4 common sense tips for not killing your roommate in a double-occupancy dorm

August 20 | Guest post by Kim A.

I'm currently a university student having a go at living away from home. So far, I've lived at school for a year. As I write, it's summer, and at this time my job provides me with a single dorm room; however, during the school year I reside in a double-occupancy dorm.

There are a lot of posts on Offbeat Home about cohabiting in an apartment or house; however, I don't think I've seen anything covering living and sleeping in the same room as a roommate you didn't know until a week prior to moving in! It was a pretty crazy adjustment.

My roommate and I follow some rules to keep the peace. It's not very hard and we didn't even come up with these rules purposefully; they really are just the result of being courteous to one another. They include:

1. Let your roommate know in advance if anything out of the ordinary is going to be going down in your dorm. This includes having multiple friends, or a significant other, over for more than a casual visit; having the lights out to watch a movie; sleeping; having a guest stay overnight; or going away for more than a day. This way, they can plan accordingly. If they ask you to modify your plans in the room for them, do it if you possibly can. Then, they'll be more willing to help you out, too. It also helps if you take it up a notch by doing nice things without them asking. If they are trying to sleep, don't sit at your desk typing for hours — just go to the library. If you're going to a party that night and they are looking for something to do, invite them.

2. Make sure you're keeping your side of the room relatively neat. An unmade bed is not a big deal; a stack of dirty plates, on the other hand, is pretty gross. If it's affecting the other person's comfort in the room, it has to go. I mean, imagine if you were living at close quarters with someone and they kept tracking in mud on their side of the room. Sure, it's their side, but you're still pretty likely to accidentally step in it. On a similar note, make sure you are both doing chores equally.

3. Save space. The more space you have in your dorm, the more comfortable it is to live with someone.

  • Try to use vertical storage.
  • I also try to buy multi-purpose items to save room.
  • Share things that you can do without doubles of, such as a mutual microwave or an area rug.

Having less things also has the added bonus of being better for your wallet and the environment — the less you consume, the better.

4. Just tell each other if you have a problem. It's not cool to let a conflict fester without mentioning it. If my roommate has an issue with something I do, she just calmly and politely asks me not to do it — and then I stop doing it. If your roommate needs reminding a few times, don't be too impatient, as long as they are trying. And of course, if there's a conflict too large to solve on your own, there's usually an RA to help you in most dorms — it's quite helpful to have a mediator in certain situations.

Living in a dorm is great, there are always tons of people around to talk to, and it's convenient to live so close to all my classes, job, and other activities. I'm sure there are other Offbeat Homies living the dorm life — what are your strategies for getting along with roommates?

  1. Great rules! As art students my roommate and I also had stores of weird possible art supplies like corrugated cardboard, crepe paper that we shared, but we always asked first just to be courteous and so we'd know what we still had left.

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  2. As a three-year former RA, I just have to say I wish every set of roommates could come to an agreement like this! We always had "roommate contracts" for our residents to sign. Basically each resident would write down their expectations for the coming year–how they would use the room, how they would communicate with their roommate(s), and how they would handle conflicts. This didn't always work, but it was helpful to have that contract to go over if a conflict did arise. Even though it can seem unnecessary or even rude to submit your roommate to a contract like that, I definitely recommend it for roommate situations–whether you're moving in with a total stranger or your BFF, it helps to lay out your expectations from the beginning, so that halfway to fall break your roommate isn't saying "you mean you don't like it when I have a lights-on, music-pumping, dirty hippie orgy while you're trying to sleep?"

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  3. Awesome tips. Except I'm totally having flashbacks to a year in college where we had the roomie's boyfriend as the third roommate. Spent a lot of nights sleeping in common areas to get away from the… friskiness. Le sigh. ;)

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    • BEEN THERE–on both sides of the coin, actually. My first-year roommate was like that the first semester. Then in the spring she basically just moved into her boyfriend's room, so I moved my boyfriend into our room, so that his roommate could move his girlfriend into their room–I'm not sure what happened to HER old room though.

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  4. One amendment I would make is to talk in advance about habits and lay out some things that you believe would make you a difficult roommate* and hammer out some solutions together. Allergies? Sleeping habits? Study/work habits? Pet peeves that would turn you against a sweet little old lady?

    I had one who was unrelentingly anti-noise and anti-stimulus when it was time to go to bed. Because I knew in advance to investigate ways to accommodate her sleeping habits.

    *Phrased in a much more positive way though!

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    • So totally this. I sleepwalk, and I always have to warn roomies ahead of time, so I can have the bottom bunk, or no bunks at all. Sleep walking + top bunk could spell disaster!

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  5. There are some great tips here –

    Another note on the sharing common use items, like a microwave.

    Sometimes there are items one roommate owns, but the other might want/like to use. Say like a floor fan, or an electric skillet.

    The first time – make sure to ask. But if its an item that's okay to borrow, develop ground rules.

    For example:
    – go ahead and use it if I'm not: plug-in fan
    – Use it, but let me know: Borrowed some milk for mac-n-cheese, Wanted to let you know. Of course, don't use the last of it.
    – Ask me first, before you use it: electric skillet, because its borrowed.

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    • My roommate and I share a rug, fridge, and TV/related devices. We went over what we'd be sharing ahead of time (mostly so we didn't end up with 2 in the room!) Everything else, we let each other use as long as we ask first.

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  6. Great advice. It has helped me and my dorm/apartment roomies to tackle decorating together, even if it was just arranging the few pieces of furniture or choosing some posters together at the school bookstore. It's bonding to work on a project together and it helped us both feel more at home in the space.

    Also, discuss things like overnight guests, using each other's stuff/clothes/food, substance use, general schedule, etc.

    It helped me and my roomies to make schedules listing our routine class/work/volunteer/club hours. That way I generally knew when I'd have the room to myself for a nap, dance party, whatever.

    And even a small room must be cleaned! Talk about who's going to vacuum/sweep, take out the trash, etc.

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  7. I lived with a friend of mine my junior year of college, and we had 100% different sleep schedules. I was a "stay up until midnight to finish that paper" kind of girl, and she was a "go to bed at 8 get up at 4am to work on said paper" lady. We instituted our own quiet hours…between 10pm and 6am, no TV/radio/talking. Light from the computer was OK. She could go to bed at 8pm, but couldn't get mad if I came in at 9 and accidentally turned the light on. Likewise I could sleep in till 9am, but after 6 she was within her rights to use the microwave and open and close the fridge six times.
    Another, more practical tip: white noise. I have been a white noise sleeper my whole life, since we lived next to a busy highway and my mom kept a fan running to drown out the traffic noise. The fan works to drown out snoring, a room mate turning over in bed over and over, whispering, and typing. If you can stand to sleep with white noise, I highly recommend it.

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  8. My first college roommate and I were total opposites, and not in a good way. She was a violent near-psychopath who liked to talk to herself and sleep with the TV on. I was a laid-back individual who hated (and still hates) hearing people talk to themselves and can't sleep with the TV on. I don't know which habits of mine bothered her, only that she just plain didn't like me. Our one verbal agreement was that we kept our spaces clean – messy was acceptable, dirty was not. Otherwise we ignored each other completely and thus managed to keep the peace (My subsequent roommates were much easier to live with).

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  9. Hey. So, i moved away from home at 14, not because of family problems, but because i wanted to go to a rather special highschool. I lived in a huge dorm with all the girls from my class (12 in total). Those were the best times in my life. I'm now entering my fifth year of college, and each year i had other 3 roommates. And let me tell you, it sucks. I only have 2 major rules: no noise when i'm sleeping and no touching my stuff, but some people were just raised by wolves..i once woke up in the middle of the night with my roommate sleep walking in the room with a pair of scissors in her hand. I moved out the next day.

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  10. Oh man, I had TWO roommates my freshman year because we had a suite (sort of). I loved one, lived with her all four years. The other…let's just say we had to start the "you must wear clothes when parents are visiting" rule in the room because of her. And later, when she came back to visit, we also had to start the "do not hang your stripper underwear outside on the shared walkway" rule.

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  11. My suggestions are so much darker, like "If it occurs to you that you'd like to move, just do it" and "Leave as much of your stuff at home as possible, so there'll be less mess, less squabbling and less opportunities for someone to steal your shit." But I had a very… different experience in college.

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  12. Ohhh man. College roommates. Most of the time, I lived with this one awesome girl, but I had a few bad ones.

    1) Don't assume living with a friend will be awesome. I roomed with a (then, no longer) close friend who turned out to be just awful. Dirty, inconsiderate, etc.

    2) No nookie while your roommate is in the room. It's really creepy to force someone into your sex life without their consent.

    3) Don't touch each other's shit without asking. The fact that adults have to be reminded of this is asinine.

    4) Fill out the roommate agreement. Even if your roomie or even your RA acts like it's no big deal, do it anyway. You want that shit in writing.

    5) Have some kind of storage you can lock. As non-trusting as that sounds, you're gonna want somewhere to lock up money, etc, if needed. I had a cheap trunk. (I also had to lock my minifridge when one roommate kept leaving food in there until it would rot.) If it's super-important to you, and it wouldn't fit in something that locks, consider leaving it at home until you know your roommate better. Sometimes you also get stuck with someone who forgets to/is too lazy to lock doors. (Or is an asshole and gives out the key code to everyone, like this one guy I knew)

    6) Don't be afraid to move out. For serious. One roommate was so bad, when my Hall Director casually asked how I was doing, I just started rambling sadly at him. He introduced me to the awesome roomie, who had just had an awful experience herself. I packed up my stuff, threw a "btw I'm moving out" at the awful girl, and was on my merry way.

    6) Keep your shit clean. Messy is one thing, dirty is another. (Had one roommate whose pets used to fling literal shit all over the floor that she never cleaned up, another that used to have STACKS of paper cups full of juice that would ferment and leak. Eww.)

    7) Just be considerate. You'd be amazed at how far a "Hey, would it be cool if I…" goes. And just think about how the other person you live with might feel. (Do you get up before your roommate? Don't hit the snooze button so your really loud alarm clock goes off five times in a row, etc.)

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    • So many THISes.
      Re: Roommate Agreement-It really does seem like BS, and most of the time, it totally is. But it gives the Housing staff leverage if your roommate totally sucks, then tries to blame it all on you. I knew a girl who violated every last one of the points on her roommate agreement and the college used it later as evidence when she was being kicked out.

      Re: Locking Storage-DO know your school's policy on locked storage. Private college often have weird policies on that sort of thing. The fact that one of my friends had a locked trunk was used as cause to open it. Because it was locked.

      Re: Moving Out-Again, I can't recommend it enough. My first roommate was actually super nice, social and tidy–all the things I am not. So I think I made her pretty miserable. She moved out at the end of the first semester and we were both SO much happier for it. I moved in with someone a lot more like me and we got along really well–to the point that we're even living together now! Meanwhile, I had friends who -felt bad- about moving out and ended up having their shit stolen. So…

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  13. I see a small husky dog sticker on the door. Could this be UCONN? Lived there on campus my freshman year with a *horrific* roommate in McMahon South! She used my products *without* asking; she borrowed jewelry (and consequently broke some things), without asking. Save your money and try and rent a room off campus. Saved me tons of grief!

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    • Indeed it is! The superior college! (just kidding, of course).

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