When Things Go Wrong: Roommate Conflicts and How to Move Forward

By Victoria Robertson 


Living with another person is not always sunshine and roses. Especially in situations in which you have met for the first time, living with a roommate requires a large amount of compromise, patience and understanding, all of which can be difficult in a stressful, college situation.

Roommate conflict, though never fun, is very common in college, so much so that resident advisors and other individuals in the dorms are more than prepared to settle disputes between residents.

Given the abundance of roommate conflict and the lack of experience for most students in this department, here are ten common conflicts as well as how to move forward.


Roommates: When Things Go Wrong: Roommate Conflicts and How to Move Forward


1. Cleanliness

All too common in college dorm rooms, or even apartments for that matter, conflicts that arise due to cleanliness are perhaps the most common. Typically, you will end up in a room with an individual that is different than you in terms of their organization and cleaning style. For this reason, conflict can easily arise in these situations.

The conflicts typically involve a roommate that prefers everything to be clean and one that doesn’t care about cleanliness. No matter which individual you are, the conflict is likely to arise at some point.

The best way to deal with such arguments is to simply think about the other person and what they need from you. If you’re the roommate that is a bit messier, work a little harder to keep your side of the room clean. Conversely, if you’re the cleaner roommate, have a little more patience with the individual you are living with.

You can’t change another person, but you can change the way that you act and react to a situation, so make those changes and these conflicts will be cleared up in no time.


2. Sleep


Another common conflict that arises is related to sleep. Each roommate will have a very different schedule, which typically means that their sleep schedule is also different. This can certainly cause issues, especially if you’re living in close proximity, i.e. a dorm room.

Perhaps one of you goes to bed too early or stays up too late for the other roommate’s comfort. Or maybe one person needs the TV on to sleep and the other can’t sleep when it’s on. There are plenty of minor conflicts that can arise when it comes to sleep, and given the importance of sleep, these conflicts can also escalate rather quickly.

The best way to manage sleep-related conflicts is again to think of the other individual. Compromise is going to work the best in these situations, so figure out a way in which you can both get what you want.

For instance, if one of you needs the TV on, have that person play Netflix or stream TV shows through their laptop or phone with headphones. That way, it’s quiet and dark for the other individual and both people can get the sleep they need.

In addition, if you’re a bit of a night owl and your roommate isn’t, be courteous and do something that isn’t too loud/distracting so your roommate can get some sleep. You can also always go somewhere else to give them some extra quiet time.


3. Food


Especially in apartment living, food-related conflicts are abundant. Most roommates have a shared pantry/fridge in which their food is accessible to everyone. Some roommates go shopping together and split everything while others shop separately and mark their food items with their names.

Either way, there is always the potential of one roommate monopolizing the room in the shared space, eating someone else’s food and/or not pitching in enough money for the groceries that they are using.

The opportunities here for conflict are endless, which is why it’s so important to come up with a plan amongst your roommates that works for everyone. For instance, if you plan on sharing food, make sure that you all share food equally. In other words, don’t take more than your fair share. If you plan on buying food separately, mark everything with your name and don’t take anyone else’s food.

Basically, just be courteous and understand that shared food plans can be a cause for conflict, so go out of your way to ensure that doesn’t happen.


4. Homework


It’s college, which means there is going to be plenty of homework involved. Both you and your roommate will have homework to complete, but the amount that you have as well as the time it will take you to complete that homework is where the conflicts are going to arise.

One roommate may find that they have more homework than the other all the time, and these situations can mean one roommate is watching TV or something else distracting while the other is trying to work. There are going to be noise related conflicts here, one time or another, so it’s important to get ahead of the problem.

If you know you will have more homework than usual, or you know you need silence to complete your work, don’t do it in your shared space. Instead, go to the library or another quiet location in which you can complete your work.

It’s unfair to put the burden of silence onto your roommate in their own room, so make sure you’re being courteous and polite by removing yourself from the equation in these situations.


5. Company


You may have similar or shared friends, or you may have different groups of friends than your roommate, but having company over is another cause for conflict in some situations.

There are situations in which one roommate doesn’t like the other’s friends or vice versa, which can cause serious problems in a living situation. In addition, many college students have visitors that spend the night, which can also be a point of conflict in living situations.

The best way to deal with these types of conflicts is to communicate with your roommate. If you’re planning on having company, let them know. And don’t wait until the last minute. Give your roommate enough notice that they can make other plans if wanted.

In addition, be courteous as far as noise goes when you have company and you know your roommate is working on homework etc. The more you think about the other individual, the less likely a conflict is to arise in these situations.


College Roommates: When Things Go Wrong: Roommate Conflicts and How to Move Forward


6. Bills


Of course, there are always conflicts surrounding money, and paying your bills is no different. One roommate may be consistently late in paying their bills, someone may not contribute at all or someone may always end up paying more than anyone else.

Money conflicts aren’t unique to college, but given the shared bills, they are more likely. With that being said, there are very simple ways to avoid such conflicts.

The first way is to split up the bills fairly and evenly. Make sure everyone is paying their fair share and that no one individual is unfairly paying more than others. In addition, make sure there is a schedule and/or clear method of payment.

Set a schedule so that, by a certain date, every individual knows their bill is due. This way, there is less likely to be delays and/or problems related to late payments etc.


7. Thermostat


A minor conflict, but one that will probably come up, thermostat related conflicts are common in college. It may sound silly, but it’s absolutely true.

Some individuals are always cold, some are always hot. This is a problem that comes up in many shared spaces, but with roommates, it can cause some serious conflict. Either conflict comes up about the temperature itself or about the bills associated with using the thermostat. Both conflicts are avoidable, but require communication on everyone’s end.

The best way to avoid these conflicts is to have an agreed upon plan for usage. For instance, always having it set to a certain temperature will help avoid problems in which people are changing the thermostat. In addition, agreeing upon when to use and not to use the heat/air will help immensely in avoiding conflicts later on.

Come up with your plans ahead of time so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to thermostat usage. If you do that, the conflicts can easily be avoided. Communication is always key!


8. Shared Bathrooms


Sharing a bathroom with someone else is always a pain point, but when you have the same schedule as your roommate, it can become a much bigger issue.

Some roommates will take longer in the bathroom and prevent their roommate from using it when they need to, some will be messier than the other and cause problems, one may monopolize all of the space in the bathroom or use the other’s things - the possibilities for conflict here are endless.

Avoiding conflict here isn’t as easy as you would think, but again, communication is going to be your best method. For one thing, make sure that you split the space evenly. If you have more things than your space allows, keep them in your room to avoid taking over your roommate’s space.

In addition, only use the bathroom for as long as necessary. If you know your roommate has class at the same time as you, be quick and don’t spend too much time in the bathroom. If you can get ready in your room, do that. Monopolizing bathroom time is never a good thing, so keep that in mind. Just think of the other individual in these situations and you will be just fine.


9. TV Time


Some roommates will have TVs in their own rooms, which avoids this conflict entirely. However, for those sharing a TV, arguments can ensue about what to watch. Again, it seems minor, but it can create bigger problems in a living situation.

One roommate may monopolize the TV all day and night, both may not agree on a show to watch or one could monopolize the DVR and prevent the other individuals in the room from taping their shows.

Sharing a TV can be problematic, but being fair and splitting time evenly is the easiest way to resolve these conflicts.

For one thing, everyone can get the same amount of time with the TV so that the time spent is even. You can split this up however you see fit, but ensure that everyone gets their fair share of time. Second, if there is more than one person in the room, agree on a show before turning it on. Don’t monopolize the TV. Finally, make sure everyone is able to record the shows that they want. If they can’t compromise.

The more effort you put into ensuring the shared TV time is fair, the less likely any conflicts are to arise.


10. Lifestyle Differences


Last, though not least by any means, there are likely to be lifestyle differences between roommates, which can cause major problems in terms of roommate conflicts.

One roommate may like going out with large groups during the week while the other likes quiet nights in alone. One may be a couch potato and the other might be very active. There are so many differences in terms of lifestyle that can set you and your roommate apart and cause problems.

The best way to avoid such conflicts is, again, to be patient and understanding. You’re likely not going to get someone as a roommate that’s exactly like you, so go into the situation knowing that. You are unique, and so are they. Work together to get along and understand the other person to avoid any future conflicts.

Again, roommate conflicts aren’t fun, but they are common, which means that you’re more than likely going to experience them at least once in your college experience. With that being said, there are plenty of ways to resolve them and move forward, and hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of just how that can be done.

Moving forward from here, make sure that you show a certain level of patience, kindness and understanding, and know that a roommate conflict is common and therefore not the end of the world. Just focus on your studies and you’ll be just fine! 

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