9 Roommate Rules that Actually Work

By Lorena Roberts


Living with people can be one of the toughest parts of your young adult life. Whether you decide to live with your best pals or some people you found on Craigslist, there are so many dynamics when it comes to having roommates. There are several decisions to be made on top of trying to find a place with reasonable rent, walking distance to your classes, and in close proximity to all your favorite drive-thru establishments.


One of the biggest adjustments between high school and college is learning to live with someone in a dorm. There’s a pretty major learning curve for most students – as sharing a space that small is far from “normal” or “comfortable.” But even living off-campus oftentimes means having a roommate—and most of the time, more than one. So how do you decide who to live with and what rules to instill? What happens if the rules you planned on don’t end up working out? What if you absolutely hate living with the people you’ve chosen as your roommates? How do you avoid getting yourself into a sticky situation when it comes to roommates in college?


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There are plenty of articles out there that’ll advise you on creating “roommate rules.” They’ll tell you to make a list of all the chores and take turns doing the heavy stuff. They’ll tell you to establish boundaries up front and make sure you hold each other to the same standards. They’ll tell you not to move in with your best friend, because it’ll ruin your friendship, and they’ll tell you to host “family meetings” with your roommates to solve your problems instead of trash talking to your mom. But there’s something that all of these roommate articles leave out: what are the roommate rules that actually work for college students?


Sure, it’s different with everyone. It depends on your house dynamic. Are there two of you or are there five of you? Do you each have significant others that stay over 6/7 nights every week? Are you all full-time students, or do some of you also work? Are there pets in the home? What are your habits during exam week?


It’s tough to try and judge a roommate situation without knowing all of the factors. Every little thing can make the biggest impact on how the household functions as a whole. It’s annoying that there isn’t some universal list of roommate rules that everyone seems to abide by. However, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to make some of the rules work.


Here’s a list of nine roommate rules that will actually work in your college household this semester:


1. Steer clear of “taking turns” with chores. Instead, assign one roommate to each part of the household that’s important to keep clean.


Sometimes roommates think it’s a better idea to have a rotating cleaning schedule instead of assigning someone to each chore. For example, I remember the days of “I took out the trash last time, so now you need to take it.”

Instead of trying to keep up with “who did it last,” assign someone to always take out the trash. When it gets full, it’ll be easy to call someone out. Who’s in charge of the trash? Betty. Jump on Betty’s behind if she doesn’t take the trash out when it starts overflowing.


It’s definitely a lot easier to keep things clean when you’ve assigned each person a specific task. However, I wouldn’t assign anyone things like dishes or cleaning the bathrooms. There’s definitely something to be said about everyone doing their own little part. It helps keep the household functioning steadily if everyone pitches in and puts their own dishes in the dishwasher (if you’re lucky enough to have one!).


2. Make a “quiet pact.”


Regardless of whether or not you’re a light sleeper, you and your roommates should decide on “quiet times.” I’m definitely the roommate who gets up on Saturday mornings and starts my laundry and vacuums the living room. And if that’s going to bother you, I’m going to need to know. It would be helpful if we made a rule for Saturday morning quiet time. Do you want me to wait until noon? I’m probably not going to go for that, but I’ll settle for 10:30 or 11:00.


The same goes for evenings. I go to bed early. I don’t want you partying with your friends in the middle of the week at midnight, blasting your Taylor Swift noise while I’m trying to sleep. I have to get up in the morning and go to work, so let’s agree that you won’t play your music loudly with your pals after 10:00 pm.


3. Agree to call each other out without having to get personal.


One of the hardest things to do in college is live with people. On top of everything else you’re trying to balance, managing the dynamics of college students and living together sucks sometimes. So instead of harboring feelings when Betty “forgets” to take out the trash and holding a grudge against Lou Anne for playing her music loud at all hours of the night, agree to call each other out without having to get personal.


It makes it a lot easier to live with each other when you agree that every little thing isn’t an insult to who you are as a person. Sure, you conveniently forget to take the trash out every single time it’s overflowing, and if I were in charge of taking out the trash, this would never happen. But it doesn’t have to become a personal attack. A simple “Lou Anne, the trash is overflowing again” might be the reminder that your roommate needs to get their rear-end in gear and take it to the dumpster. Move past little things like this and you’ll be able to exist peacefully – guaranteed.


4. Don’t feel like you have to be friends just because you live together. Avoid “forcing” a friendship.


Being a roommate and being a friend are two completely different things. Set your boundaries up front and set them firmly. If you’re not interested in building relationships with the people you’re living with, don’t do it. Don’t feel like you have to force a friendship with the people you’re living with. Those are the worst kinds of “friendships,” and they aren’t even real.


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5. Establish boundaries for the shared spaces – refrigerator, pantry, cabinets, living room, and shared bathrooms


If you set guidelines that one person’s bathroom is going to serve as the “guest bathroom” for when your friends come over, make it known that this bathroom needs to be kept clean all the time. Maybe assign it to one of the roommates who tend to stay the cleanest.


If you’re all sharing a refrigerator, assign shelves and drawers to each person. Otherwise, before you know it, you’re eating someone else’s food because you can’t remember if you bought that or not.


Assigning each roommate space in the pantry is also a good idea. Limit the amount of food that each of you can store at one time – otherwise, it’s going to become an overflow of non-perishables that will take you more than a year to eat.


6. Significant others aren’t guaranteed a place to shack up just because they’re a significant other.


Don’t feel pressured to allow your roommates to let their significant others stay over every night. Especially when it comes to paying for things like utilities, having an additional person in your home means your bill could be that much higher. Unless you’ve all agreed to their significant other staying over on a regular basis, don’t feel guilty about setting that boundary.


If you are going to give in and let them have their partner over for a majority of the week, discuss splitting the utility bill more ways to include the water and electricity their partner is using. Don’t feel bad about it – when you signed your lease, it probably didn’t include their boyfriend/girlfriend, no matter how “sure” they are about being in love/getting married.


7. Set clear expectations for locking the door, shutting windows, etc.


Nothing is worse than coming home to an unlocked, empty house because your roommates “didn’t check to see who was home.” It’s such a lazy excuse: “Oh, I didn’t know I was the last person to leave.”


Set a boundary and tell your roommates that you’ll all be expected to lock the door every single time you leave. That way, no one will ever come home to an empty house with an unlocked door and have to be scared for their life upon entry. Make sure everyone has at least one key, and if necessary, hide an extra one somewhere.


Consider “sharing” your location with your roommates. Not because they need to know where you are at all times, but because then there will be no excuses for not knowing who happened to be home when you left.


This might feel risky, but if you’re a female college student, here’s the perfect way to stay safe as well. I’ve gotten in the habit of telling my roommates when I’m going out with someone new, or when I’m exploring a new hiking trail with my pup. If they know to keep an eye on my location, and they haven’t heard from me in a few hours, they’ll surely come looking for me. As a female in college these days, you can never be too careful.


8. Participate in roommate activities when you want to, not every single time you’re invited.


It’s hard to step away from the people you live with sometimes. Maybe you even truly enjoy their company. Maybe they’re the type of roommates who want to have dinner together, watch weekly tv shows in the living room, and share a grocery allowance on a weekly basis. But know that it’s completely okay to walk away from invitations to do things with them on occasion. Just because you’re their roommate doesn’t mean you’re also their built-in playmate.


It’s okay to have time for yourself. It’s okay to say you have other things to do. It’s completely okay to lay in your bed and watch The Office instead of hitting every fall activity in town with the roommates you only like on your good days.


Self-care is of utmost importance. Especially in college. Do yourself a favor and sit this one out.


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9. Talk about how you’ll pay bills, including deadlines.


Hopefully, you and your roommates aren’t fighting over who’s name to put the utility bill in because you all want the credit history to build. Once you get all of the bills figured out, you need to set up a payment system. Cash App and Venmo are both great apps to use if you want to send each other money, but this can get a bit hairy when one of you sends in the bill for the utilities and you don’t get the money from your roomies in time to cover the total of the check. That just gets awkward because then you owe a late fee from where you didn’t pay the entire total.


Whether you live somewhere that Wi-Fi is included or not, making sure you have all of your bills settled ahead of time is always a best practice. Tell your roommates that you’ll always send in your bill on the 10th day of the month (or whatever) and that they have to give the money to you by the 8th. Otherwise, they can pay the late fee. It’s not fair for you to have to cover their rear-end because they aren’t organized enough to keep themselves together.


Living with roommates can suck and make you wish that you’re never in this position again, and you’ll likely look forward to the days where you have your own place and you can run the dishwasher as often as you’d like. You can turn your music up loud, do your laundry every couple of days, and not worry about whether or not the kitchen is going to be a complete wreck when you get home. It’ll be nice to have a place of your own. But enjoy these days – the days of cheap rent and living with people who are going through some of the same things you are. Have a little bit of fun and try not to wish your life away.


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