When you think of your college roommate, you probably picture the pal with whom you played Fortnite, or commiserated regarding unfair profs or shared late-night pizza while studying. Sure you might have had the occasional tiff over who drank the last soda, but most college roommate situations are pretty chill.
Unfortunately, a roommate situation in the “real world” might be more complicated. After all, you might not know each other that well, especially if you have relocated, and let’s be honest, most of us have a few more responsibilities once we graduate.
As you get started “adulting,” here are some conversations you should have with your new roommate upfront.
1. Discuss Your Lifestyle and Personalities.
“Sometimes opposites attract and work great together; other times not so much, says Justin Lavelle, chief communications officer for PeopleLooker.com, which provides online background checks and contact information.
Hash out these topics before you decide on a roommate situation, but if you are already together, have an open conversation about how you’re going to make it work.
For example, is your new roommate a morning person who jumps out of bed jamming to upbeat tunes at top volume? Are they a night owl who hits the treadmill at 11 p.m. and then loudly blends a recovery smoothie?
“It’s important to understand one another’s routines and daily habits so compromise can be made early, and both parties feel comfortable in their home,” says Shelley Meche’tte, a life purpose coach.
You also might want to discuss social style—such as whether you’re a partier or a home body—and discuss how often you will entertain friends—and how to make it fair for both of you, Lavelle says.
“No one will be a perfect match, but having the conversation upfront will help you figure out how to navigate one another’s living habits and produce the best possible outcome.”
2. Determine How You Will Handle Finances.
Not everyone had a benevolent parent footing all the bills in college, but in many cases as a college student, you’ve been getting a little more financial assistance than you are now. And given that entry-level jobs are typically not particularly lucrative, you might feel more uptight about finances at this stage of your life.
Regardless, it’s time to dive in and talk about all types of money matters. For example, decide whose name things like utilities will be in—and how they will be billed (auto bill is the best way to make sure you never get a late fee). Figure out when your bills are due, and then make a plan for how each person will be paid back and when. If you shoulder responsibility for the rent, for example, your roommate needs to pay you prior to that day so you are not floating their bills—and vice versa.
Discuss what will be shared expenses, as in household items like dish soap and toilet paper, as well as items in the fridge. No one needs duplicate condiments, so consider establishing specific shelves in the refrigerator, such as personal shelves and a mutual shelf, indicating that you are willing to share that item, suggests Meche’tte.
Once you’ve hammered out the details, put everything in writing and make sure you both have a copy so there’s no questions later on, says Lavelle.
3. Figure Out a Cleaning Schedule.
This is probably going to cause more issues than anything else, so come clean right up front about what you expect, says Juhi Kore, author of You Got This: How to Win at College. She recommends finding out exactly what you both absolutely hate cleaning, and maybe you can come to a happy agreement; for example, you don’t mind taking out the trash, and she is good about wiping down the shower after every use (I mean you can dream).
If there’s something you both hate, there needs to be a compromise.
“You can either both pitch in to hire someone or decide to take turns so neither has to solely deal with the situation,” Kore says.
Other than that, agree on a general cleaning outline together by writing a simple list of all of the common areas in the home that need to be cleaned and when. But don’t become the cleaning police, Lavelle cautions. Remember the goal is to get your place clean in a “reasonable” time frame, agreed upon by both roommates, but it doesn’t have to be exact days.
And if someone’s stuff is continually oozing out into the halls or common space, consider getting a storage space. They might eventually want that futon, but you don’t have to look at it the whole time you live together.
4. Be Honest About Your Quirks.
None of us are mind readers, and most of us truly don’t choose to intentionally annoy another person—but we don’t know that our actions are bugging unless someone tells us.
That’s why it’s usually best to just straight up tell your roommate your preferences before anything becomes an issue, says Lavelle. As in: “Don’t put your purse on the counter because it is disgusting.” Or: “Background music makes it hard for me to read so do you mind wearing earbuds while you cook?”
“Being honest and upfront makes living together so much easier because no one is taken by surprise,” Lavelle says.
5. Discuss Schedules.
The dichotomy of early bird and night owl is certainly an issue, but there can be other schedule-related situations you’ll want to discuss, especially if you are in close quarters. For example, if you have to be out the door at 7 a.m. sharp, and the two of you share a bathroom, make sure your roomie knows when you’ll need to be there—and compromise if you have the same schedules. Or if you want to cook dinner at a certain time, just let them know and see if you can come to an agreement about what works best for you both.
It’s also thoughtful to give a heads-up before you bring visitors home so your roommate isn’t caught with a charcoal mask on her face as you waltz in with a posse.
6. Put Together a Roommate Contract.
Once you’ve hashed out the big issues, this is the time to set them in stone, so to speak, which will make future conversations a lot easier because you’ve already agreed to literally be on the same page about a variety of issues. Look online for roommate agreements that list some of the key areas the contract should cover, add anything major you’ve agreed on and then put it in writing so you can reference it later.
7. Finally Remember the “Golden Rule.”
You’ve probably heard it before: “Everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten.” So, yes, even though you’re a college graduate, head back mentally to what you learned there about treating others the way you’d like to be treated.
“A good living situation begins with respect,” Lavelle says.