Set boundaries early for success with roommates

Communication, tidiness and clear boundaries are the keys to success when living with roommates. Kenneth Prabhakar | Photographer

By Clara Snyder | Staff Writer

When deciding who to live with, it is crucial to understand what things are essential to cultivating your ideal living space.

When beginning the college experience, the adjustment extends beyond establishing a new life in a new environment — like finding your rhythm in classes or figuring out which Target home essentials are least likely to spark a flame in the dorm microwave. For many students, college may be the first time they have shared a living space with someone other than a family member for an extended period of time.

A 2009 study from Boise State University showed roughly 25% of college students experienced significant conflicts with their roommates. The study points to college-aged students’ lack of strong conflict resolution skills as a driving factor in these issues.

“Research on roommates in conflict suggests that typical first- and second-year students are often not developmentally prepared to effectively negotiate interpersonal conflicts with roommates on their own,” the Boise State University study reads.

It doesn’t need to be this way. Evaluating how and why these conflicts arise is crucial in recognizing what can be done on an individual basis to prevent living accommodation dissatisfaction.

The first step to cultivating a healthy living situation is picking the right roommate for yourself. A common misconception is that good friends make good roommates, but a recent study by Apartment Guide emphasized the reality this can create.

“Unfortunately, not only were friends more likely to have tension around keeping shared spaces clean or a significant other staying the night, but one in four people also acknowledged living together hurt their friendship,” the Apartment Guide study reads.

Whether it be a friend or not, it is important to know what your potential roommate’s living expectations are. Ask yourself what you can’t deal with and what you are willing to tolerate — understanding that the perfect roommate doesn’t exist.

While there may not be a perfect roommate, there can be an ideal roommate. Finding and becoming the ideal roommate means recognizing which things need to be maintained in a dorm or apartment and being a respectful peer.

Establish your boundaries before signing a 12-month lease with your roommate. Be sure to ask them what they need to have respected in order to lay the groundwork for a healthy shared reality.

Once the foundation of boundaries has been affirmed, be aware that you may need to re-communicate these necessities at a later date. Your roommate may not remember all the details initially communicated, and it is unrealistic to assume they can interpret your dissatisfaction at any given moment.

Maintain a clean common area to the best of your ability, even if you don’t use the common area or care about its level of cleanliness. Respect what isn’t yours, and acknowledge that while the common area does not belong to one person, it is still everyone’s responsibility to maintain.

According to Apartment Guide, 41% of people said shared space cleanliness was the top source of tension in their living situation.

Not making the effort to keep shared spaces clean can make roommates feel disrespected; the notion can insinuate that you respect your space and belongings more than what doesn’t belong to you.

Be up front when conflicts arise. Make an effort to understand why something upsets you. Extend the same respect to your roommates, and empathize with their concerns. Their needs in a living environment may not be the same as yours, but that does not alter your responsibility to accommodate those needs and see them as valid.

Don’t dismiss a conflict until you establish common ground on what the issue was, why it matters, what needs to change and how you can prevent the issue from recurring.

Not getting along with your roommates goes beyond the tension of asking to use their ice cube tray after a disagreement. Roommate dissatisfaction can lead to lower GPAs, negative perceptions of your college atmosphere and poor emotional adjustment.

So if the dishes are piling up and you find yourself starting to wonder whether the countertop was the same color when you initially moved in, ask your roommate to clean up when they get a chance. If they are too busy or are having trouble managing responsibilities, extend a helping hand and clean up for them.

Learn when to speak up for yourself and how to listen to others, and go out of your way to do something nice for your roommates to show you have their best interest in mind too.