Do’s and Don’ts of being a good roommate


If you live alone, feel free to spread your things out. However, any space shared with roommates should be kept clean. Photo by Annie Black
If you live alone, feel free to spread your things out. However, any space shared with roommates should be kept clean.
Photo by Annie Black

At 22 years old, I have had 11 roommates in my four years of living away from my parents. I have lived in a dorm room, a couple of apartments, and two houses. Most of my roommates have been absolutely terrible; however, I’m guilty of committing some serious roommate crimes myself. Live and learn, right? Based on experience, I’d like to think of myself as somewhat of a “roommate expert.”

Whether you and your roommates are bound to dorm room assignments or lease signings, living with others can be difficult, and you have to learn to live with them for an extended period of time. Because of this, I wanted to share some pointers to hopefully prevent any unnecessary arguments and tension.

DO keep common areas tidy.
Any shared place in your home should be kept clean. If you have a messy room, that is fine. Just keep your door closed. Make sure you clean up the kitchen table if you make a mess of it doing homework, working on an art project, or having friends over the night before. If you cook a meal, do the dishes. If you do laundry, do not leave your clean laundry on top of the dryer for a week. If you have a pet, clean up after it. No one likes coming home or waking up to a dirty space, so do your part to make it easier for your roommates.

DON’T steal anything from your roommates.
This one seems self-explanatory, but I have lived with some people who did not understand this. Do not take anything that is not for the entire house. Paper towels, kitchen soap, toilet paper — those are shareable. You and your roommates should be buying those items together anyway. However, do not take things that are your roommates’, especially their personal items. Their razors, their expensive face washes, and — dare I say it — their underwear. Stay away! Do not force your roommates to have an awkward conversation with you, because it will become one of the most embarrassing experiences in your life. Just keep this in mind: ask before using anything that is not clearly laid out as common goods.

DO pay your bills on time.
No one likes someone who pays bills late, especially a roommate. If your roommates ever have to cover you on rent or utilities, you probably need to re-evaluate your spending habits. It is never fair for them to have to pay for your share of the bills. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, be responsible for your portion of the expenses. Even then, try finding someone else to cover for you. Your roommates are NOT responsible for you.

DON’T have your significant other stay with you if your roommates oppose the idea.
Having someone live at your place, who is not on the lease or paying bills, is the most annoying thing. There’s a critical difference between someone “staying there” and “living there.” Staying there is a few nights a week with an overnight bag. Living there means being there all the time. Do not let your significant other be at your house without you being there as well. It is not fair for your roommates to have to live with someone they may not know or like, or are uncomfortable around. To be a good roommate, you want your roommates to feel at ease when they are home.

DO try to be friends with your roommates.
Whether you and your roommates are best friends or total strangers, try to include them in your life. If you have friends over, invite your roommates to hang out with you all. Get coffee or breakfast with them and become part of their lives. College is stressful, and it is nice to have as many positive people around you as possible when times get rough. Obviously this is not always possible, but if there is a chance you and your roommates can be friends, try to make that happen. A good friend is the best roommate you can have.

DON’T be disrespectful of your roommates’ habits or beliefs.
If a roommate has work or class every morning and needs to go to bed at 10 p.m., try to be quiet and considerate if you typically stay up late. If you are a smoker and your roommates cannot stand the smell of smoke, smoke outside. If your roommates follow a certain religious or political belief structure, do not be rude if you disagree with it. Making them defend their beliefs will surely create conflict. Respect your differences, realize you may be able to learn from them, and move on.

DO have friends over, but only after letting your roommates know.
Sometimes, all your roommates want to do is come home and lounge around in pajamas and order pizza after a tough exam. It is very inconsiderate to take that precious free time away from your roommate by coming home with a bunch of friends who want to play drinking games. Feel free to have friends over, but let your roommates know beforehand so they can plan accordingly. The “Hey, just letting you know…” text goes a long way.

DON’T bail.
I once had a roommate who came home after a weekend in Atlanta and told me she decided to move up there with her boyfriend. This gave me all of two days to move out or find another roommate. Talk about a stressful moment in my life! Do not bail on your roommates. Just don’t do it. If you need to move out, find a replacement your other roommates approve of, or just continue to pay the rent until the lease is up. Moving out without a timely notice will probably burn bridges with your roommates, but sometimes it’s necessary. If this is the case, just try not to make it harder on them. Don’t leave them to pay your bills and pick up the pieces of you moving out. If you want to move out, it is your responsibility to figure out how to make it work, while still honoring your lease obligations.

To sum it up: just try not to be a horrible human being. Be respectful, be tidy, and do not make life harder for your roommates just because it makes yours easier. Learn to compromise, because there will rarely be a time when you and your roommates want exactly the same thing. Living with others is hard, but following these tips will help you out.

Email Annie Black at [email protected]