Maybe you’re about to get your dream apartment with your college besties or maybe you’re crossing your fingers and setting up house with people you’ve just met. Either way, new living situations call for some late-night Target runs (yay!), and a few uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations (boo).
I’ve lived in multiple dorms, apartments, houses, and one trailer park, and over the years, I’ve learned a few things about how to start off on the right foot with new roommates. There are some pitfalls you’ll want to avoid and a few things you can do proactively to make home a happy and peaceful space for all of you. So text your future roommates, schedule a time to meet at your favorite coffee shop, and talk through this list together.
If you’re renting a house or apartment, whose name goes on the lease? If utilities aren’t included, who is going to call and establish them with utility companies? If none of you have ever had utilities in your name before and/or you don’t have established credit, some companies will require a deposit. Who pays for that? Will one person manage all the utilities or will each roommate be responsible for something? This is boring stuff, and talking about money is never fun, but save yourself months of passive aggressive behavior and one all out cry-fest by discussing these things up front.
Some roommates have crazy work or school schedules and others have very active social lives. The sleep needs of both may not overlap. Talk in advance about your schedules, when you need to sleep, how you’ll handle it when friends come over and what’s a good time for friends to go home on weeknights (or at least, to quiet down). You may all have the same ideas about what constitutes loudness or lateness and when both are appropriate, but it doesn’t hurt to talk about it beforehand. Living with people means adjusting your behavior out of consideration for their needs, and if a roommate has an early morning at work or a test tomorrow, move the late night hangout to IHOP and tip your waitress generously.
It never fails that one person in every housing situation will consider herself the neat freak and within three months of living together, that person will have a nervous breakdown because she feels totally taken advantage of. For a little while, she will find an outlet for her rage by scrubbing counter tops and toilets, but eventually, it will boil over into a Scrubbing Bubbles-fueled fit of madness. Avoid this scenario by setting up a cleaning schedule with each roommate taking a turn. Even better, as a group, come up with a list of cleaning tasks for each room so that you can establish up front exactly what a “clean” house is. You’ll want to do this both to curb the enthusiasm of the roommate who scrubs tile grout with a toothbrush and to light a fire under the roommate who eats off paper plates to avoid doing dishes. Middle ground is a nice place to live, people. Bonus read: Super Easy Housecleaning Tips.
Are you all buying your food individually or are you sharing a household food budget? Is all the food in the fridge available to everyone? Or do you have a system, like writing your name on items you’d rather not share? Or maybe, you’re totally willing to share but you want to be asked first. Talk about this stuff at the get-go. Some people are on a strict budget and may not want to feed your friends every time they come over. Others have food sensitivities that require them to buy specialty food they may not want to share with everyone. Talking about how food sharing works in your new household now is way better than having the conversation later when you’re hangry and bitter and there’s no food in the house.
Middle ground is a nice place to live, people.
Things can get a little nasty here. I guarantee that before your lease is up, at least one of you will fall in love with some dreamy fella from work or English Lit class. While this girl floats from cloud to cloud in a fog of romantic bliss, her roommates might start to feel a teensy bit annoyed that this guy who isn’t paying rent hangs around the apartment day and night, hogging the TV and totally messing up the 24/7 girl-party vibe you had going on. If you’re the roommate who falls in love, keep this in mind: while you’re over-the-moon excited to be dating Mr. Wonderful, your roommates are not required to feel the same way. They didn’t invite him into their lives, and they shouldn’t have to hang around him all the time just because he follows you everywhere. By all means, date Dreamy McHotpants and have the time of your life, but actually go on a date with him. Which requires leaving the apartment. (Side note: if all this guy wants to do is hang at your place and he never actually takes you anywhere, is he really all that dreamy??? Read: How to Know If Your Boyfriend is a Charity Case)
If you cover these five topics with your new roommates, life will be much more peaceful in the home you share. I’ll close with two general tips for domestic tranquility once you’ve all moved in together.
• Roommate Nights: sharing a house with someone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sharing life. Plan a time when all of you will be home to make dinner or watch a movie together. Hang out, relax, catch up on all the details of your lives. If you’re spontaneous gals, when the first snow falls this winter, throw on all your scarves and hats and go walking in a winter wonderland. Be sure to bring a thermos of hot cocoa with you. More ideas here!
• No-Clique Policy: if there are three or more of you living in the same place, it will be tempting to form alliances. You’ll probably be closer to some roommates than others, but that doesn’t mean you have to play favorites or be exclusive. If one roommate is quiet and needs more alone time, that’s cool. Knock on her door and let her know you’re about to put on Gilmore Girls and that she’s welcome to join you. If you’re not getting along with one of the girls in your house, resist the temptation to vent to another roommate. Talk to the girl herself and get things out in the open ASAP.
Now, head to Target. You’ve got a place to decorate.