Three students standing in front of a residence hall with Chip the Buffalo.

Living with roommates can come with some adjustments, even if you’re living with friends. Whether you’ve had roommates before or are living away from home for the first time, here are five things everyone should know about living with roommates.


1. First impressions aren’t always accurate

Raise your hand if you’ve looked your new roommate up online before meeting them (). While this kind of information gathering may help satisfy your curiosity, it’s also important to remember that people may present themselves differently on social media. Try to take your first impressions of someone with a grain of salt, whether it’s in person or online. Allow yourself the time to get to know them over the course of a few weeks. Seek out the things you have in common (interests, hobbies, etc.) and allow space for differences, too.


2. Roommate agreements are helpful

A lot of roommate conflict arises from differing expectations, miscommunications and other subtle misperceptions. Make sure you’re covering the basics by setting ground rules together, even if you’ve lived together before. Talk through each of your expectations, habits and routines together. Remember that you may need to revisit these subjects each semester as your schedules and commitments may change. Here are some topics to discuss together:

  • Morning and bedtime routines (quiet hours, class times, etc.)
  • Cleanliness of shared spaces (clutter, laundry, dishes, etc.)
  • Visitors (friends, significant others, overnight guests, etc.)
  • Borrowing or using each other’s things (electronics, food, etc.)
  • Purchasing common items (cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc.)
  • Parking arrangements
  • Preferred ways to address conflict and discuss issues

You can create a roommate agreement to establish common ground and hold everyone accountable. Make sure everyone is on the same page and that everyone is able to share their input. Off-campus students can use this roommate agreement template. On-campus students will be able to complete a roommate agreement in person with their roommate and RA following move-in.


3. Communication matters

When you’re upset with a roommate, be sure to address it quickly before it festers. Addressing issues through texting, social media or notes on the fridge or door may feel like an easy way to avoid conflict, but it can also lead to miscommunication and increased frustration. Since we can’t control how the message will be received by the other person, it may lead to more (and bigger) issues down the road.

Instead, make time to bring up the issue in person, ideally when you’re both at home with no lingering distractions. Make a plan and think through how you can express your needs—this will help you feel more prepared. Remember to use “I” statements to describe how the situation makes you feel. Here are some examples of how to use “I” statements:

  • “I feel hurt when I'm not invited to game night because I really enjoy hanging out with you.”
  • “I feel frustrated when the trash doesn’t get taken out because we agreed to switch off who takes care of it each week.”
  • “I am upset that my coat was damaged because I can’t afford to replace it.”
  • “I feel hurt when my snacks get eaten by others because I have special dietary needs that make it difficult to grocery shop.”

While you’re having a conversation with your roommate, be sure to listen for understanding and ask follow-up questions to ensure you’re interpreting what they’re saying correctly. Resist the urge to formulate a response to what they’re saying while they’re speaking. Instead, focus your full attention on the emotions, issues and reasoning that your roommate is bringing up.


4. Everyone handles conflict differently

Everyone handles conflict differently, depending on the situation, their conflict style and who they are having a conflict with. However, there are some common themes that may show up in a person’s response again and again. Learning how you approach conflict can be a great opportunity to learn or refine your skills for successful conflict resolution. 

You can take this Conflict Style quiz to learn more about your approach and how your default response impacts your behaviors and attitudes toward conflict. Encourage those around you – roommates, friends, family – to take it, too, so you can learn how to work better together. Knowing other people’s styles can be helpful in reframing your approach or working to find alternative solutions when conflict does arise.

Take the Conflict Style Quiz


5. You may not be BFF’s (and that’s okay)

While it would be nice, change doesn’t happen overnight. Disagreements don’t always resolve the way we’d like, and more often than not, seeing progress requires a series of conversations and a willingness to keep trying. Having a healthy relationship with your roommate doesn’t always mean that you’ll be best friends in the end. However, it’s important to continue communicating and working together.

If things feel like they’re unresolved, let the person know you appreciate their time and you’d like to follow up with them in the future. If things are resolved quickly, share your appreciation and gratitude with the other person and let them know you value their help and input.


Resources

If you live on campus and need additional support, your RA can be a great resource to help mediate conversations and help everyone come to an agreement. Talk with your roommate, and set up a time with your RA to discuss any unresolved issues. 

If you live on- or off-campus, the Conflict Resolution team provides services to help students navigate conflicts in a variety of relationships, including roommates, partners, friends, professors, classmates and more. They offer free workshops and coaching sessions for students looking to improve their skills around conflict management and conflict resolution. 

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