In many ways, living with a roommate is a business transaction. You are both going into the room with the expectation that you will be able to have an environment where you can sleep, study, relax, and entertain with relatively small amounts of stress.
Not all roommate arrangements will work out, but you can eliminate a lot of potential issues by just being upfront about your expectations before you move in together. Here are some questions that you should discuss with your potential roommate:
- How social are you? Do you want your room to be a place where you and your roommate are mostly alone, or do you want to have a lot of friends over whenever possible? Do either of you have a significant other who may be in your room a lot? If you think you might get annoyed by frequent visitors (especially in a small space), make sure you set reasonable boundaries with your roommate. Set visiting hours that both of you can agree on, and scope out some quiet places on campus where you can escape if you need to. If you are the social one, do a regular check-in with your roommate to make sure that your visitors aren’t bothering him/her, and plan social activities outside of your room every now and then.
- What’s on your ‘share list’? What are you willing to share with your roommate (clothes, food, personal possessions), what are you willing to share on occasion (with permission, of course!), and what is always off-limits? Be thorough with your lists and remember make it clear that your ‘share list’ can be re-negotiated later. If you’re not sure whether your roommate is willing to share a certain item, don’t borrow it without talking to them first! Most importantly, return all borrowed items in a timely manner and in the same condition in which you borrowed them. You’d want your roommate to do that for you, right?
- What does ‘quiet’ mean to you? Most of us need some level of ‘quiet’ while studying, but you may be surprised to learn that ‘quiet’ can mean something different to everyone you meet. For some, it’s complete and total silence. Others might consider it ‘quiet’ if music or the television is on in the background. Discuss your definition of ‘quiet’ and negotiate quiet hours with your roommate. No matter what you agree on, a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones is a great investment for dorm living.
- What is your ideal environment for sleep? What does your schedule look like this semester? Are you a morning person or a night person? Are you a light or heavy sleeper? Do you like to take naps in the afternoon? This topic can be easily discussed alongside quiet hours.
- What are you bringing to the room? Who is bringing what supplies for your room (decorations, microwave, rug, etc.)? If you don’t nail this question down, you may end up with two TVs and no microwave, so be sure to bring it up.
- What does ‘clean’ mean? What are your expectations for room cleanliness and shared chores? Can you ignore the other person’s mess (within reason) as long as it’s on their side of the room? You can’t force each other to clean, but it’s important that you both know what the other prefers so that you can try to find a happy medium.
- How do you prefer to resolve conflict? Conflict will arise between you eventually, so it is important to discuss how you want to handle disagreements. Your default mode may be yelling or nagging when conflict arises, but that will create a toxic roommate environment. Agree with your roommate that you will come directly to each other with problems first, and that you will try to express any concerns politely and rationally.
If possible, get all of this information in writing and involve your RA or another impartial third party in your negotiations. Your RA will likely start this process for you at the beginning of the year, but it will be beneficial for all involved if you actively communicate with your roommate. Answering ‘I don’t know’ or ‘whatever’ to any of these questions can lead to conflict down the road.
What other topics do you need to discuss with a potential roommate? Leave them in the comments below!