The deal with roommates

I’ve moved around the city a few times since coming to Toronto, living with different roommates in different areas downtown. I’m lucky to be able to say that it’s been really fun living with new people each time and getting to know them – but every roommate situation brings with it its own unique quirks.

It’s totally normal to have conflicts when living with people (even if they’re your friends)! After a few years living with roommates, here are words to live by when living with others I’ve collected over the years.

Do your dishes. Anyone who has ever lived with roommates knows the incredible gravity of the word “dishes” in a shared kitchen. In fact, most tension I’ve experienced in living situations has surrounded the issue of dishes piling up because everyone is busy!

The best way to deal with a dishes problem, in my experience, is to institute a rule – whether it’s that you have to clean your dishes immediately after you eat, or a 24-hour rule, or even a 48-hour rule. That way, if people don’t stick to it, you can call them out without it being personal.

A pile of dirty dishes in a sink
The dreaded growing dish pile monster. Image by Mike McCune via Flickr.

Make a chore chart. Even if you live with your friends and everyone promises that they’ll do chores, house cleanliness will inevitably fall through the cracks if you don’t set up a plan. Students are busy, and it’s tough to prioritize cleaning if you’re not sure where to start. Setting up a chore chart keeps people accountable and facilitates a conversation about everyone’s expectations in terms of cleanliness.

Be aware of and respect boundaries. If someone closes their bedroom door, can you knock or does that mean you should leave them alone? If you’re bringing a friend over at night, can you hang out in the common space or will that disrupt people trying to sleep? It’s really important to have these conversations with your roommates so you can identify one another’s boundaries and set some guidelines. If you are aware of each other’s needs and respect them, it can foster a comfortable environment for everyone and a space where sharing concerns is welcomed and not taken personally

Pick your battles, but be open and honest. If someone didn’t do their dishes one time, and usually always does, you don’t need to make them feel bad about it. Distinguish between patterns of behaviour and one-time rule breaches and pick your battles with your roommates accordingly. But, more importantly, if you need to voice a concern, voice it – don’t let it grow inside you and manifest in passive aggressiveness. Tell your roommates, and if the conflict persists, seek help from parents or friends or access conflict coaching resources through Housing Services.

My roommates eating brunch in our living room
One of the many perks of living with roommates: spontaneous brunch with remnants of each other’s groceries! These are my roomies during one such occasion.

Having a problem with roommates? Housing Services offers regular conflict coaching clinics, like next week (December 7) from 4:00-5:00pm (see more information on the Student Life Events Calendar). Read more about dealing with conflict on the Housing Services site.

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