6 Common Roommate Problems and How to Fix Them

By Alicia Geigel on July 21, 2019

Living on your own versus living with roommates takes a great deal of compromise and patience. Sometimes things are smooth sailing in your roommate situation, and on the other hand, things can be difficult and frustrating. Differing lifestyle choices and habits can drive you or your roommate crazy, making it too easy to be disrespectful or rude in conversations.

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Sharing your life with one or a couple roommates is not easy, but there are ways that you can actively make your experience smoother and more enjoyable. Are you nervous about an impending or current roommate situation and do not know exactly how to handle specific problems that come with it? Check out my comprehensive guide on six common roommate problems and how to respectfully resolve them!

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#1: Chores

Let’s be real, no one truly likes doing chores (unless you’re like me and sometimes likes cleaning to de-stress). You might be able to get away with not doing chores at home, but when you live with roommates, your lack of tidying up in the house definitely adds up. Before you even move in with your future roommates, it’s important to establish some basic, ground rules of living. This can include alternating who takes out the trash every week, who cooks dinner on Tuesday nights, who washes dishes after dinner, who vacuums on weekends, etc.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Alicia, it’s not that simple. My version of clean is different from my roommate’s.” That may be true, but there are definitely ways that you can figure this out. Kate Legere of Apartment Therapy states, “Determine what the household chores are and agree on a cleaning schedule. Ask questions like: What needs to be done daily, weekly, monthly? How will you split the light cleaning (vacuuming, dishes) and the deep cleaning (refrigerator, windows)?”

Doing will help you understand the tasks that need to be accomplished and when. Additionally, writing out the chores on a chalkboard, dry-erase board, or calendar can further help by giving you a visual of what needs to get done. An Apartment Guide Blog suggests, “Use a wall calendar to write everyone’s duties down, or create a chart that lists all of the roommates’ names and their responsibilities next to it. This way, there is no confusion as to who is responsible for what. If it works better, rotate the chores every month.”

While this may seem incredibly simple, it will definitely be helpful in the long run. Once everyone gets a glimpse/idea of each other’s boundaries, standards, etc. each roommate can collectively work toward maintaining a good environment that is suitable not only for them, but for everyone else!

Tips for Balancing Chores with Roommates

  • DO make an effort to clean up after yourself
  • DON’T assume that your roommate(s) will handle all the cleaning
  • DO try and figure out which chores should be done on a regular basis, i.e. daily, weekly, and monthly
  • DON’T tackle the cleaning all yourself (because that causes problems too)
  • DO compromise and make the chores as balanced as possible
  • DO make a list of chores and write them down so you and your roommate can visualize the responsibilities
  • DO rotate chores and vary which responsibilities are designated to each person

#2: Communication

You have probably heard about keeping the doors of communication open over and over again in your life, but I can promise you that this is incredibly important, not only in roommate relationships but in all relationships. This rule applies to living with one roommate as well as when you are one out of four people living in a dorm.

Regardless of how many roommates you have, you’ll want to make sure everyone is communicating effectively. Doing so requires no passive-aggressive post-it notes, subliminal messages, etc. but rather, openly talking to all of your roommates. You may have an issue with roommate #1 because they constantly use your shampoo without asking, or roommate #2 makes you crazy because they eat all of the snacks your mom got just for you.

Bottom line is this, speak up. There is nothing worse than having a problem with the person (or persons) you are living with and just letting their actions get under your skin. It is infinitely more beneficial to confront your roommate with your problems than let the tension build for no reason. If you find yourself in a real pickle and you definitely can not talk to your roommate, bring your issue to your RA or a friend/parent and they can certainly help you settle it, it’s their job!

Tips for Communicating Effectively with Roommates: 

  • DO be direct with your roommate(s) when there is a problem that arises between you both/all of you
  • DON’T go behind their back and talk nastily with other roommates about your personal problems with that person. This can not only cause drama but it also makes it hard to trust one another
  • DO respect them and their differences
  • DON’T belittle, talk down to, or yell when you don’t get your way or you cannot see eye-to-eye
  • DO both talk and listen 
  • DO ask if there is anything you can do to make the living situation better and point out what they do that makes you stressed/angry
  • DO go to a family member or campus counselor to get their input on the situation if you do not feel up to talking to your roommate just yet but feel that you need to vent about the situation
  • DO compromise: According to Rick Moreci in an article by Brian Burnsed of US NEWS, “Compromise does not have to mean sacrifice. It means working together with your roommate to determine the rules for your new living arrangement that you can both be comfortable with.”

#3: Privacy

Everyone loves the chance to spend time by themselves, unwind, watch the latest episode of their favorite TV show, and not have to worry about anything. Privacy when living with a roommate/roommates can sometimes be violated, as it can just naturally (and accidentally) happen while living together. Sometimes you want to be able to call your mom or best friend without having someone else breathing down your throat or take a relaxing shower without worrying about who wants to jump in next.

Just because you have roommates does not mean that you have to spend every second of every day with each other. Sometimes doing so can create rifts and tensions and sometimes it can be great, it all depends on the person. However, do not feel obliged to have to do everything with your roommates, it’s good to have your own friends too! Friends can not only help with any roommate problems you’re having but they can also be an escape for when you are experiencing a hard living situation. So whether you’re on your bed blasting music through your earphones or are venturing to the dorm across campus to see your friend, just know that needing your own space is ok and healthy!

Tips for Respecting the Privacy of Your Roommates

  • DO establish boundaries of what is ok/not ok with you in terms of privacy
  • DON’T use/borrow/eat something of your roommate’s without asking
  • DO ask before hosting a party at your place
  • DON’T assume that it’s always ok to have friends over, even if it isn’t explicitly stated
  • DO try and maintain the relationship with your roommate and ask if there are ways to hang out together

#4: Paying Bills

One super important element about living with someone (if you are in an apartment/house) is figuring out how to split up living expenses like rent/amenities/cable + internet. Taking on adult responsibilities and figuring out how to effectively split bills can be difficult but it will definitely save you any kind of money-related trouble in the future.

According to Leslie Tayne of Credit.com, “A major key for keeping the peace is making sure bills are organized. Figure out when and how bills will be collected and split each month, how they will be paid, and who is responsible for paying what amount. While this may sound obvious, too many times roommates will wait until the last minute, causing stress, tension and possibly late bills.”

To make splitting bills easier, put together a chart or spreadsheet of expenses that each person owes to organize payments and keep track of who pays what. Tayne notes, “Each expense should show details such as due dates, the amounts owed, and the person responsible for paying.” Once you get payments and billing figured out, a huge burden will be lifted off your shoulders!

Tips for Splitting Bills with Roommates

  • DO make a spreadsheet detailing your budget and expenses each person owes
  • DON’T make purchases and assume that the household will want to pay for them
  • DO schedule your payments so you don’t fall behind and have late bills pile up
  • DO be sure to separate and divide your items
  • DO chip in on bulk items that everyone utilizes, i.e. toilet paper, soap, frozen food, etc.
  • DO download apps that make it simple and easy to keep track of expenses and transfer money
  • DON’T throw away receipts or statements, keep those to keep track of what you’ve paid

#5: Political Opinions 

Roommate relationships are not exempt from being influenced by varying differing political opinions. Sometimes these relationships are completely compatible and each person has a similar political ideology. On the other hand, there are cases when you and your roommate may have different opinions regarding politics, which can sometimes cause problems within your household.

Polarizing political issues such as abortion, the right to bear arms, gay marriage, universal healthcare, etc. can be topics that bring about tense feelings and emotions, leading to arguments (not good). It can be difficult living with someone else who has the opposite ideology or political opinions than you, but it by no means is a reason for a living situation to be broken up.

Tips for Dealing with Different Political Opinions of Roommates 

  • DO avoid hot-button topics that can spark an emotional reaction easily
  • DON’T name call or be accusatory to your roommate in a conversation; Debby Mayne of The Spruce writes, “One thing we all need to remember is that tirades, rants, and name-calling will never win over someone who disagrees. It might make you feel better momentarily, but after a while, you may regret some of the things you said in the heat of the moment. Even if you don’t, friends who have been subjected to your outbursts may walk a wide berth around you in the future.”
  • DO be sure to listen to your roommate if you are in a political conversation
  • DON’T curse or take any opinions personally
  • DO try and find common ground

#6: Holidays and Holiday Decor 

Similar to how differing political opinions can cause tension between you and your roommate, certain holidays and holiday decor can do the same. Typically, like-minded individuals will choose to live together, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll be a carbon copy of your roommate.

You may be Christian and your roommate may be Jewish, Muslim, etc., which (depending on the person) cause some tension between you and your roommates. You may celebrate Hanukkah while your roommate may celebrate Christmas, making you both having to combine holiday celebrations and decorations, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing- it can be a great opportunity to bond with your roommate and enjoy holidays!

Tips on Celebrating Holidays with Roommates of Different Religions 

  • DO pick universal colors or symbols to decorate with
  • DON’T assume that your roommates will identify with what you enjoy
  • DO give everyone a chance to have their celebrations
  • DON’T make your roommates feel bad for having different beliefs than you
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Going from living by yourself to living with roommates can be a large adjustment and can at times, prove to be difficult, but if you trust your gut and follow my tips, I guarantee you that you’ll look back the years with your roommates as some of the best of your life. As always, good luck!

By Alicia Geigel

Uloop Writer
Temple alum | columnist at Uloop News | writer at Top5Must & KnowPhilly | photographer | food blogger

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