The Five Rules For Roommate Harmony

It’s easy to assume your new roommate situation will work out, and it usually does – for a time. Everyone is on their best behavior, enjoying the new space, and getting to know each other. After a few family dinners and late night heart-to-hearts, conflict seems a million miles away. 

Then, the drama starts. Whether it’s one too many dirty dishes or a few too many bills left unpaid, things can unravel quickly. Eventually, you’re left wondering how you ever enjoyed the company of these people you can barely stand the sight of.

It may sound uptight, but creating and sticking to rules is the key to roommate harmony. Structure creates stability, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and no one is taken advantage of. Here are five rules to cultivate harmony with your current – or future – set of roommates.

To decide the following rules, we asked ourselves, current students, and other experts about what they learned living with others in college – and what they’d do differently.

1) Set up cleaning assignments 

Instead of assuming everyone will pitch in equally to clean, it’s best to set up assignments beforehand. When freelance financial writer Carolyn Marsh was in college, she and her roommates each picked a day of the week to clean the kitchen.

“We had an arrangement for our 7-roommate group house that made the whole thing work – each roommate was responsible for the kitchen cleanup one day per week,” she said. “We all benefited from it and it was super easy to stick to!”

When it was their day, they were responsible for doing the dishes and wiping down the counter. This system made it easy for everyone to know their responsibilities – and easy to assign blame if the kitchen was still dirty. 

Make a list of all regular chores, estimate how long they’ll take, and then divide them up equally. You should also agree on how often each chore has to be done. For example, you may determine that dishes need to be done every day, but that vacuuming only has to be done once a week. 

Try to establish a fair system where everyone cleans for an equal amount of time each day or week. If you’re a neat freak living with messy people, try to compromise on chore frequency, and be patient if people forget their duties at first. If you’re a messy person, set reminders on your phone so you don’t forget your chores.

Keep a chore chart in the kitchen where people can mark off their tasks. This will also serve as another reminder for the extra-forgetful roommate. 

When dividing chores, ask what chores people hate doing and what they don’t mind. For example, if you hate doing dishes but your roommate enjoys it, then they can be responsible for dishes.

2) Decide on rules together

Once you know who you’re living with, you should lay some ground rules before moving in. 

These may include:

  • How late can you have friends over on weekdays?
  • How often can a boyfriend or girlfriend come over?
  • How long can someone use the TV/video game system in the common area? 

Figuring these rules out beforehand can prevent problems, but you should also be prepared to create new rules after you’ve settled in.

“When I was in college, I lived in a house with six other guys, and messes piled up exceedingly fast,” says Matthew Hall, Marketing Director at Funding U. “We instituted a rule that whenever someone left a plate of food out without cleaning it up, it was fair game to put that dirty plate in the perpetrator’s bed. That solved the dish-cleaning problem pretty quick.”

Don’t create a rule unilaterally, and get input from everyone before proposing a new rule. You may also want to create a fine system for people who habitually break the rules.

3) Decide on who pays for what 

Financial compatibility is a huge part of living together. Before you move in, decide how you’ll split all the expenses. Does the person with the larger bedroom pay more? Are you going to share groceries, or is everyone responsible for their own food?

Next, decide who will pay which bills. It may be easier to have one person pay the bills and then collect from everyone else, but this can also lead to resentment if one person is always waiting for other people to pay up. 

“It may be simpler for one person to handle the money, but that also involves a lot of emotional labor that often isn’t recognized,” says Zina Kumok, money coach at Conscious Coins. “If you’re going to have one person pay all the bills, make sure that everyone else pays their share on time. If not, there should be a small fine system that encourages people to pay by the due date.”

A more equitable system is to have each person be responsible for one or more bills, depending on how many roommates you have. One person can pay the rent, another person can pay the utilities, and a third can pay for internet and streaming services. Then, you can all download an app like Splitwise to enter the bills and figure out how much each person owes. 

4) Bring up problems early

Living with anyone will inevitably result in conflict, even if you’ve been best friends for years. When conflict occurs, it’s best to bring things up sooner rather than later. The more you let problems fester, the more resentment you’ll feel.

You should also avoid talking to other people about a problem before addressing it with the roommate, especially mutual friends. Tackling conflict directly is the only way to reach a solution and keep your friendship intact.

Even if you’re not living with your bestie, you should still make an effort to talk to your roommate and be interested in their personal life. It will make your living situation more pleasant and help you resolve problems faster.

“Don’t rule out late-night chats,” says Grace Y, current Funding U student. “Some of my greatest moments of bonding with my roommate occured in the early hours of the morning.” 

5) Be a good roommate yourself 

Living with other people can be frustrating, but you should always strive to be self-aware. Before starting an argument, ask yourself if you’re contributing to the problem. You have to be a good roommate before you can expect other people to be good roommates. 

Before complaining, assess if you’re being realistic about the situation. If you’re stressed about something else, make sure you’re not just taking it out on your housemates. 

You should also try to maintain a friendship with your roommates, even if you don’t know each other well. This is one of the most important things you can do in a roommate situation, whether you’re living with a friend in an apartment or a total stranger in the dorm.

“It starts with being interested in their life,” says Anna Tarkenton, a rising sophomore at Texas Christian University. “You might come from different places and be very different people, but you’re going to be living in close quarters for the whole year. Find out what you have in common, maybe a show you both watch or a restaurant you both love, and create a bond by sharing that activity throughout the year.”

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