4 Secrets for Getting Along with Roommates

Our blogger Elyse shares her strategies for handling money matters and common chores with roommates.

I’ve lived with a lot of different people in my life. When I lived at home, I had to share a room with my sister right up until I went to college and  shared a dorm room. When I got the apartment, one of the biggest perks was that, for the first time in my life, I had my own room. But even though I was enjoying more privacy, living with people other than immediate family or in the college dorm system brought up a lot of issues I had never encountered before. I had always considered myself a pretty good roomie, considering how much practice I had, but I learned pretty quickly a few key rules for living with roommates. The common thread in all of them? Professionalism and establishing (sometimes painfully) specific ground rules.

1. Keep a Budget Book

There’s a lot of stuff you need to buy for an apartment. Cleaning supplies, light bulbs, trash bags, napkins, and toilet paper. It’s easy to say, “Oh, we’ll just try to make sure we try to buy the same amount of stuff and it will even out, no big deal.” Wrong. Completely wrong. Because it’s not going to even out, someone’s going to get lazy and someone else is going to start feeling resentful. Get a notebook and itemize every purchase you make for the apartment. Save the receipts if you feel the need. At the end of each month (or week, whatever floats your boat) go through it and divide the total cost up equally. That way, no one has to worry about getting saddled with an extra burden. Of course, what goes into the budget book is the topic of my next rule…

2. Establish EXACTLY What “Communal” Means

You may not realize it when you move in, but you and your roommate will probably have completely different ideas of when it is and isn’t suitable to split the cost of something. This is where you have to be painfully specific, or else you’re going to be pretty upset when you buy that fancy vacuum and your roommate says they would have just gotten a 7 dollar broom so they don’t want to foot the bill. Not only should you check to make sure everyone agrees you actually need the item, you also need to address situations where it’s an item someone will eventually take home with them. Even though you all agree you need a Swiffer, someone might not think it’s fair to chip in for one if once you all go your separate ways, someone else gets to takes it with them. And it doesn’t end there. If you like buying super-plush, triple-ply toilet paper or fancy, eco-friendly cleaning supplies, make sure your other roommates are comfortable shelling out the extra dough for these luxuries before you add those items to the budget book. When you first start your budget book, make sure you all talk about what should go in it and set up your own personal guidelines.

3. Keep A Cleaning Chart

I know, it sounds so soccer mom, but cleaning charts are one of the most important things you will ever have in your apartment. Everyone always thinks they were the last one to clean the bathroom, or they’re the only one taking down the trash. And then everyone winds up hating everyone else for being lazy, filthy bums. But a chore chart never lies and never forgets. It ensures that all the work is equally divided, so no one has to feel like they’re doing everything. I also find it incredibly helpful for when I’m super busy and would otherwise have no clue if I should be worrying about taking down the trash or scrubbing the toilet bowl. We have two separate sections on our cleaning chart, the schedule for the common room and bathroom which needs to be cleaned thoroughly every other week and the weekly smaller chores, like sweeping and garbage duty. At the beginning of the year, we set up a rotating schedule everyone agreed on and haven’t quarreled about cleaning since. Unless someone isn’t following it, but at least then we can’t pass the blame and have to fess up to our own laziness.

4. Have Monthly Meetings

There are two purposes for a monthly meeting. The first is the business side. It’s helpful to set aside a time when you can talk about things like money in a strictly professional way—because it’s going to be awkward bringing that up when you’re just hanging out. So take the time at your meeting to balance the budget book, write the rent checks and pay the bills. Bring up issues you’re having and be sure to ask now if it’s ok with everyone to throw that party you’re planning in a couple weeks or if you’re brother is visiting next month and wants to crash on the couch. Treat it like a business meeting and try to talk openly so no one winds up resenting anyone else. The second reason is because if you’re anything like me and my roommates, you tend to go a couple of days without really seeing each other, let alone checking in on each other’s lives. So take the time to catch up and remember why you wanted to live together in the first place. Just save that for after you take care of the business stuff.

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