Anyone who shared a room with siblings growing up can attest: nothing makes an already small space feel even tighter than another person trying to call the same place home. With family, however, there are generally enough other factors at play to mean that fights come and go without permanently damaging the relationship. In a dorm situation, unfortunately, one big blowout can really spell trouble.
Depending on your school and situation, you may have been randomly assigned a roommate as a freshman or been able to choose a friend from your hometown to bunk with. A lucky few may even score solo dorm rooms as incoming students, but they’ll also miss out on some of the invaluable bonding experiences that college roommates have together.
Whether you’re sharing a room, a suite, or an apartment, the lessons that come with cohabitation are valuable throughout the rest of life, from post-college housemates to sharing a home with a spouse or partner. If there’s a golden rule to dealing with a college roommate, it’s to always RESPECT that they live there with you. Stick with that, and these six rules will fall into place naturally:
Rule 1: Acknowledge mutual and individual areas
Upon moving into a shared living situation (or at any point, if issues arise that need to be addressed), decide together which spaces ‘belong’ to you as individuals, and which spaces are to be shared collectively. Although general guidelines about cleanliness and avoiding filth should be followed even in personal space, there should be individual space where a person can decorate (or not decorate) as they see fit. Likewise, in mutual space, it would be inappropriate to leave shoes or clothes lying strewn about.
Rule 2: Make do with less
Sure, college is most young peoples’ first chance to live out from under their parents’ roof, where nobody will tell them not to tack posters of scantily clad swimsuit models to the ceiling or design an entertainment center fit for the ultimate man cave, but it’s often better to remain slightly unsettled. After all, you’ll likely be moving to somewhere else next year, and all your belongings will need to be stored or transported over the summer. Resist the urge to accumulate unnecessary belongings during college, and you’ll do yourself and your roommate a favor in the process by helping keep the room uncluttered.
Rule 3: Be efficient with storage
If you read Rule 1 and cried, ‘What space?!’ the answer may be as simple as rethinking your room design in cubic rather than square feet. Even a 150-square foot room can be attractively decorated and designed with the right foresight. Are your floors cluttered, with nowhere to put things away? Look to your ceilings and walls. Hooks and hangers can work wonders to clean up floor space. If you store a bicycle, kayak, skis, or any other sporting equipment inside, mount them to the wall or ceiling in a way that allows easy access but opens up your floor space for comfortable living.
Rule 4: Get ‘stuff’ out of sight
Just as hooks and hangers can work wonders on your walls, they also can be an efficient means of moving chargers and cords out of the way on a desk, or storing belts, shoes, and jackets in a closet. A few strategically placed nails can create a place to hang clothing in the closet, and heavy-duty wire hangers will allow more space on your hanging rod than thick plastic ones. Likewise, clear your desk of clutter by mounting cords out of sight and using drawer organizers to put pens, hard drives, and other tools within reach but out of the way.
Rule 5: Chore charts work
For whatever reason, girls are quick to make ‘chore charts,’ while guys seem to resist the notion of assigned household responsibilities. Simply assuming that everyone will pitch in, however, often means that roommates gradually become accustomed to living in squalor, until something sends one person over the edge. Skip that blowout altogether and decide who and when you will vacuum, sweep, dust, and wash.
Rule 6: Talk to each other
If a roommate situation turns sour, the answer is never to become silent in each other’s presence. Ask your roommate for a chance to talk, and go to a neutral location where the problems within the room won’t contribute to tempers and heighten emotions. Figure out what caused the situation — Is one of you keeping the other up at night with music or light? Are you frustrated with finding strangers hanging out in your room when you come home?
Be honest about your expectations, and even somebody that likely won’t become a lifelong friend can be an enjoyable roommate for the rest of the year.