re irrational and you can’t control them, so get them out on the table right away. My ex- roommate couldn’t stand to hear someone clipping toenails. So I would clip mine on the roof deck. The unexpected bonus was tossing the clippings onto pedestrians below. I just loved the facial expressions. Make sure you’re each willing to accommodate the other’s pet peeves.

Have Monthly House Meetings

There’s nothing like living together to prove how incompatible we all are.

Sometimes you discover you have other pet peeves that you didn’t know about when you first became roommates. Living together has taught you, however. Plan a short talk every two months to check in on whether everything’s working in the household. The meeting is not a blame meeting. Approach it with an attitude of tuning things up to keep a happy home.

I discovered that I don’t like having my roommate sleepwalk into my room, jump on my chair, and run back to his room going “Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!” I hadn’t thought to mention it when we decided to live together. All it took was a brief “how’s it going” discussion to find a solution. I installed a bedroom door lock, he fixed my broken chair, resumed his medication, and the rest of our time together was blissful.

Common Areas of Roommate Conflict

With the help of my Facebook fans (you can become one, too, at Facebook.com/GetItDoneGuy), I’ve created a list of possible areas of conflict. Sadly, all of these are based on real stories.

Social lives: This is a euphemism. Make sure you and your roommate are in sync with your policy about “friends.” Especially friends whose last names you don’t know. If your roommate and his latest “friend” try to keep it quiet in the upper bunk bed while you’re in the lower bunk, we’re right back to the pet peeve problem. Sensitive topic though it may be, discussing romantic habits up front makes some sense. Ditto for party habits. If you’re planning 60-person parties every month, it’s just good manners to make sure your roommate can deal.

Hopefully, “social lives” only applies to your roommates, and not your office mates. The rest of the areas of conflict apply when you’re sharing a home or when you’re sharing an office.

Boundaries: Some people borrow your books and CDs. Or they answer your phone. Or they wear your underwear (eeewww!). Get clear about which things are shared, and which are private.

Cleanliness: One person’s leftover sandwich wrapper is another person’s mixed media transient art project. And sinks never need to be cleaned, right? If using a sink makes you clean, wouldn’t the sink itself be the cleanest place ever? Some people keep the shower clean by not bathing. “The less I bathe, the more I smell just like me.” If someone’s thinking that, you want to know before you arrange to share physical space for any length of time.

Noise: You know you’re under 30 when you still think you won’t hate the next generation’s music. Trust me, you will. They’ll find a way. They’ll play awful music, too loud, and while you’re trying to read, sleep, or concentrate. Make sure your noise and quiet needs are compatible, and agree when to turn down speakers and put on headphones.

What Issues Should You Talk About with Roommates?

Here’s the whole list of items to discuss with potential roommates:

  • socializing

  • borrowing music, books , clothes, and friends

  • cleaning up garbage, the room itself, and your bodies

  • keeping it as quiet or as noisy as appropriate.

“How’s It Going” Conversations Can Save the Day

Even if you’ve agreed on all these issues and you’ve discussed rules and habits with your co-habitant, he or she may still find ways to drive you nuts. Maybe it’s time for your own space. That means finding your own apartment or office. It’s a lot easier than replacing your roommate with a look-alike robot from The Stepford Wives who does your bidding without question, and it’s more legal, too. If you have no choice but to share space, however, bimonthly “how’s it going?” conversations can be a real lifesaver.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

Roommates image from Shutterstock

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.