Over the past five years I’ve lived with over 30 people. This is mostly due to the nature of my job/schooling. Because of this experience, I feel like surviving in different living situations is something I can call myself an “expert” on. As a budding psychology grad student, I feel like I should be able to write extensively into the background of each situation and how individuals are so complex that someone shouldn’t be able to boil the essentials down to a few simple points, but what can I say? I’m an exceptional creature (as most of my roommates would vouch). So whether you’re about to embark into the world of shared rent or have already weathered the roommate world, here are some essentials for easy roommate living.
Bills: Appoint A House Manager
For the purpose of making sure the water or power never gets cut off, one person should be in charge of all utility bills. Depending on your relationship with your landlord, this could also be the person that gathers the rent money as well (however make sure all roommates have the landlord’s contact info).
It’s difficult to have multiple people owing each other for different bills and having one person’s name on everything makes it simple and creates continuity. By having a point person on bills, everybody else can simply pay their share of the utilities to him/her.
A great advantage for taking on this responsibility is that it gives you an opportunity to build credit, which is why I often became the bill manager in my living situations. Of course if you do become this person, you might have problems getting money from all of your roommates on time.
Moral of the story is that you shouldn’t volunteer to be this person unless you can afford to pay the bills when your roommates are slow to cough-up their share, which is likely to happen. Don’t let their tardiness become a habit and also don’t let yourself get stuck in a corner when Joe spends July’s bill check on extending his Xbox Live account.
Food: Label It!
My best roommate experience by far was renting a room out of an engineer’s house in Northern Virginia. The engineer, true to her nature, had a system for EVERYTHING. The most prominent take-away from that was unless you’re doing communal food, you should label your food via color coded tape. It doesn’t matter if you have to share shelves in the fridge and cupboards or if you have your own dedicated food space.
However marking your territory in the fridge can cut down on confusion as to what food you’ve already bought (I’m not the only one with this problem, right?) as well as help identify the culprit if something starts to grow fur after being left unattended in the crisper drawer after so long.
I recommend using this masking tape- it’s thin (making it less of a hassle) and not overbearing in size. Plus it comes in a variety in colors.
Chore: Make A Chart
I learned this lesson the slowest out of all of my roommate lessons, but it ended up being the most essential. Having a chore chart will save you a lot of grief. If you’re not the first roommate in, wait a couple of months to get into the situation and observe your surroundings before making demands. Maybe you’re living with angelic beings that clean out their hair from the shower drain, or put the beer bottles out for the recycling. If you find that your surroundings are less than FDA-approved, here are the merits of the chore chart.
The most essential selling point to the chore chart is that it raises everyone to the same standard of clean. What I expect to be clean on a regular basis is different from roommate #7 and roommate #28. We come from different backgrounds and have different expectations of what we think is clean. Having a chore chart sets the standard for everyone and having a clean environment makes for a more comfortable environment.
Don’t you dare feed me bullshit about how we’re all adults and can clean up after ourselves. Roommates #24 through #29 can attest, this is not always the case.
Welcome Mats Stay at the Front Door
The bottom line of every living situation is that it is your home. It is where you go to escape the 9-5. It is where you loosen your tie and tip back a long neck. Stress in the home environment is one of the highest sources of stress. If something isn’t jiving in your environment- bring it up. If you’ve just moved in, you don’t really have the clout to change everything after your first week though so you may want to wait a bit. After your first couple of months? Go for it, especially if you see your home as your stomping ground for the foreseeable future.
Passive aggressiveness is the quickest killer of roommate relationships, so instead of being a brooding douche, voice your concerns about the dishes, the cousin who’s been crashing for the past week and a half, or the ever-depleted amount of toilet paper. Learn to be diplomatic and learn to establish your boundaries in your home space.
Living with roommates during your twenties is a time in your life that will lead to some great stories to tell later, make friends, and (if you’re lucky) walk away with a couple of scars and one or two regrets. The experiences gained from living with roommates are one of the top gifts you will receive in your twenty-something years. These are experiences to be cherished not to be merely tolerated until you decide to get your own high-rise in the city or a white-picket something in the ‘burbs. Clear boundaries require exceptional growth and are not for the faint of heart, but living in a situation with other complex beings means protecting yourself and the environment you live in, so buckle down and make where you are living a home.
What are your roommate experiences? Have you managed to maintain a conflict free zone without a chore-chart?
Emily Sara Moore is stuck in the Midwest. She is currently living with roommate number 34, and has yet to figure out how to incorporate this accomplishment into her LinkedIn bio. She recommends starting all roommateships with a bottle of year old Riesling and a twelve-pack of double-ply, not the cheap stuff. Follow her on Twitter: @EmilySaraMoore
If you are interested in contributing to the Quarterlife Crisis series feel free to contact me.