How to Share a Kitchen Without Hating Your Roommate

There’s nothing like a great meal to bring people together. And there’s nothing like a shared kitchen to tear them apart. Surely this is the place where roommate relationships are most likely to grow tense, given the factors and the stakes. There’s all that clean-up to do. All that food to keep and prepare. All those pesky appliances to break down. All those knives…

Making it work with your roommate is entirely possible, of course. The key–as always, but especially in the kitchen–is a mutual understanding of shared duties and responsibilities. Let’s break it down into the ways you use the kitchen, starting at the beginning.

1. Procuring food, dishes, and other kitchen necessities

shared kitchenEstablish this right off the bat: Are you going to have any shared food? Anything at all?

Staples like bread and milk? What about spices and cooking oil and the like? It’s more efficient to share at least some things (just guessing you don’t need two shakers of coriander). But that also means you need to understand exactly what’s fair game for sharing, and how you’ll track consumption (are you just going to assume it’s equal?).

If you’re cooking together and eating all your meals together, it makes sense to just buy groceries together and split the bill down the middle. In that case, the easiest thing to do is simply to keep your grocery receipts and track the purchase of shared items, reviewing them together and working out the balance on a regular basis (say, every week or every month). Or, as Sam noted a while back, you can set up a “karma” approach, trading rounds of grocery shopping, house-cleaning and the like, without getting too hung up on tracking receipts and time spent.

Same goes for pots and pans and dishes and silverware and so on–share the expenses. Here, though, you’ll want to split up the shopping list before you make the purchases, instead of divvying up the final bill. Presumably, you’ll be keeping these things for a while, and it’s hard for you each to claim half a sauce pan when you move out. Instead, you buy some things, your roommate gets others, everyone keeps their purchases when they move out.

Now, there may be some cherished or expensive things that you don’t really want to share–if a fancy juicer, for example, or even just a favorite mug from childhood. Establish those ground rules at the outset, but also be reasonable and flexible. If you have an entire collection of dozens of mugs, well, not all of them should be off-limits–if they’re that important, get them out of the kitchen.

2. Storing food
The easiest thing to do is to simply establish whose food goes where, with equal spaces in the refrigerator and the cupboards. Your food goes on refrigerator shelf A and in pantry cabinet B; your roommate gets refrigerator shelf C and pantry cabinet D; shared items go in yet another place.

Even if you’re good friends, it’s best to understand who has claim to what item, so that there’s no confusion. Another method, as Sam also mentioned, is to keep a roll of masking tape and a marker near the refrigerator, and to just label everything for which there may be any questions.

Continued on page two…

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Doug Mack is a writer based in Minneapolis and the author of the travel memoir Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day: One Man, Eight Countries, One Vintage Travel Guide (Perigee Books/Penguin). He has lived in apartments large and small, historic and modern, in Minneapolis and Chicago. Visit his web site at or find him on Twitter @douglasmack.

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