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3 Tips for Roommate Harmony

New to living with somebody? Follow these tips to keep from turning a roomie into an enemy.

By Joanie Connors


This is the time of the year when college students set up new living arrangements that often involve new roommates or living companions. Living with a roommate can be a challenge for those new to sharing living quarters, as well as to those who've done it for years, or are starting over again.

Here are some tips for helping you cope with living with someone in a friendly way:


1. Keep the Money Part Clean

Money is the number-one thing that romantic couples fight about, and it is the cause of most roommate troubles also. Money is tight in these troubled times, so it's easy to get in a bind where there is not enough.

Don't let your troubles convince you that your roommates will be glad to cut you some slack! Most likely, they have their money troubles, too. Even if they have more resources than you, or keep a tighter reign on the checkbook, that's not an invitation for you to take advantage of (use) them. Do not expect them to want to become your sugar-daddy!

When the money burden becomes unequal between roommates, there are always negative consequences! The one who is paying more will resent it and eventually you will pay in guilt and loss of that friendship. The one who is paying less also loses because you learn you can get off by whining about how hard it is and continue to be a child (otherwise known as a "loser").


2. Keep Your Messes Confined to Your Own Space

Many of us come from homes where our mothers cleaned up after us, so we learned not to be responsible for our messes. Unfortunately, these messy habits we have learned can make living with someone an awful experience.

Every living space should have places that are designated as private, for storing each individual's stuff. If you are sharing a dorm room, it's your bed, part of the closet, and one or two pieces of furniture. If you are sharing an apartment or house, each roommate generally has his or her own bedroom. Then there should be some shared space for socializing.

Your space is where your clothes (clean or dirty), books, paperwork and personal gadgets belong. Leaving them out in the living room is disrespectful (dissing) to your roommate as well as inviting others to lose and abuse your stuff (another source of roommate conflict).

Leaving trash or dirty dishes out is even worse! This forces your roommate to live in a dump, and is, in effect, asking him or her to become your mother. Either is bound to create really bad roommate juju. It's much easier to put dishes in the dishwasher and occasionally go by the dumpster.


3. Avoid Emotional Dumping

One of the cool things about having a roommate is that you get to talk about how crazy your family is with someone who is able to understand. Your roommate may be the first person outside of your family whom you can tell how bad it really was back home or out on the dating front.

Sharing family, dating and other horror stories is fine as long as there are limits to it. But some people are so happy to have a sane person to listen to them that they make roommate get-togethers into dumping sessions about every negative situation that comes along. This can cause your roommate to hate talking to you and to make excuses to not be around.

How do you know when you've gone too far in sharing your troubles? First, look at body language (mainly eye contact), because that will tell you if others are really interested or are just nodding their head while they think about how to get away. Second, think about how equal these sessions are: Are you always doing the talking? Does your roommate share as much?

If you are usually the listener in these sessions, one way to tell if they've gone too far is to watch for patterns: Is your roomie always the innocent victim? Are the trauma-dramas basically the same story with no effort to change things? You might do your roommate a favor by telling her so, and invite her to look at her own part in how she keeps these dramas going.


Living with a college roommate is your first chance to create good habits for sharing living space with others. You can't always control whom we have to live with, but there are many things you can do to help it be successful.

If you are a working adult who needs to improve your habits for sharing a living space, most of these tips will work for you also. These tactics should help anyone who wants to live with another adult in greater friendliness and harmony.


Dr. Joanie Connors is a psychologist who specializes in relationship psychology. She teaches psychology classes for WNMU and lives in Silver City.

10 Signs That Your Roommate Is a Slacker
or a Spoiled Brat

  1. Not paying his or her share on bills before the bills are due.
  2. Borrowing money (more than $1) and not paying it back right away.
  3. Making long-distance calls on your bill.
  4. Borrowing or using your stuff (clothes, CDs, books, etc,) and not giving it back in less than a week (or "losing" it).
  5. Borrowing or using your stuff and returning it dirty or damaged.
  6. Leaving dirty dishes in the sink, or food trash anywhere but the trashcan, for more than three hours.
  7. Eating your favorite munchie and not replacing it in less than 24 hours.
  8. Eating your food in general without replacing it in general.
  9. Flirting with your boyfriend/girlfriend, or someone your roommate knows you are seriously interested in.
  10. Gossiping about you in a negative way

If one of these applies: Slacker warning! Speak up and tell your roomie you are not happy with his/her looseness and that you want things to change.

If two of these ring true: Use and abuse patterns are being set up! Change it quick! Have a heart-to-heart with your roommate and deliver an ultimatum: "Change these things or we are not going to be roommates after [give a specific date]."

If three of these sound all too familiar: Your roommate is using you for a doormat! Stop allowing it! Make plans to move out.


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