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Behind the List

How to Share Space with a Roommate

By Emma McAleavy
February 25, 2021

When it comes to living with roommates, sometimes we develop friendships, and other times we operate on completely different schedules, passing each other like ships in the night, as we go about our daily lives. No matter what kind of roommate relationships you want or have, it helps to be intentional about how you develop and maintain your relationship with the people you live with. The quality of these relationships can impact how you experience your everyday life inside and outside your home.



Learn about each other


The conversation about who you are and what you are looking for will, in all likelihood, begin before you even meet your roommate.  Many lister’s speak about their preferences and personality in the listing they post. One lister, Claudia, wrote, “I'm quick to laugh [and] generally prefer the mindset of sharing a really big bottle of olive oil than having two smaller ones.” Another lister George shared, “On a rare moon, I host modest dinner parties [and] I'm a good listener.” These kinds of details are the beginning of any good roommate relationship. To be able to live successfully with another human being you do need to know a little bit about who they are, what they’re like, and how they want to live with you. And they need to know those things about you. So from the beginning of your relationship, share what you are comfortable sharing and ask questions. The answers will help you cultivate a positive roommate relationship.

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Photo by Kelsey Leland

Take the time to think about what you need


Maybe you and your roommate will be kindred spirits who talk late into the night about the meaning of life.  Or maybe you’ll be content to cohabitate harmoniously without interacting too much. No matter what your situation is, though, you’re going to need to get clear with yourself about what your needs are. Do you need silence and alone time when you get home from work? Are there pet peeves that you have about cleanliness or spice cabinet organization? Are you comfortable having your roommate’s partner in the house every weekend? Take some time to think about it, because building a positive relationship with your roommate will first require that you are clear with yourself about what you need.

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Photo by Em B.

Set clear guidelines and expectations


Once you have a sense of what your needs are, it’s time to talk about them with your roommate. Maybe you already know a few things about them—that they are an introvert, or like Claudia, that they are fine sharing olive oil—but this is a chance to go deeper and really communicate what you each require to have a harmonious living experience. Ideally, you’ll come out of this conversation with a really clear understanding of what is okay and what is not okay in your home. How will you divide up chores? Who will make sure the utility bill gets paid? Will the apartment be a quiet zone at certain hours? How will you communicate when you disagree or have a conflict with one another? Some listers have used google docs, Trello boards or chalkboards in the kitchen to keep track of shared expectations and responsibilities. Whatever you decide, we recommend having this conversation before you move in together or within the first week of living together. It might feel a little uncomfortable to talk about your needs and expectations so early on, but it will set you up for success later. Ideally, you’ll come out of the conversation having written down some basic guidelines that will help you get along and enjoy each other's company.

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Photo by Natalie Capogrossi

Carefully follow your guidelines


Once you’ve established some guidelines, be meticulous about following them. Nothing feels worse than having set expectations only to see them ignored. As one lister wrote in their listing, “I’m very friendly until you leave a pile of dishes in the sink for two days and I have to clean them. :) lol.” Of course, no one is perfect, so give each other the benefit of the doubt, too. And keep in mind, that your guidelines may need to be updated at some point. If you introduce new pets or significant others into your household, or if your schedule or work situation changes dramatically, you may need to reconsider certain elements of how you live together.

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Photo by Aily Nash

Make time to check-in regularly


Having a weekly or bi-weekly apartment meeting may seem formal, but doing so will pay off. Setting aside time to check-in with each other, to find out how everyone is doing, and to discuss any household issues, will help ensure that nothing is festering or getting left unsaid. You can have these meetings over your favorite snacks or beverage. Even if you and your roommate aren’t close friends, it’s worth it to take the time for these check-ins. No matter how good your guidelines are, things will come up. And it’s so easy to lose track of what's going on with your roommate if you don’t take the time to slow down and check-in.



Feature image by Margarita Russolello


Emma McAleavy, our Growth Editor, works to bring the stories of our community to life. Emma’s writing has also appeared in The New York Times, Outside Magazine, and Architectural Digest. You can follow her on twitter @emmamcaleavy.

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