How to Have a Good Roommate Relationship


Over the years I’ve had my fair share of roommates — and not all of them were ideal.

I’ve had roommates who have eaten my food and failed to pick up after themselves, and I’ve had roommates who never paid a dime toward household cleaning products or toilet paper even. It may seem like these are insignificant issues that one can overlook (and maybe you can the first time), but trust me, they breed feelings of resentment after a while, and that ultimately turns the living arrangement sour.

Want to know what it takes to be a good roommate? Consider these tips from someone who has lived and learned. (See also: The Benefits of Having a Roommate)

Establish Expectations From the Beginning

Whether you’re moving into someone’s existing situation or you’re welcoming a new roommate into yours, it’s good practice to set the ground rules and establish expectations from the start. Do you hate dishes in the sink like I do? Then express that to your roommate so they’re conscious of washing their dishes after each use. Let your roommate know your schedule so they know when quiet times should be observed, and decide on how you’ll split expenses on food (if you plan to share it) and other household necessities. When everyone is on the same page at the beginning, it’s easier to get along later on.

Give Your Roommate Space

Not all roommates like each other, so even if you’re living under the same roof, you don’t have to be besties. If your roommate isn’t particularly fond of you, don’t push the boundaries in hopes that they’ll learn to like you; doing so will only make you seem like a psycho. On the other hand, if you have a roommate who is smothering you, let them know that you need a little privacy now and then. Maybe you can do like the boss does and open the bedroom door when you’re available and close it when you want to be alone.

Invite Your Roommate Out With You

I know this point may seem contradictory to the one before it, but inviting your roommate out to dinner in your neighborhood is not the same thing as following them around the house half the day. That said, roommates need time to form a bond and the best way to do that — that I’ve found, at least — is to engage in an activity that you both enjoy. For instance, my former roommates and I used to play trivia at a local bar on Wednesday nights. This gave us ample time to talk (sometimes about things going on around the house) and to learn more about each other, both of which enhanced the roommate dynamic.

Mind Your Manners

This suggestion relates to other guests that you may invite into the house, specifically the overnight kind. When that happens, there are two things you should keep in mind: 1) They’re your guests, and you are responsible for them, and 2) you share this home with someone else who probably doesn’t want to see or hear you doing youknowwhat. I once lived with a guy who was doing youknowwhat right there in the living room with some girl he met at a bar. I found it rude, unsanitary, and completely appalling — and I never sat on that filthy couch again.

Keep Common Areas Clean

Anybody who has ever lived with me — several of my friends and my husband included — knows that I’m a neat freak. Everything has its place in my world, and I can’t live in a house full of chaos. What you do in your own area is your business as far as I’m concerned, but common areas should be kept clean. Nobody wants to wash someone else's dishes, or wipe someone else’s syrup up from the counter, or clean someone else’s whiskers out of the bathroom sink. It’s each roommate’s responsibility to keep common areas tidy so everyone can enjoy them all the same.

Don’t Eat Your Roommate’s Food

If you and your roommates keep separate food, you know how annoying it is when someone else eats yours. I don’t particularly mind it when I have a full bag or box of something – I know how to share – but I get rather angry when I have a craving for something I bought only to find out that it’s gone when I go to grab it. Roommates shouldn’t have to keep food under lock and key. If you generally keep your hands off — buying your own food helps in this context — you’ll be fine. If you have a roommate, however, who doesn’t follow that rule, it might be time for a lesson in cohabitating etiquette.

Contribute Equally to Joint Costs

I’m proactive about keeping common supplies stocked — which led one of my former roommates to take advantage. He never bought a single thing for the house — no dish soap, no propane for the grill, no toilet paper — but he didn’t have a problem using the items he didn’t pay for. I confronted him a couple times about chipping in toward the costs of these items, and he said he would but never handed over any cash. After a while I started hiding my TP in my bedroom, forcing him to buy his own, too. I didn’t want to have to do that because it made me feel petty, but I didn’t want to share supplies with someone who didn’t pitch in. Everyone should pitch in for common items — no if, ands, or buts.

Split Chores Equitably

This is another point of contention that can turn an amicable roommate relationship into a war zone. While each roommate should do their individual part to keep the common areas tidy at all times, they should also be mindful of the distribution of chores. If you notice your roommate emptying the dishwasher, you should do it next time. Same goes for taking out the garbage, cleaning the toilet and tub, mopping the floor, and other chores that nobody wants to do but that have to get done.

While all of these tips can preemptively ward off a potential problem, when an issue among roommates is brewing the best way to handle the situation is to talk about it. Open lines of communication and a genuine sense of accountability are the keys to having a good roommate relationship. Of course, that’s not always possible — some people are real pieces of work — and in those cases, cut your losses and move on.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear some of your roommate horror stories and suggestions on how to have a good roommate relationship. Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture
Thrifty Writer

When my roommate and I first shared an apartment, we didn't have a regular cleaning schedule or chores. When we moved into a new apartment (yes, we get along that well) that was much nicer than the last one, we decided we wanted to keep it nice, and split up the tasks. We even ended up keeping a dry erase board with the dates for each weekend on it that we check off. It might sound a little strict, but it works for us - we've been roommates for 4 years now.

Guest's picture

This is a really great set of tips, and I think the one you listed first is the precursor for how you and your roommate will cohabit ate and get a long. Making sure you set rules for how the space will be maintained, how costs will be shared,and even setting up a cleaning schedule, will allow you to avoid many arguments and will prevent your roommate relationship from suffering. Living with someone else is always hard, but if you flat out voice the way you'd like the apartment or house to be shared, it will be a lot easier.

Guest's picture

When I had roomies (up to five) we did several things to make the set up run smoothly. One person's name was on the lease. Rent was paid directly to our landlord and landlady just down the block (cool older couple) in cash/individual checks. We kept "the jar" for shared expenses. When TP or dish soap was low, one of us would mention it's time to fill the jar and each of us would put in a dollar. Then one of us would pick it up during their next shopping trip, depositing the receipt and any change back into the jar. We rotated tidying up common areas (bathroom, kitchen and living room), by month and each of us was responsible for our own sleeping spaces. As our schedules were so vastly different, we made a point to have a meal together once a month, each of us taking turns cooking. This gave us time to hash out any glitches in the arrangement. We each had separate spaces for food products in the fridge and pantry and did not eat from each other's stash unless invited. We also kept accountable to one another regarding safety. If one of us were to be out after midnight, we'd call in. We tried to resolve personal issues between the two individuals before it became a big thing involving the other roomies. Even though our personalities were vastly different, the arrangement worked in it's many configurations over the years.

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