How to Create a Cohesive Home When You and Your Roommate Have Different Tastes
By Julia Dunn
When I moved into the residence halls at UC Santa Cruz, I was extremely curious about who my roommates might be. I had all kinds of questions random for them: what are you hoping to study? What do you do for fun? Where did you grow up? Who are your favorite musicians? Do you want to get matching college t-shirts? Will we go to the dining hall together? Are you excited about college? Do you want to be best friends? But I didn’t think to wonder about their style when it came to room decor and other logistics of sharing a close space.
Having no siblings, I never had to share a room with anyone when I was growing up, and I was eager to live with people who could be 24/7 friends. I’d always decorated my spaces just the way I wanted to, without needing to correspond with anyone else about it. When I arrived at my dorm room and met my two roommates along with their families, it occurred to me we’d need to establish a plan for decorating the room in a way that suited the three of us. This would be an interesting challenge.
It can be difficult to negotiate room decor with roommates, particularly if you don’t know them very well (or if you have more than one). Your home environment is important to everyone, and you certainly don’t want to spend time in a space that doesn’t reflect you. Worse, you don’t want your home environment to bother you; I knew people in college who, for various reasons, hated being in their dorm room and consequently spent lots of time in communal lounges, coffee shops around campus, and library study rooms, avoiding their dorm.
In college, your dorm room is the main area in which you can seek solace and (sometimes) privacy, although residence hall living doesn’t lend itself to much privacy. Knowing that, it’s in your best interest to keep communication open between you and your roommates--at all time, of course, but especially in the first few weeks of school when you’re unpacking all the posters, photos, bumper stickers and wall decorations you packed from home.
Here are some strategies for working out room decor when living with roommates:
Have a brainstorming session together
Cooperation is crucial if you want to create a cohesive home. Sit down with your roommates and see if there are any obvious ways in which you can combine or blend all of your styles into a sensible new one. It can be useful to physically map out everybody’s design ideas so that everyone has a tangible sense of the options available.
There are several ways in which to go about mapping out decor. You might draw out possible layouts on a whiteboard, create a vision board-style collage, or even use online tools and apps that let users place furniture and wall art around a room while being easily able to change layouts with the swipe of a finger.
During this brainstorming session, it may be smart to find out what decorative items your roommates brought with them to college and would like to incorporate into your dorm or apartment in some way. Sharing items during the brainstorming process can help you all determine whether you’ll need/want to buy anything to unify existing decor or better incorporate everybody’s decorations.
If it turns out you and your roommates have clashing styles, “all is not lost,” says an article by downlinens.com. “Head to the library and scan through their decorating magazine archives for inspiration on how different esthetics can be combined successfully. When done properly, mixing and matching can give a room some personality and make it feel less cookie-cutter than a uniform room”
If you are silent about your vision for a shared room or apartment, you surrender your decision-making power. Be clear about how you would like the room to look, and allow others to voice their opinions as well. You might fiercely disagree with hanging up your roommate’s celebrity poster on the bedroom door, but if you don’t say anything, you’ll be staring at the blown-up face of Justin Bieber for months on end, which will likely invite daily middle school flashbacks.
If you decide to blend your styles or collaborate on a plan for decor, you may find later on that some ideas don’t sit well with everyone after all. Dormdecor.com suggests “giving each other three vetoes on decoration choices so no one has to live with a creepy doll or an offensive fridge magnet that will make the dorm room a space of tension.” Discuss with your roommates how you would like to handle disagreements in a stress-free fashion.
It’s easier to stop your roommate from buying that hideous brown table when you’re actually in the store with them, as opposed to freaking out about it at home after the fact.
If you and your roommates are having trouble visualizing what each person would like the room to look like, get out of the dorm and into a department store. This way, you can wander through the college section and decide on things like lamps, side tables and even shared appliances. You wouldn’t necessarily think of coffee pots and microwaves as part of room “decor,” but when you’ve got three people in a room that was built to be a double or single room (the housing crisis on college campuses is real), even the smaller items stand out.
It’s usually best to shop in the “back to college” sections that most stores feature during August and September when universities begin their fall terms. Furniture is usually cheaper in these sections versus regular furniture sections, and it’s also designed with dorm living in mind. Perhaps you and your roommates will discover some new pieces that please all of you, no matter the pieces you may have been arguing about back in your room.
Before you even set out to shop, make sure you have discussed budgets with your roommates, and don’t assume any or all of your roommates will even be able/willing to spend money on decor. Check in with everyone beforehand so that you don’t put anybody in an uncomfortable situation, especially if one of you is really tight on finances and cannot participate in any shopping to begin with.
Make sure you’re on the same page
Before you actually start pinning things to the wall and hanging twinkly lights all around the room, make sure your roommates are okay with it. You might find that you have roommates who couldn’t care less about decorating the place, or are otherwise apathetic about the whole prospect of putting effort into the style of the room. This shouldn’t give you license to design the whole space without their input. Make sure you talk with them about their preferences and needs; you may want to place an essential oil diffuser on top of a shared table, but your roommate may not be able to tolerate scents. It’s easy to forget that living with others in college requires some sacrifices if you aren’t used to sharing close spaces.
Section off parts of the room/house
In my first year of college, when I had two other roommates, we ultimately decided to section off parts of the room that corresponded to the space beside our respective beds. I decorated the area above my desk and top bunk bed, as well as the dresser and side table I was given (each roommate was given the same furniture by the housing office).
Sectioning the room was useful because I was able to create my own little bubble in the areas where I slept, did homework, and prepared for class. I felt represented in the room in that space, and my other roommates did as well, because they were given the freedom to decorate their own mini-spaces.
While the room was pretty small, we did have a few common areas to decorate as a group, mainly tiny nooks and spaces between our furniture. We topped our mini fridge with a couple of potted succulents and set up a rotating fan to keep us cool on hot nights. We covered our door with flyers and small sheets about community events and student resources that could be useful for the three of us. This way, areas that we left undesignated for any one of us ended up serving a communal purpose.
Sectioning off spaces is also a great idea if you strongly disagree with your roommates’ sense of decoration; you’ll each have a fraction of the room to make all your own!
Useful tips from around the web:
● Mindbodygreen.com advises students not to get too hung up on single items they may not like that a roommate wants to use in the room: “It’s too easy to say, ‘No way, I hate that’ to another person’s tastes. If there’s a piece that one person owns or is adamant about buying, consider that it’s going to be only one of the elements in the room. As long as you’re not talking about a fuchsia rug or leopard-print curtains, most pieces can be balanced out by others. The sum is greater than any one part.” With this in mind, be cooperative and patient, knowing that you might need to make compromises for others. Be flexible! You’d want your roommates to give you the same kind of acceptance as well.
● Teen Vogue offers a useful tip to roommates whose styles aren’t inherently compatible: “find a base color you both like. Incorporate that color throughout the room, and everything will look unified.” This grants you permission to hang a series of sunflower photos if your roommate insists on a goldenrod body pillow and lemon-print sheets.
● “Decorate with a roommate, not against.” downlinens.com emphasizes that “your roommate is your partner. Like it or not, you’re in this together for the long haul—or at least the semester.” Don’t become too dominating during the room decorating process if you can help it; coming off bossy from the beginning will surely cause you roommate problems in the future. The worst thing you can do when sharing a room with others is alienate your roommates or create a hostile environment. It isn’t good for you, it isn’t good for your roommates. Nobody wins.
You’ll more than likely find that room decor can be a great first source of bonding, a reason for collaboration that can help you and your roommates become closer friends. Decor is usually exciting for college students because it allows them a chance to express themselves in their independence from their hometown. It also helps to establish themselves in a new era of life. When your buddies from down the hall come over to your room, they’ll get a bit of your essence and personality based on the colors and feeling of your space. Thus, you’ll want to put some energy into it, and decorating is always more fun with other people around!
However, at the end of the day, do not be discouraged if your room does not end up looking 100% you. After all, it’s only supposed to be ⅓ you, if you have two other roommates. You might spend hours working on a set of decor ideas that ultimately doesn’t totally capture your style. That might also be the case for your roommates. This is not the end of the world, fortunately. You will undeniably move multiple times throughout college, in and out of dorms, and eventually, into a larger apartment (which grants you much more decorating space to play with!) One day, you’ll have your own home to style however you please. Don’t take your first dorm room or apartment decor too seriously. The style you come up with collaboratively between you and your housemates will be a product of your cooperation and dialogue, and the end result might just symbolize your emerging friendship. Be excited about the challenge!
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