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How to Set Boundaries When Living with Roommates

By Kailey Walters

 

Anyone who has ever lived with a roommate does not have the same exact experience as someone else who’s had a roommate. In the past, you may have had a fantastic roommate experience -- living with your best friend, staying up past 2 a.m. to share deep conversations -- or a terrible one straight out of a college roommate horror story, with your roommate continuing to sleep while their obnoxious alarm has been blaring across the room for a half-hour. No matter your situation, however, it’s always important to be aware of and set boundaries so that you and your roommate are able to live in harmony together. Understandably, there is always the potential for conflicts or disagreements to arise, which is why it’s important to set some house rules in order to prevent any situation from getting out of hand.

So what boundaries should you set with your roommates, and how do you go about doing so?


First, establish what makes each of you uncomfortable.

Before you and your roommate are able to establish any boundaries, it’s important that you figure out what you need to set boundaries around. Take some time to sit down with your roommate, get out a pen and a piece of paper, and talk about what could potentially bother you in this kind of living situation. It may seem kind of uncomfortable and awkward at first, especially if the two of you don’t know each other all that well, but it will save you both a lot of headaches in the long run.

Setting aside time to really communicate about these issues will also help to demonstrate to one another that you respect each other and want to make this living situation work to the best of your abilities. What’s more, making a concentrated effort to listen to one another and write down each other’s biggest pet peeves will help to cement the conversation in your mind. If your roommate emphasizes that she dislikes having guests over after 10 p.m., you will remember what she said and can do your best to not cross that line.

This also requires you to think about what bothers you specifically. It might be difficult to think of something at first, but when you give it some thought, you should be able to come up with something that you can share with your roommate. Maybe you wouldn’t like it if your roommate stayed up late cooking while you’re trying to get some shut-eye. Or maybe you can’t stand when their side of the room is a bit messy and is starting to encroach on your side. Whatever it is, make sure to communicate clearly and kindly so that your roommate knows what to expect from the beginning.

Once you both have an idea of what makes each of you uncomfortable, you can work on figuring out specific boundaries to prevent future conflicts from arising.

Work together on setting boundaries.

You and your roommate are in this together, so it’s essential that you create boundaries together. If you’ve been able to clear the hurdle of being honest and open with them about what bothers you, then you should be able to collaborate with them to establish some effective boundaries. Of course, doing so successfully involves continuing to openly communicate with them and be respectful of their wishes.

Be flexible and understanding.

What goes hand in hand with healthy communication and respect for your roommate is flexibility on your part. The two of you may have already established some boundaries, but you also have to recognize that life happens sometimes. That being said, it’s important that you are able to be flexible so that, should a potential conflict ever arise, you won’t be unreasonable. After all, sometimes things don’t go as planned; your roommate may possibly forget about a certain rule that the two of you set together, or she may need to bend the rules just this once. Whatever it is, appraise the situation and give your roommate some grace. You would want her to be just as forgiving if you were in her shoes. Being flexible will allow you to avoid potential conflict and reach a compromise with your roommate more easily.

Talk to your roommate if they don’t follow the rules you’ve set together.

Of course, in situations where your roommate happens to overstep certain boundaries multiple times, it may be time for you to take some action and kindly remind her of the house rules you have set together. After all, if you continue to let things slide all the time, she might start to take advantage of your silence. That’s why it’s important that you let her know how you’re feeling. Don’t be afraid to speak up and tell her what’s on your mind, as long as you do so in a tactful, respectful, and mature way. Your behavior will show that you’re willing to handle the situation responsibly, which should help keep tensions and emotions in check.

Recognize that the process is ongoing.

You may be used to instant gratification (think binge-watching Netflix shows or next-day Amazon delivery), but when it comes to building lasting, solid relationships with roommates, it takes time. If you happen to live with someone who is a little difficult to get along with, recognize that your relationship with him or her will require some time, patience, and effort before it gets a lot better.

And even if you have a roommate who’s not particularly difficult to get along with, it’s still important that you realize the relationship-building process is ongoing. That could mean checking in with your roommate every once in a while to discuss whether a certain rule you both set still works. You could also just ask them how things are going and if they are satisfied with the way things are between you two. Recognize that situations and schedules can often change -- because life is rather unpredictable -- which means you should take the time and effort to keep in regular contact with your roommate about how they are feeling.

Situations worth considering

Now that you understand the general importance of maintaining an open, communicative relationship with your roommate, it’s worthwhile to consider a number of different situations that might have the potential to push your buttons.

Borrowing things

Some people are totally cool with it; some people are exactly the opposite. And to be fair, this situation also depends on the sort of thing being borrowed. Perhaps it’s not a big deal that your roommate borrowed one of your forks, but it could be a bigger issue if she ended up eating your food without your permission and doesn’t do anything to pay you back or share. No matter the situation, it’s important that you talk about how each of you feels about borrowing one another’s things. Doing so can stave off potential conflicts concerning borrowing so that you both know what you can and can’t borrow from each other.

Guests

Another tricky subject among roommates involves guests. You and your roommate may have very different views on whether you want to allow guests into your room, how long or how late they can stay, if they can sleep over, etc. After all, you both share the room and you both want to be happy and at peace with the living situation. In that vein, if you don’t want your roommate bringing over guests late at night or even at all, make your thoughts known to him or her. Be clear about what you do and don’t want, and he or she will likely take that feedback. And vice versa, you need to show respect for him or her as well by listening, taking into account what he or she wants, and perhaps taking action to reach a compromise.

Perhaps you two can set some ground rules for how late guests can stay (e.g., 10 p.m.). You can also figure out what times of day you’re okay with guests coming over so that you know what to expect and won’t be distracted when they do. Also, it may be a good idea to work out whether or not you want guests sleeping over -- where will they sleep? How often can they sleep over? Can they sleep over during weekdays or only on weekends?

 

Chores

If you’re not living in a dorm on campus and are renting your own apartment with a roommate, there are a lot of chores to be done -- which begs the question of how you’ll go about splitting the chores and what kind of schedule you should follow.

Figure out with your roommate what kinds of responsibilities you’d each be comfortable taking on. Nobody really enjoys doing chores, but if you can determine that you would rather wash the dishes than vacuum and she knows she would rather take out the trash than clean the bathroom, that’s a start. Figure out a schedule that lists out your daily and weekly responsibilities, and put it somewhere both of you can easily access and remember it.

Privacy

It’s also important to set boundaries concerning you and your roommate’s privacy. If you need time alone in the room to yourself, or vice versa, you and your roommate should talk about your needs for some space so that you both know what to do when the time comes. Privacy could mean anything from having time alone in the room to call or Facetime someone, or knowing when not to bring a date over so that you don’t disrespect your roommate’s wishes for privacy.

Quiet Time

What goes hand in hand with privacy is quiet time. You and your roommate should make sure to talk about when you each need quiet time and how much of it you need, and you should both be willing to make compromises. For example, you might prefer listening to background music while you study, but your roommate might not be able to concentrate with background noise. To compromise, you could listen to music using your headphones or move to a different room while doing homework or studying so that you don’t bother your roommate.

Decorating

Once you’ve got all the more difficult topics out of the way, you and your roommate have the opportunity to talk about how you’ll decorate the place. When it comes to decorating, the two of you may have very different styles and preferences. Of course, while you will each have your own side of the room and your own personal spaces, there may be some common areas that you will have to share with each other, such as the kitchen, bathroom, or living area if you’re renting an apartment or house. Make sure to communicate with one another about what you like and don’t like, which perhaps could include your visions for the living space, where the furniture will go, the color scheme, etc. The decor and general aesthetic of your place may not be the first thing to cross your mind, but it is still an important matter to discuss with your roommate to prevent conflicts from arising. This will also be a way for you to continue to practice patience and compromise with your roommate.

Living and setting boundaries with your roommate doesn’t have to be overwhelming, scary, or onerous. Instead, taking time to sit down and discuss some house rules with your roommate can often be an effective way to get to know them better by learning about their preferences, pet peeves, and lifestyles. Ultimately, making the effort to set boundaries with your roommate will lead to a rewarding experience for the both of you.


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