How to be a good roommate

Rick Lowe

I think I’ve said at least once already that the writing I send in to this here publication is not going to be anything resembling an advice column, but here’s a rare occasion when I am in fact going to offer up some advice. Well, not really advice. More like strong suggestions. About rooming and roommates and living with people who aren’t your family and initially are probably not your bosom buddies.

Disclaimer: yes, I realize that many people who read this will already know about these things, and may already be putting them into practice. If you’re one of those people, awesome. If you’re not, and you know who you are, well… I’m a-learnin’ you somethin’ today.

1) After using the bathroom for hygienic needs—brushing your teeth, clipping your nails, any or all of the three S’s—take some toilet paper and clean up after yourself. I don’t care how clean you keep yourself or how pretty everyone tells you you are, you’re human and you’re leaving behind bits and pieces of yourself that you either no longer need or want in that bathroom. You can wash your hands immediately after; don’t leave that stuff laying around for your roommates to have to encounter the next morning. You can keep your room as dirty as you want, but the bathroom is (usually) not reserved for you and you alone.

2) If you leave food laying around, or leave garbage too long without taking it out, you will notice unwanted houseguests. Ants do not care who left that unwashed plate on the carpet or whose turn it is to take the garbage out. Neither do any of these other pests, and once they’ve shown up, they’re going to multiply two things: their numbers, and the overall tension in the residence.

3) Communicate with your roommates. This one’s a triple-header.

A) For example, if I decide that I want to go for a walk outside because I like the nighttime, I mention this to my roommates. It’s not that I’m asking their permission: it’s a safety-thing, in case there are unsavory characters about with naughty desires and injurious implements who prevent me from making it back to the apartment when I said I was going to be back.

B) Sharing food and game consoles is another thing that needs to be communicated. Some people mind if their roommates eat the fridge and everything in it. Me and mine have a simple rule for food: “No name? Fair game.” Likewise we have a rule for electronics: “Ask first in case I was planning on using it.” That’s stuff like John’s 360 and my PS3, that either of us has fun using. We don’t touch each other’s laptops, though—those are sacrosanct.

C) I’ve found that it’s better to speak with “could,” not “should.” It’s best to suggest. If you get commandeering or tyrannical with your roommates, I guarantee you that relationship’s going to sink faster than an X-Wing in a bayou. We’re all grown-ups now, yeah? We’re not each other’s bosses. One more thing on communication: Passive-aggressive sticky notes are only funny in Cards Against Humanity. Don’t leave them laying around—grow a spine and speak politely to your roommate when you have an issue with them. That right there is a respect issue that says “I view you as an equal, worthy of talking to, instead of an inferior who’s only fit to read my issuances of orders.”

These are just a couple of smallish things that can save you some dorm-drama. If you know me personally, you may be frowning and thinking “but Rick, you really haven’t had a lot of drama or problems with your roommates.” To which I would smile at you, nodding, and say “exactly.”