During the 26 years I’ve spent on the planet, I’ve encountered more than a few different living situations. After finally escaping from my parents’ house, I did the dorm thing, spent a couple of semesters unintentionally making life a living hell for my neighbors while sharing a house with some college buddies, and living in apartments with some friends after graduating.
While I enjoyed all of those experiences, I’ve had also some shorter-lived and slightly less delightful ones, like bunking with a total stranger at summer camp, unintentionally pissing off fellow guests while sharing a hotel room with some college buddies, and spending a night on a metal cot without my phone, shoelaces, or freedom.
While I thankfully didn’t have to share that last space with anyone, I’ve still lived with a wide variety of roommates in a number of different locations. In all of those situations, I’ve done what I can to be the best roommate possible, but anyone who’s been in a similar position is probably aware there tends to be a bit of a learning curve.
I’ve shared a space with randos and some of my closest friends, but regardless of who I’m cohabitating with, I’ve always felt slightly on edge thanks to the underlying sense of dread that comes with knowing you could accidentally piss someone off at any time.
Regardless of how well you know your roommates, there will always be some tension over the different issues you’ll inevitably encounter during your time living together. It doesn’t matter if it’s a family member, a significant other, or a total stranger; everyone will have certain preferences or pet peeves that will result in the butting of heads at some point.
Do they recycle? Do they not turn off the lights before heading out? Do they not care about the stray hairs they leave behind on the toilet? Certain things you view as second nature can seem like an absolutely alien concept to others, so being able to read the room to make sure your time sharing rooms is as painless as possible is as essential as it is daunting.
As a veteran of acclimating to new environments, I like to think I’m better at living than most people (in this situation, I’m talking about physically living somewhere as opposed to life in general, as I’m still figuring out plenty of things on that front). I’m absolutely terrified of confrontation (and interacting with people in general) as well as being considered a nuisance, so I’ve relied on a lot of tips and tricks I’ve picked up that I feel obligated to share with those who feel the same way.
Despite my disdain for conflict, that’s also how I look at living with other people, as there’s nothing more important than picking your battles in the hopes you’ll ultimately win the unspoken war you’re all engaged in. You’re going to have to accept you’re going to take some Ls along the way, which is what happened when I recently moved into a new place with three bedrooms, two of which had a closet and the third of which definitely used to be a closet.
Who has two thumbs and agreed to take that last one?
It didn’t seem like a huge deal until I realized that will be my home for the next year, but I did what I usually do whenever I probably should’ve spoken up: accepted my fate and moved on. Should I have gotten the first choice because I brought 98% of the stuff in the kitchen and the living room? Should I have tried to negotiate when the first thing the other two guys said was basically, “Hey, I’d really like one of the rooms in the closet as opposed to a literal closet?” Is that kind of like saying, “Hey, we can share this PB&J sandwich but I want the middle part and you can have the crust?” Yes. Did I object? Nope!
Of course, I was seething inside, but what else was I supposed to do? Getting into an argument an hour after you’ve moved in with someone sort of sets the tone for everything else going forward, so instead of dwelling on this blatant injustice, I did everything I could to convince myself I’d actually taken my first step toward proving I’m an Elite roommate.
As my personal hero Jocko Willink once said, “Take the easy way out; you’ll be more comfortable.” Who am I to question a former Navy SEAL? If a man well-versed in conflict tells you to avoid conflict, you listen to what he has to say—especially if it helps justify the worldview you’ve constructed for yourself.
While the experience has gone smoothly so far, it hasn’t taken me very long to identify the issues that will undoubtedly fester and lead to a contentious version of Festivus where each party airs their grievances at the top of their lungs. However, that’s a later problem; my current problem is dealing with a couple of guys who are obviously amateurs in the roommate game.
While I’m less than thrilled with all of the rookie mistakes my new roomies have made in just a few weeks, the one upside is that they inadvertently served as muses for this article. So, without further ado, here are what I’ve found to be the most essential elements when it comes to making life as bearable as possible for everyone involved.
How To Be A Good Roommate
Be As Loud As Possible At All Times
As nice as it is to have some time by yourself, it can also be slightly scary, so it helps to make sure other people know that they’re not alone. This is especially true if you live in a sketchy area, so these audible reminders are a great and subtle way to reinforce that you’ve got their back if they need someone to come to their aid.
There’s no shortage of ways to do this. For example, our paper-thin walls make it easy to hear the episodes of Rick and Morty one of my new roommates loves to watch with the volume seemingly as loud as possible in the early hours of the morning, which is great because I get to laugh at all of the non-visual jokes. I might get less sleep than I’d prefer, but I do get to spend hours laying awake in bed knowing I’ve got my own version of ADT.
I’m currently writing this on the couch while the other guy is watching YouTube videos on his phone without any headphones, which makes it incredibly difficult to concentrate but provides some invaluable insight into his interest and what we might have in common. I love hearing him sporadically chuckle and saying, “Oh, it’s nothing” whenever I ask what’s funny; it’s great to have someone capable of injecting some joy into a room.
Take Anything You Want From The Fridge Regardless Of Who Bought It
You’re already sharing a fridge, so it should go without saying that you also share everything inside it. One of my roommates has this running bit where he writes “DON’T TOUCH!” on things and acts super mad whenever I help myself. There was this one time he pretended he was pissed after I drank a bunch of his beers and it was hilarious. Fun little jokes like that are a great way to build comradery.
Say what you will about the merits of communism, but I think this practice showcases some of the potential upsides of the philosophy. By routinely eating or drinking whatever you want, you’re highlighting the benefits of collectiveness and helping everyone else feel good because they know they’re helping you out. Everyone knows the spirit of giving is what makes the holiday season so enjoyable, so why not embrace it throughout the year?
Sure, they might seem like they’re livid that you downed the six-pack that was the only thing that motivated them to make it through a long day, but catching a buzz is nowhere as fulfilling as the fuzzy feeling that comes with knowing they helped brighten yours.
Toss Their Laundry In A Pile On The Floor If It Prevents You From Doing Your Own
There is perhaps nothing in the world that requires me to muster up more willpower than doing laundry, and there’s nothing worse than opening up the washer and being treated to a clump of someone else’s wet clothes or transferring yours to the dryer only to find it’s already occupied.
Some people may tell you the nice thing to do is wait until they’re done, but this is a great opportunity to teach them a lesson they can apply for the rest of their lives. It might seem rude to chuck everything into a pile on the floor, but the risk of mildew and wrinkles is easily outweighed by the reward of being able to avoid those problems in the future by doing their laundry in a timely manner.
You might not be their mother, but in this scenario, you have to act like you are. Your roommate needs to learn he can’t just leave things around and expect other people to give him the courtesy he failed to give to them. They might take exception to this kind of tough love at first, but they’ll thank you later.
Do Your Dishes
It should go without saying that I’m only talking about your dishes. I cannot stress this enough. As is the case with the last example, you’re only enabling and encouraging a poor pattern of behavior by clearing out the sink or emptying out the entire dishwasher.
The same can be said for soaking a dirty pan or rinsing off a glass; if anything, you should figure out a way to make them dirtier to really drive the point home. There’s also nothing more frustrating than going to clean up a stack of things you’ve been meaning to wash only to discover someone else put their dirty plate on top of the pile, and if that happens, you should keep stacking things on top to get the point across.
Again, you should never underestimate the power of tough love.
Don’t Tell Anyone When You’re Having People Over
Everyone loves a good surprise, and there’s no better way to do that than inviting some of your college buddies to crash at your place on the weekend without giving anyone else a heads up. Having to coexist with the same people for months on end can get a little stale, so introducing some fresh faces into the mix is a great way to break up the monotony.
It’s also an opportunity to encourage your roommates to switch up their routine a bit and get out and enjoy life, as it’s hard to spend the day on your couch to unwind a bit after a brutal week when you’re greeted by a guy you’ve never seen before passed out on it after you wake up on a Saturday.
Never Ask If They Need Anything When You Go To The Store
Much like the last example, offering to pick up someone when you’re already doing errands only encourages them to be lazy. There’s also a chance they’ll ask you to grab some junk food, booze, or something else that’s detrimental to their well-being, and you want to make sure they’re as healthy and fit as possible so you don’t have to cover their rent while looking for a new roommate if something you buy contributes to their early death.
This is especially true if they don’t have a car, as it’ll force them to get some steps in by having to make the trek themselves. There’s a chance you might cross paths at the store and have to deal with the awkwardness that ensues, but that’s a small price to pay compared to the potential long-term implications.
These nuggets of wisdom (which are totally, definitely not sarcastic) are just the tip of the iceberg, but by keeping them in mind, you’ll be playing an invaluable role in not only helping to construct a positive living environment but also proving you’re a good guy who puts the needs of others before himself. Of course, there will always be problems, but by focusing on little things like these, you’ll be doing yourself—and everyone else—a big favor.