Dreaded Roommate Conversations and How to Deal

Consider roommate drama as a rite of passage. Whether you’re fighting about who polished off the last row of Oreos, the state of the suspicious fungus growing in the shower, or the boyfriend who seems to never leave, the first step to relief is to admit that there’s trouble brewing in paradise. In other words, don’t let your minor (or major) frustrations fester, and plan on taking action.

Step two? Create an actionable plan for communicating boundaries with your roommate, like how you want to share kitchen utensils. While you and your roommate may not turn out to be life-long friends, these steps should help make the whole living together thing a bit more amicable.

THE “WHO ATE ALL MY FOOD?” CONVERSATION
We’ve all been there - grandma sends you a box of your favorite macadamia nut cookies that you squirrel away for the next time you’re snuggling up with a Netflix movie. You return to your cookies a few hours later only to find the crumbs. No need for any sleuthing - it has the markings of your roommate Jackie written all over it.

Enter dreaded roommate conversation number one: the who-ate-my-food conversation. The best way to approach this conversation is to establish a working plan of how much you want to share with your roommate from the get-go. Set your own boundaries of how much you’d like to share (or not) with your roommate, and clearly express it. If you don’t want other people eating your food, don’t shy away from saying so; it’s 100% your right to want to eat your food and only your food, without feeling selfish for not sharing. To lessen the blow, explain why you have a strict food policy with something like, “Hey guys, I’ve budgeted how much I want to spend on food per week, and I really prefer to stick with how much I’ve decided to spend."

In other cases, you’ll want to share with your roommates, but don’t want to be the only one who's footing the bill when it comes to replacing the Oreos. Try implementing a “If you kill it, bill it” strategy in your apartment. Meaning, if you finish the last of the ketchup, it’s on you to buy the next bottle. Pro-tip: Use this approach with extreme caution.

THE “I DIDN’T KNOW WE HAD ANOTHER ROOMMATE” CONVERSATION
It’s one thing to move in with two or three roommates, but another thing entirely to have Jackie’s boyfriend share everything in your apartment but a little respect for you and your personal space. Not only is he around ALL the time, but he’s also dipping into the fridge and spiking the water bill with those hour-long showers he’s so fond of taking.

You’ll probably be inclined to launch right into the criticism (“think: “I didn’t sign up for this - I have NO privacy anymore!”), but it’s important to remember this is their significant other we’re talking about, and they’ll probably defend them.

Try to approach the conversation in a more measured way. Explain exactly why their presence makes you uncomfortable, rather than itemizing all of the reasons why he’s so inconsiderate. (think: “It makes me uncomfortable that I have to change in my own bathroom for privacy” rather than "Does he ever go home?”)

THE “DID YOU USE MY…?” CONVERSATION
We’ve all had the accusatory roommate who's claimed we’ve used some of their most personal belongings for the wackiest of uses, like that time your roommate accused you of using their razor to prune the cat (really, Jackie?).

While there’s little way to talk them down from crazy accusations, it’ll help to set boundaries of what your roommates can and cannot use ahead of time. For example, is all kitchenware up for sharing? If so, decide on what’s the protocol for using and replacing your stuff in the event that something should get lost or damaged.

If you decide to share, brainstorm what will bother you about other people using your stuff ahead of time. For example, if they leave your stuff in their bedroom, will you mind if it’s missing for a few days? If you share dishes, will you mind if their beef stroganoff stays caked on them for the next week? Better yet, if they break grandma’s old china, will they be expected to pay for the replacement? The key here is that if you decide to share, make sure to set expectations of how you want your stuff to be treated.

THE “YOU’RE A SLOB…” CONVERSATION
It’s the end of your first week living with your roommate, and one thing’s rang loud and clear: Your roommate is an absolute slob. You could deal with the whole not taking hair out of the drain issue, but their foot fungus adds a whole other level of cleanliness discomfort.

But, let’s face it: Leaving cleaning to the good faith of your sloppy roommate is sure to turn south quickly. Set up a chore wheel to ensure a sense of accountability over chore ownership. When you do, be direct with your roommate about what you want the conversation to look like if one of you ends up falling short. Will you let it slide for a few days? Should they be responsible for doing both of your chores for the week?

Half of dealing with the roommate from Hell is making sure that you deal with the problem head-on, but in a measured way. Save the passive-aggressive sticky notes for another occasion, and create a proactive strategy for reaching out to your roommates should a problem arise. 

But let’s be real, not all roommates are so compliant. If all else fails, hey, subleasing is always an option…


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