I Bought the Toilet Paper Last… How to Avoid Roommate Conflict over Shared Supplies

Our guest blogger Katherine shows how to avoid a typical roommate conflict situation.


So you’ve found yourself a roommate (or two) to split the cost of an apartment and save some major moola, good for you! Your wallet says gracias.

 But, with those 2am soul-baring bonding sessions and oh-so-cute communal dinners can come a little bit of added drama. It’s not uncommon for an epic war to be waged over something as trivial as toilet paper. Days could be spent in icy silence while you run across the street to Burger King six times a day just to use their 24-hour restroom facilities.

 Don’t let this happen to you. You’ll smell of french fries and slurpies at the very least, and come to hate your former BFF because of a roll of semi-soft paper that costs 99 cents. Decide exactly how and when you’re going to purchase things like toilet paper, paper towels, garbage bags etc. Lay out the ground rules within the first week you move in. There are a few ways you can do this, three of which are detailed below:

1.) Buy everything you need for the year at Costco.

I once lived in a three-person apartment that took this approach and it generally worked well. (For the first five months anyway; then we began to run out of things.)  To consummate our relationship as roommates, the three of us went to Costco with a list and a budget. We bought magic erasers, 36 packs of toilet paper, windex, garbage bags, Swiffers and light bulbs among other household supplies. We lunched on samples and felt our bond as roommates deepen when we went to the register and split the total between the three of us. It was magical. And it took the drama out of purchasing communal items. At first.

This is a great method if you want to deal with it once a year and you can accurately estimate how much you will need for that entire year. It’s like paying up front for a gym membership so they don’t hound you each month for money, you just have to budget correctly. Best of all, buying in bulk saves you money so everything could come out to be even cheaper than if you bought it as needed.

The biggest problem with this method is not accurately estimating: seven months in, you could be back to square one. Oh yeah, and storage-where exactly do you put all that toilet paper? Storage closet anyone? 

2.) Make a chart. 

Making a chart (or Excel spreadsheet) of who purchased what can seem kind of nitpicky but it can be a very effective and non-confrontational method. 

Here’s how it works: You make a chart with every communal item you have down the side and each roommate’s name across the top. You then stick this chart on the fridge. Once you notice you are out of paper towels you go to the store and buy those paper towels. You put a check next to your name.  Then, if everyone follows the method, the next time you run out of paper towels, roommates Susie or Joe should pick them up and then put a check next to their name. 

This works well if everyone checks the chart so put it somewhere visible but not embarrassing to company, like the inside of a cabinet you all open frequently,  the one holding that super jumbo sized chocolate chip bag!

3.) Trust.

What? Trust? You want me to trust that my roommates will buy the next Swiffer cloths if I bought them last time? Yes, yes I do. And here’s why: If you and your roommate have a truly good relationship and don’t give into petty squabbles over literally nickels and dimes, this should be a great solution for you. Do you have this kind of relationship? Let’s see. Would this be uncomfortable for you to say to the person you currently live with:

“Hey, looks like the toilet paper is almost out. I grabbed it last time so do you think you could swing by Target and grab some?”

If it wouldn’t be uncomfortable, whatsoever, then this is a great method for you! But test it out first; it’s slightly more awkward than you think.

From personal experience this has worked exactly once in 13 roommate relationships, so there’s that.

There are a number of other methods out there, so share them if you have one that works well! Regardless of which method you employ, it’s best if you decide it together at the beginning. 

And here’s a good list of household supplies you might use as a starting point for your communal list:

  • Mop/Swiffer
  • Swiffer sheets, wet and dry
  • Garbage bags
  • Dish soap
  • Dishwasher liquid (if you have one)
  • Windex
  • Paper towels
  • Toilet paper
  • Napkins
  • Toilet bowl cleaner
  • All-purpose bathroom cleaner
  • All-purpose kitchen cleaner
  • Sponges
  • Rags
  • Vacuum
  • Dustpan
  • Aluminum foil
  • White distilled vinegar
  • Febreze




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Comments (4)

  1. Marlayne Cohen

    any suggestions how to get your roommate to pay for all the kitchen stuff I purchased and and totaled it up plus w40 for the screen door my room too please pay. And it’s been over we still have not received half of the payment what do I do? so there is no conflict. please help me out there and give me some suggestions. I wrote it down on a piece of paper total it up and I’m still waiting with him to pay. I just moved in 8 days ago after the third day it still did not get the money. I left a note again

    • MFA Editors MFA Editors

      Hi Marlayne,
      Did you both agree that you would be buying those items and then splitting the cost? Maybe your roomie thinks that he’s paid for some items and it’s your turn to pay for the next round. You two need to sit down and decide how you want to handle common household expenses. Notes may not be the best way to communicate in this case or you can get your relationship off to a rocky start.
      We have many posts about splitting bills with roommates, here’s one http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2013/06/tips-for-hassle-free-splitting-of-bills-with-roommates/. Check them out for ideas. Good luck!

  2. Marlayne Cohen

    I just moved in 8 days ago I bought a lot of things hotels w40 otherwise trash can for the kitchen and he still has not paid for it how do I get him to pay discreetly when it’s been over a week?

  3. robert

    What do you do when they refuse to pay for any of this but use it regardless? Needless to say i want him out but its not that easy.