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May 05, 2019 | By Michael Garrity

Adulting with Roommates: 9 Tips for Successful Cohabitation

Happy Women on Bottom Bunk

The times they are a-changing, and in 2019, that means that each year, more young adults are migrating to cities and postponing traditional milestones like home ownership, either by choice or out of economic necessity (or both). It also means that many adults are living with roommates to help cover the cost of expensive urban rental markets.

An adult loft or bunk bed can help you use your shared space more efficiently, but a successful roommate relationship ultimately comes down to communication and trust. Since graduating from college a decade ago, I’ve experienced many different living situations, most of which included having at least two and sometimes up to five people in a single apartment. And while cohabitation will always have its ups and downs, I’ve found that you can dampen the severity of interpersonal conflict by being mindful of some of these concepts.

Set Expectations

Without having a solid foundation to build upon, you can’t do much to rebuild a relationship that is too far gone, which is why it’s imperative that you begin your living arrangement with a serious conversation about everyone’s needs and expectations. This can include topics like your individual daily schedules, what chores you expect to be done regularly, or how you will share the cost of replacing common household items. All of these things (and more) should be discussed early and agreed upon by every contributing member of the household. This may be easier to do when you’re starting to live with someone you didn’t know previously, but it’s probably even more important when your roommate is a close friend or relative, someone with whom you have pre-established relationship patterns and expectations, as living together is a completely different dynamic than most other relationships.

Do Your Chores

When it comes to keeping a tidy and livable home, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. For some, doing dishes is a meditative art, while others seem to have a deep-seated aversion to sponges and soap. If you have real issues with a specific chore, make that known up front and be willing to compromise. You might end up never having to take out the garbage, but instead find yourself scrubbing the toilet more. Part of setting appropriate expectations means covering when, how, and by whom these types of daily household tasks will be completed, and (the biggest) part of being a good roommate is following through on your commitments and pulling your weight.

Track Expenses (and Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About Money)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t love talking about finances, even when doing so would be in my best interest. However, when you live with someone, it’s a necessary conversation to have to make sure that everyone is contributing their fair share. Make it easier by finding an agreed upon way to track everyone’s contributions to household expenses. There are a number of helpful apps that can do this for you. For a low tech solution, simply use a spreadsheet or good old fashioned notebook to monitor who is spending how much on what each month.

Use Shared Space Wisely

When you’re sharing an intimate living space with someone, it’s inevitable that you’ll eventually get in one another’s way, either literally or through the placement of your belongings. If you plan ahead to use your space efficiently, you can significantly decrease how much you intrude upon one another. Mostly, this means being smart about storage and the way you organize and arrange your belongings in shared areas. For example, keep your most commonly used pots, pans, and dishes in easy accessible spots in the kitchen and save those hard-to-reach shelves for specialty items you don’t use frequently.

Don’t Take Your Roommate’s Things Without Asking

When it’s all said and done, this is probably the most common issue that arises among most roommates. “Borrowing” a nip of toothpaste or helping yourself to a handful of Goldfish® you didn’t buy may seem like an innocuous gesture, but it adds up over time and otherwise speaks to a general neglect for basic boundaries — the same boundaries that make harmonious cohabitation possible in the first place. While some of this can be covered when you’re initially setting expectations for what is and isn’t a shared household item, or which things are OK to help yourself to in a pinch, the simplest option is by far the best here: Just ask your roommate before using something that isn’t yours.

Respect Your Roommate’s Lifestyle

We’re all hustling in our own ways, and when you’re living with someone else, it’s highly unlikely that your schedules are going to overlap 100% perfectly. If one of you is a night owl and the other has to get up early for work every day, you owe it to one another to find a way to make that work without disrupting the other person’s ability to take care of themselves and their responsibilities. Unfortunately for some, that means maybe you should reconsider having large groups of people over at 11pm on a weeknight while your roommate is trying to sleep. This also includes not being judgmental or dismissive of your roommate’s hobbies or they way they do chores (as long as they get done).

Always Lock the Front Door

Just do it.

Have a Natural Relationship

Roommates can come from anywhere — family, close friends, acquaintances, or Craigslist — and because of this, every relationship between roommates is a unique landscape you get to learn to traverse. I’ve found that it’s best for everyone to go in without any expectations for what your relationship will look like. Maybe you’ll get along famously and end up hanging out every night, or maybe you’ll find that you don’t have much in common and little interest in spending time together. In either situation — or any in between — living together comfortably and happily is a matter of accepting the chemistry you have, respecting one another’s boundaries, and not trying to force any type of connection.

Communicate in Person

Nothing sours a cohabitation experience faster that passive aggression — or even just perceived passive aggression. Notes and reminders have their place along the spectrum of roommate communication, but make sure you’re always willing to back up what you write later (i.e., don’t leave a note in a fit of emotion when you’re heated about something). And for the really big issues that need to be addressed, I’d recommend always starting with a gentle, but firm, in-person conversation. Most people are less likely to have an extreme reaction when they’re in direct contact with another person, and presenting an issue face-to-face will show you’re roommate that you’re serious and that you have respect for their input and perspective.

When it’s all said and done, life with a roommate is what you make it, so make it easier by being an active participant who makes an effort to communicate effectively and does their part to maintain the household. I promise you’ll find that even a little bit of extra effort goes a long way toward building a peaceful and enjoyable living arrangement.