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Moving Up and Moving Out: Balancing Personal Needs While Sharing a Space

August 8, 2023

Deciding whether you want to share a living space with others can be difficult without actually experiencing it. To help prepare you for life with a roommate, I interviewed two current Ontario Tech students who recently became roommates to share some insight on their experiences in their previous living situations and how it compares to living together now.

During the interview, we discuss the importance of roommate routines, household responsibilities, and how to avoid conflict. Some of their suggestions include trying to know your roommate prior to living together. Before living with their current roommate, roommate 1 lived with someone who they were not entirely familiar with and ultimately led to a bad experience. After this situation, roommate 1 decided to “know people’s prior living arrangements” because  “you need to be very careful and mindful with who you choose. They can say and act all responsible and literally do nothing.” If knowing the people you are living with isn’t an option, taking some time to prepare a list of questions of things that are important to you is another way you can get a sense of what kind of person(s) you might be living with.

Living with roommates can be a big adjustment, but there are benefits to having them. If chosen right, you may make lasting memories. While living in residence during their first year, roommate 1 used a “dating app" but for roommates. You put in your interest in and it pairs you by percentage on how similar you are.” This was an effective way to search for a person who was suitable for them. Although similar living preferences can allow individuals to coexist together, differences can be overcome with both roommates' ability to set proper boundaries.

Pros and Cons of Having a Roommate

There are many pros and cons when living with a roommate. Before coming to a decision on whether to choose to live alone or with people, it’s important to take the following factors into consideration.

Limited Privacy

For some people, the presence of others can provide them comfort. For others, it can be the opposite. Given how expensive it is to rent these days, you may be financially limited in the living spaces you can choose, especially as a student.

Splitting the cost of Rent + Utilities

Shared living allows you to have more leeway with spending money or potentially have a nicer place. Depending on your renter's agreement, it may be on you (the tenant) to provide for utilities and other necessities like internet. Unfortunately, when renting with multiple people, it may be difficult coordinating these costs. You should create a plan for how you will collectively deal with household costs including who will be responsible for making payments on time.

Managing Household Mess

For roommates 1 and 2 their “ biggest rule was keep the shared spaces clean.” It would be useful to have a chores list that is equally divided between all house members to keep everyone accountable. In their home, their previous roommate would “ never clean. Everyone in the house had a problem with them to the point where we had to stage an intervention. But even then they did nothing.” It can be difficult to get a person who has messy tendencies to regularly do their tasks. At the end of the day, everyone has a different definition of cleanliness.

Forming Lasting Relationships

For roommate 1 and 2, they had “weekly roommate time where we would sit on our little couches and talk to each other. Usually, our roommate's time would go on for hours.” Having a support system during university is nice and can make a tremendous difference in your campus life! Sadly, if you and your roommate do not get along it can make both of your living situations uncomfortable.

Certain Qualities to Look for in a Roommate

In order to live successfully in a shared space, it’s important that you are able to find these qualities within yourself and your roommate. Without them, you may fall into conflict with each other. Here are a list of qualities that might be useful when thinking of what kind of roommate to live with:

Effective communication is very important.

When you live with other people, there are certain expectations you will need to have for each other such as paying rent on time, doing your chores, discussing boundaries, etc. It’s important to be respectful of each other because it creates an environment where we feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging.

Pick someone as organized as you.

Navigating university in a clutter-free environment increases productivity, helps manage stress, and improves your performance and overall well-being. Roommate 2 discussed how they were “thinking of getting everyone on a Google doc with a list on what we each need to do to keep tasks relatively equal.” Living with roommates is not easy. Even if you’re friends or not it can still be a challenging experience. 

What to Discuss with Your Roommate Before You Move In

Discussing ground rules and expectations

Even if you’re already friends, going over this in advance will help avoid future misunderstandings. Familiarize yourself with your roommate’s routine. Knowing when they wake up, go to bed, leave for class or work, how they relax, where they study, etc. helps you plan your schedule accordingly if anything you both do may conflict. Assigning chores prior can establish a more fair environment and set the expectation that these tasks are to be completed. 

Payment Plan

Being aware of how you and the roommates plan on being consistent with paying rent and utilities is very important. Being consistent with payments and having a clear understanding of each other's finances will reduce financial burdens. Splitting rent costs may be determined by your landlord but you might have additional shared household costs.

Lifestyle habits

Be mindful to ask about smoking and drinking habits if that’s a deal breaker for you. Whether or not to share common items should be a discussion too. Having this conversation prior can help avoid uncomfortable situations and set boundaries for all roommates. In their home roommate 2 mentioned “We share some common house items like toilet paper. So if we both buy it separately we would take turns using the other person’s roll.”

Pet peeves should be a priority. You never know what your roommates' lifestyle preferences are. Keeping this in mind, gaining an understanding of their pet peeves beforehand may save the trouble of roommate drama.

Choosing to have roommates is a personal choice which encompasses many factors. If you prefer to be more independent, living alone can give you more freedom and room to make your own household decisions or a roommate could become part of your social circle. Although there are benefits to having a roommate, problems can arise between each other. These issues can range from lifestyle conflicts to financial problems.

By Sinthura Thuraisingam