How To Live With Roommates Without Being A Jerk

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There’s nothing more freeing than walking around your house naked, and without having to worry whether someone will come home and crash your personal time. Unfortunately, it’s more of a privilege than a reality for most of us. Life is hard, and necessity means splitting the rent with other people if you want to have money leftover for food and such. That’s true for me, at least. Far gone is the dream I once had as a teenager, where I’d move out of my childhood home (and the rules that accompanied it) as soon as I was “an adult” for a beautiful home all of my own. Aside from a brief year of solitude my senior year of college, I’ve never lived alone.

Some people will try to tell you that where you choose to physically live—an expensive city vs. an affordable one, a shared apartment vs. a studio of your own—is an accurate reflection of where you are in life. To that, I say that if you’re making an average amount of money and taking care of yourself in ways that work for you, where you’re at is a perfectly lovely place to be. Don’t be ashamed to have a roommate… or even three. If sharing rent with some strangers you met on Craigslist makes your life easier, great! Yes, privacy is valuable. That’s why my bedroom has a door—one that I close with great regularity.


You’ll get your own place when you can, man. In the meantime, getting along with the people you live with is good enough.

Know that there’s a pecking order.

It’s in your best interest to read the room when moving into a place that’s already inhabited by other people. If you were raised right, you know how to act: Defer to the social mores of the household, hang back a little until the ice has been broken. Get comfortable—it is partially your apartment after all—but don’t act like you own the place, or waltz in on moving day demanding that your new roommates brush their cats daily because of your allergy. Take a Benadryl and keep the door to your room closed, and don’t complain about the choice that you’ve made.


On the other hand, if you’re the master tenant, you may be acting like a dick without even realizing it. Yes, you’ve earned the right to the best bedroom in the place by way of finding it to begin with, but you have to rely on roommates to share your rent, too! It’s easy to think of move-ins as people who are just passing by, easily replaceable and interchangeable. But please don’t treat your new housemates as guests at a youth hostel. You have to live with them every day. You chose them. It’s in your best interest to be respectful and play nice.

Rent and bills are non-negotiable.

Let me be clear: asking for money feels terrible, regardless of how you do it but it’s the one thing that is entirely non-negotiable and therefore should be addressed bluntly and head-on. When you have roommates, 45% of your communication is spent incessantly asking for money, like a public radio fundraising drive, but worse. That said, your relationship with your roommates is at best a harmonious union and at worst, nothing more than a business transaction with someone you don’t really like. If you’re the one collecting for rent, ask for it a day or so before it’s due.

If your roommate is the type to start avoiding you when bills are due, let Venmo do the work for you. Venmo is great to charge your friends for cab rides, beers after work, and occasionally marijuana. It works like a dream. Why not use it for rent? Give your roommates a grace period of a day or so after you’ve emailed or talked to them about bills, and if they still haven’t paid you when it’s due, just charge them on the app. It will ping their phone *and* send them an email, and eliminates the resentment you get from having to ask for money while awkwardly standing in their doorway as they look for their checkbook.

If you can’t pay up, speak up early and often.

No one likes talking about money because most of us don’t feel like we have enough. There are few things more stressful than knowing that you owe someone money for the internet bill while feeling completely incapable of paying it. Say you owe your roommates money and you just don’t have it. Don’t keep this information from them. Remember that these are basically people that you’re in a weird, sexless relationship with. Communication is key. If you can’t pay your rent on time, tell them as soon as you know. Don’t expect your roommates to start a GoFundMe to pay your half of the rent and don’t expect them to be terribly pleased about this. Do what you can to get the money together and be communicative about all the steps you’re doing to get it sorted. Offer to talk to the landlord and take blame for being a day or two late.


Clean like you’re at your parents’ house.

Everyone has different personal levels of cleanliness. One person’s “spotless” is another person’s “filthy garbage pile,” but communal living means that you have to meet in the middle. A good way to keep a mental check of how to deal with common spaces is to treat them as if you were at your parents’ house. If you use a dish, wash it 24 hours after you’ve used it. Getting home drunk at 3 AM and making a feast for one is only fine if you’re not waking up anyone or causing any weird smells to float through the entire apartment. And if you do cook frequently, do those goddamn dishes… and then clear them from the drying rack. Keep it clean enough so that if your mother walked in the front door, unexpected, she wouldn’t feel the need to drop her bags and start poking around for a vacuum cleaner and the spray bleach.


If you feel like you’re picking up the slack, speak up. Work against your natural instinct to be passive-aggressive, try to be tactful and be upfront. Approach the conversation delicately. Don’t barrel in with accusatory statements about mouldering dishes and dust bunnies the size of kittens in the dark corners of your living room. Don’t make yourself a martyr by taking on upkeep on your own. Very few things in this world build resentment like scrubbing mystery skid marks from the inside of a toilet bowl.

If you feel like you’re nagging, you’re not. Get over it. You’re grown and so is the person you’re speaking to. Put down that chore wheel you were making and talk it out. If all your casual conversations about cleaning are taking a turn for the worse, set a schedule for cleaning. Rules are made to be broken, I guess, but they’re also there to keep you accountable. Clean every other weekend and rotate tasks, so no one gets stuck bleaching the grout four weeks in a row.


Sometimes this can get into a frustrating pattern where no one cleans, and then everyone does. If you can’t stick to a schedule, consider getting a cleaning service that comes once a month and leaves the house immaculate. You’ll find that you too can afford this luxury if you swap some of your drinking money for the sanity that comes with a clean house. This is the answer. Seriously.

Be clear about what food is shared.

A giant vat of olive oil from Costco could be shared reasonably between roommates; your fancy stuff less so. If you’re buying $20 bottles of olive oil and pink Himalayan sea salt, something tells me you’re not particularly interested in sharing them with everyone else who cooks food in the kitchen. Replace the stuff you use once in a while, and pool money or swap out on things that are commonly shared. If you want to get really organized and slightly crazy, go all in and start a shared GoogleDoc that keeps track of who bought toilet paper the last time and whose turn it is to buy coffee. Accountability! Transparency! All good things.


Also! It doesn’t matter if you’re drunk, don’t dive face first into someone else’s leftovers. Think how mad you’d be if someone ate what you thought you were going to take to work for lunch the next day. Be respectful. Eat your own food. If you happen to eat someone else’s food, guess what—you owe them dinner. Brunch. Breakfast. A mid-afternoon snack. Yes, you feel bad. Show how that you feel bad by the gesture of replacing that which you stole.

Hide your noise. Especially your sex noises.

Be reasonable without being crazy about making a racket. Avoid actually “bringing the party home” on weeknights, especially if all of your roommates wake up early. Weekends are different, but as always, be considerate of roommate schedules. (Which is something you should ask about before even moving in, to be honest.) If your roommate works the early shift and wakes up at 7 AM on Sundays, maybe don’t invite everyone you know to hang in the kitchen until 4 AM the night before.


What about when getting laid? Well, sex is great and wonderful and fun and a perfectly reasonable thing to want to have in your own home. No one wants you not to have sex, but I bet you $5 and a pack of Trident that nobody wants to hear it. Turn on music if people are still up and about in your apartment. Put on the last season of Parks and Recreation, turn on your white noise app, whatever. Just because you can’t hear your roommates over the sounds of your passion doesn’t mean that they can’t hear you. Muffle your sounds, keep them to breathy whispers if you have to. I don’t care what you do or what you use, just create an aural barrier between the sounds of your frenzied lovemaking and your roommates who lie beyond your paper-thin door, making dinner. Also, if you’re going to bone someone in the shower, hurray for you, and definitely do it when everyone else is asleep.

Hearing your roommates have sex is something everyone has gone through once. We’ve all been there, though. Patience and a little understanding is key. Telling the fucker in your home to have less sex or to do it more quietly is an embarrassing and unnecessary conversation. Depending on how tight you and your roommate are, asking them to maybe put on some sweet tunes while they’re doin’ it is fine, but be nice about it.


Hang out with each other, dummies!

Your roommates are like the weird siblings you never wanted—fun at times, but constantly, always around. Embrace it! Try to get along. Veg out on the couch and watch some mindless TV show together. Say hello to the friends of theirs who regularly stop by. No one’s saying you have to be best friends, or that you ever have to hang out outside of the house. But keep in mind that roommates are the ones who will prevent you from being eaten by your cat after you die, unnoticed and alone. Your roommates are a tiny salve against all-consuming loneliness. You need each other, so you might as well make the most of it.


Megan Reynolds, reformed flake, is an associate editor at The Frisky.

Art by Tara Jacoby.

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