Roommate Survival Guide

Whether you’re a college student, a young adult, or just sick of being on your own, living with a roommate can drastically reduce your cost of living. But let’s face it: living with other people can quickly go from feeling like a slumber party to your worst nightmare. Here are some tips for creating a happily shared household.

The Selection Process

Choosing a roommate is just as important as what you do when you actually live together. While it’s tempting to turn to your friends as potential roommates, living in the same place is much different than just hanging out. While it’s important to be on friendly terms with anyone you live with, you’re much more likely to remain friendly if you choose a compatible roommate.

There are several factors you need to consider before moving in with someone. Set side time to “interview” each other before you start looking for a place, even if you think you know each other very well. Make a list of things that drive you absolutely nuts, things you dislike, and things you are willing to compromise on. From your lists, you should be able to tell whether one of you is likely to make the other unhappy with things like noise levels or mess.

Do you or your potential roommate smoke? If so, is the smoker willing to smoke outside, even on the coldest winter day? Are you comfortable with smoking in your apartment? You should have similar views on this touchy subject; otherwise, you’ll probably make for very unhappy roommates.

Similarly, how well do you and your potential roommate tolerate mess? Unless living like The Odd Couple sounds like your idea of a good time, don’t do it. The neat one will quickly become resentful of having to pick up after the other, and the messy one will resent the neat one looking over her shoulder all the time for traces of debris.

How often do you want people your home? The social butterfly will likely hold many gatherings and often have friends or relatives camping out and lounging around. The recluse views his home as a sanctuary not to be disturbed by the noise and clutter of others. Should the two extremes live together? Probably not.

From the lists you both make, you should be able to figure out your similar and dissimilar priorities and whether or not they make for a mutually comfortable living situation. Have this discussion with several people, and choose only after examining several roommate options.

This is just the preliminary step to establishing a happy home with another person. Once you choose your roommate, you need to work out the details of actually living together.


For some lucky roommates, doing chores to maintain the household comes naturally and things get done when they need to get done without much discussion. For most, though, a system of compromise needs to be established. You and your roommate should asses what chores need to be performed and how often very shortly after moving in together. From there, you may pick one of two ways to proceed.

You and your new roommate may divide chores into categories and choose tasks that each will perform. For example, one roommate may be responsible for taking out the garbage and doing the dishes. The other might be responsible for vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom. You may also divide the living quarters into rooms and each pick general areas of the apartment to be responsible for.

If both roommates dislike housework or being stuck always cleaning the same thing, consider making a chore chart. Take the necessary chores and frequencies, and put them into a spreadsheet with who does what, and when. Both roommates should make the chart together to ensure the tasks are distributed equally. That way, nobody can complain when it’s her turn to do something unpleasant.


Because just one person shouldn’t be financially responsible if rent doesn’t get paid on time, all the roommates living together should be on the lease. This makes everyone accountable should a problem arise. This may also help you personally should your roommate bail out and stick you with a rent payment you can’t make on your own. If your roommate signs the lease, he or she is legally responsible for that portion of the rent, and you may take your roommate to small claims court to recoup any losses from your roommate’s failure to live up to her end of the contract.

You will also need to decide what utilities you need and in whose name they will be. While everyone living in a home should contribute to gas, electric and water bills, there may be some luxuries only one roommate wants to pay for. If either you or your roommate will be the only person using cable Internet, for example, that person should be solely responsible for that bill. If one roommate has a cell phone and the other wants a landline, the person using the landline should be the only person paying for the phone in the residence.

For communally shared bills, designate one roommate as the house accountant. The accountant should receive the bills, divide them equally between roommates, post the amount owed by each roommate, collect the money, and send the bills. While this seems like a lot of work for one person, you and your roommate will never have that discussion that starts: “Hey, did you pay the electric bill this month?” This discussion will often end with: “Well I thought you took care of it” and an unpaid bill.

For the house accountant to feel comfortable in that role, the other roommate should pay promptly and without argument. While it seems that this shouldn’t happen, no one likes the banker in Monopoly because that is the person who takes your money away from you.
The non-accountant roommate should take over another task to compensate the accountant for his or her time and effort. The non-accountant roommate could, for example, be responsible for dealing with the rental office when you need maintenance performed in your home.


You and your roommate may have the same work and sleep schedules. If so, you will need to talk about who gets to spend time in the bathroom and when. If you and your roommate wake up at the same time for work, you will both probably want to be in the shower and getting ready in the bathroom during overlapping times, and this could present a problem if you do not reach a solution quickly.

If you and your roommate are on opposite schedules, you need to each be aware of when the other is sleeping to keep noise levels down. Most rental properties have thin walls that make for poor noise filters, and your roommate will hate your guts if she consistently looses sleep and goes to work tired because of your inconsideration.


It goes without saying that all pets should be introduced and agreed upon before moving in together. If one of you wants to acquire a pet after you move in, the roommate must agree fully before the pet is brought into the home.

If one of you owns a pet, the other is only responsible for being nice to it and nothing more. The pet owner, for the sake of the pet and the roommate, must feed, groom, bathe, and clean up after his pet in the same way he would as if living alone. For example, if you want your roommate to feed your cat while you are out of town, discuss it with her before you leave and offer to pay her for pet sitting services much like you would a stranger. Remember, when you and your roommate go your separate ways, there should be no doubt that the pet is still yours.

Friends, Lovers, and Others

Having a friend or two over shouldn’t be a problem for any but the most anal-retentive roommate, but there are some things to keep in mind with certain social situations.

1. Parties-Before having a party, make sure your roommate knows about it well in advance and can be there if she wants to be. There is nothing worse than twenty people showing up at your apartment for a kegger you weren’t aware was going to happen, or coming home to a complete disaster left over from a party that happened while you were out. You and your roommate should have veto rights when it comes to large parties involving mess, noise, and debauchery.

2. Significant Others-If you have a significant other that spends the night more than twice a week, you have another roommate. Unfortunately, the significant other pseudo-roommate makes just as much noise and mess and takes up just as much space as the real roommate who actually pays rent. This is obviously not a fair trade for the single roommate. You have two options for creating harmony in this situation. Your significant other can officially move in and contribute an equal share of rent and bill money, or you need to limit the number of nights your significant other stays over.

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