How to deal with roommate who helps himself to my stuff
April 20, 2010 11:07 AM   Subscribe

How to deal with roommate who helps himself to my stuff A little background: one of the roommates is the daughter of the landlord and she lives with her boyfriend on the floor above. We share a kitchen and they often use other common areas like the living room on my floor.

Last night, Dan was up until about 2 in the morning playing his online game. Since I'm not working I don't think I have grounds to complain so I didn't say anything. Worst he borrowed MY headphones so he can talk to his friends through the game so I have to listen to him talk through the night. I think he was getting back at me. This morning while walking by his computer I noticed his facebook page open. The last post from last night said "My roommate labeled everything in the refrigerator with his name on it and its bugging the shit out me."

Am I out of line? Obviously I wouldn't have to do it if they just left my stuff alone (it's mostly Dan truly). He helps himself to my laundry detergent, even grabs rolls of toilet paper out of my bathroom (mostly to clean up after the dogs because they don't want to use their paper towels or they're all out of paper towels). The stuff they help themselves too isn't cheap, they don't ask to take it, and what's most annoying to me is they leave the containers empty in the refrigerator so if I'm going to make something I'll check my ingredients first, assume I have it, only to find out its not. On Saturday night I confronted them about it and I thought they understood (I thought I was quite polite about it. I'm not shy about offering them my food- yesterday alone between them they have half-a-dozen wings and 3 margaritas) but they were very defensive about it: "Well it was there for a week", "Well, it was too sweet for me anyway" (I don't know how this is even a defense - not only did you drink all of one of those smoothies but then you're saying it sucked?) Am I really out of line? I truly am thinking of writing my name in black marker on all my stuff that enters the kitchen. I actually think Dan especially needs to learn to respect other people's boundaries and space.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Am I out of line?

posted by mbatch at 11:11 AM on April 20, 2010 [13 favorites]

I'm assuming that Dan is the landlord's daughter's boyfriend, but really that ultimately doesn't matter. What matters is that you are not compatible with your roommates and you are at a disadvantage because they happen to have close ties to your landlord.

MOVE. As soon as you can. (And trust me, you can. I've been completely broke and still managed to move out of a toxic roommate situation. You just have to make it your priority.)
posted by Kimberly at 11:12 AM on April 20, 2010 [24 favorites]

you need to move in with people who respect your boundaries. and who don't freeload like hobos. in college i lived with people who ate my food, used all my stuff, and didn't respond well to my polite inquiries about it OR my attempts to lock up my stuff. talking doesn't help, locking things up don't help when it comes to individual boundaries. the only thing that worked was not sharing a home with them. you need to stop living with freeloaders if you want to be comfortable when you're home.
posted by raw sugar at 11:12 AM on April 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

"My roommate labeled everything...and it's bugging the shit out of me" == "My roommate is effectively getting the message across"
posted by xueexueg at 11:13 AM on April 20, 2010 [15 favorites]

I've been in your shoes a few times, and two different solutions have worked, depending on the roommates in question:

1. everyone chips in equally for all the food in the kitchen, and then anything is available to anyone.

2. you move.

Usually option #2 is the more likely outcome. People who are that inconsiderate bring a lot of hassle into your life, and the easiest solution usually is just to find a better space somewhere else with other like-minded people.
posted by ambrosia at 11:14 AM on April 20, 2010

Your roommate Dan is an idiot. He uses all your stuff and then complains that its not good enough? Is there any way out of this situation? He doesn't seem to respect the roommate relationship. I agree with the above, you either you need to leave or figure out a way to keep your stuff in a place that is under lock and key.
posted by icy at 11:14 AM on April 20, 2010

Not entirely sure what the question is since you already confronted them about it. Have they taken your stuff since you talked to them about it on Saturday? It sounds like them haven't and it's just that you're second-guessing yourself because the mooch is using passive-agressive ways to let you know he's offended. Big deal. You confronted him like a grown up and he'll just have to learn to take it.

If he does something like the facebook-page-on-the-screen again, (if it was me) how about putting a sticky note on the screen to say "well, if you knew how to tell your stuff from mine and would QUIT STEALING MY FOOD, I wouldn't have to do that!" But that could easily start a passive-agressive war of notes. [then again, maybe that would be fun: opens sock drawer, sees note "next time don't leave your clothes in the dryer!", etc.]

But otherwise- just ignore him. He'll get over it. And if the behavior continues, confront them/him again.

Oh, and you definitely have a right to sleep at night—regardless of employment. You should set up some boundaries about that.
posted by Eicats at 11:17 AM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ask them why they are doing it, especially after you asked them not to. Then firmly and directly say something to the effect,

"I hear what you are saying, but this is my stuff, unless you ask first, leave. it. alone. The reason I am labeling it is because you are taking it without asking me. This. is. my. stuff. Not yours. Furthermore, when using the common room that is outside my bedroom we need to establish quiet hours, what do you think is a good idea?"
posted by edgeways at 11:18 AM on April 20, 2010

...and I do agree with the other posters. Moving is probably a good idea because I doubt their behavior will change for long.
posted by Eicats at 11:18 AM on April 20, 2010

What you need to do is tell them (when they eat your food next), "Don't eat my food. I'm on a budget. I can't afford to pay for everyone."

You're being perfectly reasonable. However, it sounds like a toxic dynamic, and it sounds as though it may be difficult for you to state your boundaries to "Dan".

The best solution would be for you to find someplace else to live. Since you're not working, that may be tough. Why not keep your stuff (including TP and laundry detergent) in your room? You could probably just take the detergent bottle and stash under your bed or something, but just let the toilet paper run out in the bathroom, and when it does, bring your own roll with you when you go - just like camping.

Don't leave your shit out where other people can use it, if you mind them using it.

As for your food, buy less of it. Don't let it sit in the fridge for too long. Go shopping every day.

In terms of boundaries, is the computer shared? Whose computer is it? Is it in a common space? Whose food containers are you using? Are they yours?

But consider moving.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:19 AM on April 20, 2010

Well, it was too sweet for me anyway

Drop this group of monkeys and find better people to live with. We exist.
posted by polymodus at 11:21 AM on April 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Could also tell your landlord you will be moving as soon as possible because her daughter's boyfriend is stealing your food and doesn't respond to polite request to stop.
posted by edgeways at 11:22 AM on April 20, 2010 [11 favorites]

A tip about late-night game playing—get yourself some good quality earplugs for sleeping. For starters, try the bullet-shaped kind e.g. the ones by Hearos, not the cylindrical foam kind.

It's a modern world, personally I take it a given that my roommates will have sleeping hours that don't match with mine; however parties and loud music do still remain grounds for complaint.
posted by polymodus at 11:30 AM on April 20, 2010

I'm all for setting boundaries for people who can be taught, but these people (person) seems to have such bad boundaries that it would be impossible to get the point across to them. You'd end up sounding like a horrible nag who was impossible to please and just picking on him/them.

"Can you not eat my food?"
"Can you not use my toilet paper?"
"Can you not keep me up until the middle of the night?"
"Can you not use my electronics without asking?"
"Can you..."

That's about four requests too many that you shouldn't HAVE to make - and I'm sure there are more to come if they haven't cropped up already. You need to move.
posted by greekphilosophy at 11:31 AM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Until you're able to move, assuming your bedroom door can be locked, start keeping everything in your room. Shelf-stable food, toilet paper, laundry detergent, all of it. Minimize your refrigerated stuff, understanding that basically anything in the fridge is subject to be eaten by roving packs of wolves the instant you turn your back.

If asked, shrug and say "I can only afford stuff for myself, I can't afford to be footing the bill for laundry detergent and toilet paper for everyone."

You're not out of line. This is theft. They can put a "Hey we're all pals" face on it, but that doesn't mean it's not theft.
posted by ErikaB at 11:36 AM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Late-night gaming can really suck for people who live with the gamer, especially if the gamer isn't considerate about noise or light. But using your headphones? And then complaining on facebook about you? Definitely not cool.

They don't respect you or your belongings, and get defensive when you call them on it? Nthing the recommendation to move.
posted by LN at 11:40 AM on April 20, 2010

Are you out of line for wanting them to respect your boundaries? No, absolutely not. But passive-aggressively labeling everything in the fridge is not setting boundaries, it's actually pushing the responsibility back on to them. You still aren't telling them what the boundary is, you just label your stuff to imply that they have crossed a boundary, and that they have to figure out what that is. That's out of line. When you set a boundary, you have to be responsible for it, and I think you are reluctant to do that because you're afraid it will make you look like a jerk.

About this part here: "Well, it was too sweet for me anyway" (I don't know how this is even a defense - not only did you drink all of one of those smoothies but then you're saying it sucked?)" This kind of response suggests that at least in their minds, you were guilting them by throwing your niceness in their face. "Look how nice I am to you, I made you margaritas!" "Oh yeah, well they were too sweet for me anyway, so you weren't as nice as all that!"

This suggests that you are framing the situation with you as the innocent victim, and blaming and shaming them for their violations of your space. In other words, the conflict has gone meta, it's no longer about concrete examples of crossing boundaries (which you share some blame in for not wanting to set them), but about who is the good guy and who is the bad guy and humiliating Dan by forcing him to accept your definition of him. Even though it's probably true, you will never win that argument.

The best way to fix the concrete problem is to start by admitting your own mistakes and apologizing. This is totally stupid because if anything, he should be apologizing to you, but it would even the playing field and make it clear that respecting your boundaries doesn't mean that he submits to being humiliated. Even though he's kind of a douche and totally deserves it.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:48 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I actually think Dan especially needs to learn to respect other people's boundaries and space.

Have you ever sat really down with the roommate(s) when you weren't annoyed and had a clear discussion about what stuff is and is not okay to use? What are the ground rules already? Did they agree to them in as many words? You sound upset, which is understandable. I have had roommates with poor boundaries, and they drove me totally insane until I stopped waging a weird passive-aggressive war and actually talked to them. In all but one crappy instance, when we designated boundaries and talked about them it got a lot better (not perfect- I'm a big fan of not-living-with-roommates for good reasons). You can't assume that he knows how you like things unless you have explicitly stated how you want them.

So, if you're going to keep living with them, how about:

"Hey, Dan. When you have a second, can we sit down and talk again about what are common supplies/expectations for noise late at night/ [other issues]? Because I still don't think we're on the same page, here, and I don't want things to get weird." Make a list ahead of time, go through it with them. Write down what the plan is and get specific. "I just don't like to share food. Can we just say we don't use food the other bought unless we ask or the other offers? Do you have a better idea?" "What areas are really common areas? What areas should we never be in without the owner's permission?" "What time is it reasonable for me to stop making noise at night that you can hear outside my room?"

The reason I think you might not have really had this detailed a conversation is because you didn't go talk to him about making noise at two in the morning, when you definitely have a right to sleep, and not mentioning this might be indicative of greater communication problems between the two of you, or just with you.

He's not going to think you're cool, and he'll probably post something snotty on his Facebook page. But at least when he does break the now-explicitly-stated boundaries you can say, "Hey, remember how we talked about how we're not going to share food because we like different things and the sharing was only one way? I notice you've got my milk there in your hand." It sounds like maybe he's annoyed with you for the Saturday conversation- but has he taken your food since then? Maybe the food conversation was somewhat effective but you also need to talk about other stuff (noise, common areas and what non-food items are shared or not, to start)?

Other best practices for a non-sharer living with sharers:

Keep items you don't want used out of common areas if the roommates really don't get it- if you have to take a cup of laundry detergent with you to the washer, it's not a huge deal. If you won't do that, ask them to buy the next box instead of sitting around grumping to yourself about it. Officially designate kitchen cabinets for each person so that they'll feel a little worse rifling through your stuff. If you're cool sharing some groceries but not others, designate special spots in the refrigerator where shared items go.

And, yeah, think about moving if this doesn't get solved with better communication.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:50 AM on April 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

The only real solution is moving as soon as possible. Anything else will just prolong your misery.

Don't imagine that you're going to teach Dan a thing about proper manners, respect, consideration, or how to be a decent human being. Some people are simply assholes. There is nothing you can say or do to change their assholish behavior. Politely negotiating with them won't work. Passive aggression won't work, and directly scolding them won't either. You can waste your breath trying to appeal to their consciences, their senses of duty and kindness, and that definitely won't work. Get it? You. Can't. Make. Them. Care. About. You. Or. Your. Shit.

You can't go on living in a place where you have to stand guard over all your stuff and explicitly state every common courtesy as a rule, as greekphilosophy has pointed out. You can't do it, and you will go nuts trying. And that's assuming that these people would even respect your rules and boundaries, which they won't. Move out.

On preview, AlsoMike, NO. Just NO. Normal, well-adjusted people do not need to be told not to finish off their roommate's milk and then leave the empty carton in the fridge. OP is not their mommy, and it is not OP's obligation to teach them how to be people. OP does not need to apologize for being unable to fix two spoiled, dysfunctional adults.
posted by keep it under cover at 12:01 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

No, you are not at all out of line.

I once lived with a few people in a house, one of whom would habitually cook something in a pot or pan, then not wash it. When asked, she would say that I had been the one to use the pan, and everyone believed her because they were all old college buddies. Even if there was meat residue in the pan (I was a vegetarian at the time), or I had been away for a few days (hence not physically present to have used the pot/pan), or someone had actually seen her use it, I always got the blame, and people would get angry that I "wasn't doing the dishes."

Point being, some people are obtuse and self-indugent and you can't do anything to change them. Nor should you need to; but to stay in close proximity to them leaves you as the only injured party, and without recourse.

Move as soon as you conveniently can.
posted by Pecinpah at 12:04 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you either need to move or relate to these people on their level.

How to relate to them on their level:
Lick everything in the fridge, in front of them. Don't buy stuff you can't easily lick. Eat their stuff, drink their beer - toss down $5 if they complain. When his gaming wakes you up, get up, grab a beer, retrieve headphones and play your loud online game that involves saying "EPIC FAIL!!!" loudly to your guildmates a lot. Let the house run out of toilet paper, ask if anyone can steal some from their work. Shower after going number 2 until some toilet paper turns up. For bonus points continuously play music with loud base in your room, wear only a ratty old bathrobe prone to gaping in front all the time, and say "dude" as every second word.
posted by meepmeow at 12:15 PM on April 20, 2010

Dan's facebook comment was probably objecting to you being passive aggressive more than anything else. Maybe he didn't connect the other complaints with your food being labeled?

Anyway, I think you should ask him how you should indicate when something is yours. Then it won't be passive aggressive when you do it.
posted by valadil at 12:16 PM on April 20, 2010

Ugh, get out of there. I've had my share of toxic roommates. The worst was probably the one who ate all my food and criticized it, ruined all my cookware by burning eggs in it and then refusing to wash it, and won the Worst Roommate Ever trophy by, when the lease was up, magically disappearing with my Playstation and $400 that she owed me.

Move now, before Dan steals your playstation and your $400. Assholes only get stinkier as time goes on. My husband and I now live maybe 4 blocks from a fairly sketchy neighborhood and housing project, because that's where we can afford to have our own place. Even though we sometimes hear gunshots and sirens as we drift off to sleep, it's still way more peaceful than having to live with a terrible roommate.
posted by kataclysm at 12:24 PM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

One time someone at my mothers factory job would steal her juice from her lunchbox everyday, and she and friends didn't know who. So they peed in the apple juice container and put it in the lunchbox. After that day no ones juice went missing ever.

Try this approach.
posted by boomcha76 at 12:39 PM on April 20, 2010

Walk up to Dan. Say "Dan, I know you're not happy that I labeled my food in the fridge, but I did it because I assumed you'd been taking it not realizing it was mine. I assume you're annoyed by it because you think it was passive-aggressive, so I'll make you happy and simply tell you: You need to respect my stuff, like I respect yours, and if you can't ask before borrowing things or eating my food, then I'll start looking for another place to live. Simple as that. What do you think?"

Either he's going to apologize (wouldn't that be nice?), or he's going to shoot back something unrelated (probably), or he's going to say "We're roommates, roommates share stuff." If it's the first, great! If it's the second, you know he's toxic and you should get your expensive stuff off-premises and move out. If it's the third, then you're incompatible as roommates and you can simply say "I'm not comfortable with that, so we're incompatible as roommates. I'll start looking for another place to live."
posted by davejay at 12:49 PM on April 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

Let me be the sole semi-dissenter here:

Am I out of line?

Sort of. Labeling everything in the fridge is definitely across the line into passive aggressive territory. Check out to get a look at how any sort of instruction or reminder to people you live with, regardless of how reasonable, becomes kind of asshole-ish when written down and left for them to find.

Basically, they know which food in the fridge is yours, so by labeling it, you are kind of being a dick.

That said, obviously, they shouldn't be eating your food if you don't want them to. And the fact that they are doing it even though they know it's yours and they know you don't want them to means that they are being considerably bigger dicks.

If you want to try to resolve the situation, I really suggest ditching the labeling plan, the laxatives in the food plan, the pee in the apple juice container plan, the helpful note taped to the fridge plan, the zip-tieing your headphones to your computer plan and anything similar that might occur to you or be suggested here. Try a strict regimen of talking about it like adults. If you can't resolve your problems by that method, move. Some people can live together, some can't.
posted by 256 at 1:13 PM on April 20, 2010

Living with roommates can be tough, especially in situations like this. I think it's cool to be "generous" to your roommates as long as they repay the favors. On the flip side, if your roommates are eating a lot of your food, using your laundry detergent, and using your headphones or any of your property without need to have a straight up talk with them. It's a touchy subject because of course you don't want to piss them off to the point where they start doing things just to mess with your head. Or even worse, they may try to make you mad and push you into moving out. That being to them in a nice but firm way. Just say, "Guys, I really love living with you and I don't mind if occasionally you borrow some of my stuff, but for the most part I'd prefer you don't eat my food, and that you don't borrow anything without asking." Honestly it seems like you're living with some rude people. In the end you might have no choice but to find a new place to live. I know it sucks. Try talking with them first and see how it goes for a few months. Good luck.
posted by ljs30 at 1:49 PM on April 20, 2010

A lot of people are jumping quickly to characterize Dan as an "idiot" and "self-indulgent", making accusations against his mental capacities, social skills, personality, etc.

Instead of character assassinations, how about just try to solve the problem at hand? (Seriously, suggesting that someone pee in another person's juice? That's horrific!)

Some homes are run on a share-and-share-alike basis. Everyone pitches in, sometimes more, sometimes less, and people like it that way. One person can, inadvertently, end up paying more than their share, but the idea is that it's better not to worry about it than to spend time rigidly enforcing boundaries. I've lived in these types of environments, and it's really nice not to have to worry about "running out" of milk when someone else has just bought a gallon. Usually people implement a system to mark special foods (fancy leftovers, etc.) that they do not want to share.

Some homes are run on a what's-mine-is-mine basis. Everyone has their own stuff, there's no sharing, and it's rude to take other people's things. I've lived in these environments too. It's nice to know you won't be bothered by people taking your stuff, but I find it a bit cold.

The problem comes when you mix these two value systems.

So, how about just explaining that you prefer a what's-mine-is-mine system and would rather not have a sharing-based household.

Leave the blame and name-calling at the door. That speaks volumes more about your maturity than calling for a public stoning of people who think differently than you. (cough, other posters, cough)
posted by metametababe at 2:24 PM on April 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

metametababe: "I've lived in these types of environments, and it's really nice not to have to worry about "running out" of milk when someone else has just bought a gallon."

Such environments usually involve buying the next gallon when you've killed the carton, not putting the empty back in the fridge for someone else to deal with.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 2:40 PM on April 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

Label it and/or lock it down until you move. Store your toilet paper in your bedroom, which is locked while you aren't there.

I've lived in these types of environments, and it's really nice not to have to worry about "running out" of milk when someone else has just bought a gallon.

I used to think so too, but then I realized that I was the freeloader for whom the makeup purchase always seemed to slip his mind.
posted by rhizome at 2:57 PM on April 20, 2010

Talked to them about not using your things without asking?
Still eating your food and using your headphones?
Thinking about moving very soon?
If I were a more vindictive person, I would suggest you get ghost chili extract and put it in some food you're willing to spare. Or just a little bit on your headphones if you want to be really mean. From Wikipedia "In northeastern India, the peppers are smeared on fences or incorporated in smoke bombs as a safety precaution to keep wild elephants at a distance." But obviously this would be childish and counter productive so I won't suggest it.
posted by JackarypQQ at 3:17 PM on April 20, 2010

I don't think it'll be necessary to move. Heck, you do live there. And I think, furthermore, that you haven't tried hard enough yet; if you let Dan push you out now, you're just letting the bastard win far too easily.

Three things you can do:

1. Stop being so nice.

In short, stop saying "hey guys, I know I'm probably being crazy here, and I know I'm not working right now so I don't know if I can say this, but I was wondering if maybe you could, y'know, not eat my stuff? Because, yeah, I know you're hungry, and sometimes it's okay, it's just blah blah blah..."

Start saying "HEY. I had noodles here. Did you eat my noodles?" ['Uh... yeah.'] "DON'T eat my noodles. They're MY noodles. I wanted them. Get your own noodles. And stop borrowing my headphones."

Keep doing this. Cut out all the nice words, all the filler, all the fluff that you probably add to your communications with him in order to soften the blow. "Kinda, y'know, I'm probably being crazy here, I'm not working so I can't complain," and all the others are just excuses that you're giving him to ignore what you're saying. Sometimes, you just need to say "HEY. DON'T." And that's it. It's often very difficult to project this kind of authority, but it's a fantastic skill that's worth honing.

2. If that fails, you could always get a small refrigerator of your own. If you keep your food in your room, no one can steal it. Just bring it out when you want to cook. They may perceive this as being silly, but you shouldn't be concerned about what Dan thinks.

3. I think you might be misunderstanding the likely dynamic for our friend Dan here vis-a-vis the landlord. He's the landlord's daughter's boyfriend, right? And he's living there - presumably for free - simply because of the landlord. I have a strong feeling that if you called the landlord and complained about Dan, Dan would suddenly find himself in a whole heap of trouble. So - if you keep getting woken by his video-game silliness, or if he keeps stealing your stuff, I wouldn't hesitate to bring it up with the landlord. You are, of course, a paying customer, and even if Dan is too, he's dating the landlord's daughter, and for many parents a healthy dislike or disrespect for their children's boyfriends and girlfriends is quite natural.
posted by koeselitz at 5:35 PM on April 20, 2010 [8 favorites]

You're not out of line. And as I see it you have two choices:

1. Move everything that is yours into your room and put a lock on it
2. Move everything that is yours into a new living situation
posted by deborah at 7:43 PM on April 20, 2010

Buy some food that is usually targeted by Dan and lace it with laxatives. Little at first, then increase the dosage until he reaches some sort of useful conclusion.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 1:31 AM on April 21, 2010

nthing the suggestion to move asap. in the meantime, keep all of your "sharable" stuff in your room and make sure there's a lock on the door.
posted by sdn at 2:59 AM on April 21, 2010

I was once a young jerk, in my first apartment. I was very lax in my dishwashing duties. My sweet roommate who I respected very much kept nicely asking me to do the dishes more often. I kept meaning to, but things just came up. Until one day she YELLED AT ME. And I got the point. And I did the dishes. I knew I was wrong.

You do need to be firm. Maybe have a few beers first. But sit down with him and tell him that his behavior is really pissing you off and he can't just eat your food without replacing it. Or email him.

But on the flip side, do you touch or eat any of their food? If so, stop immediately.
posted by kpht at 5:33 AM on April 21, 2010

Some homes are run on a share-and-share-alike basis. Everyone pitches in, sometimes more, sometimes less, and people like it that way. One person can, inadvertently, end up paying more than their share, but the idea is that it's better not to worry about it than to spend time rigidly enforcing boundaries. I've lived in these types of environments, and it's really nice not to have to worry about "running out" of milk when someone else has just bought a gallon.

I've lived in these types of environments as well. What I found was that one person always DID, inadvertently, end up paying way more than their share. Usually it was the person who could least afford to eat restaurant or fast-food meals, because that person was the one most likely to cook and eat at home and therefore would buy the most groceries. That person was usually me. Let me tell you, nothing rankles more than coming home after busting your ass at a minimum-wage job only to find that the trust-fund brats you live with have spent their allowance on pot, then eaten ALL your food because they got the munchies, and then get mad when you confront them because you are being "too rigid" and that your behavior is "not in the communal spirit of the house." It really sucks to spend over half your paycheck feeding spoiled brats. That's why the OP should have a nice chat with the landlord, but probably needs to move.

Share-and-share-alike only works if everyone involved is unusually mature, or if you're the asshole in the group who drinks everyone else's milk.

I also found that the people who most wholeheartedly espoused share-and-share-alike were the exact same people who didn't want to "rigidly enforce boundaries", who tended to be the exact same people who didn't worry about running out of milk OR about buying a new gallon.
posted by kataclysm at 8:40 AM on April 21, 2010 [5 favorites]

I just want to chime in and say that I've lived with roommates for all but 2 years since I was eighteen, and I'm 41 now.

Clear and effective communication is the best place to start. If you have talked to this guy about this stuff, and he's still crossing lines, then you need to stop ASKING him to quit taking your stuff, and start TELLING him, point blank, that it is not ok. Set boundaries, and establish consequences for violation. Labelling your stuff without doing this first is, in fact, playing the "passive-aggressive notes" game. He's confused and pissed off because he's had all this awesome "free communal stuff" available and suddenly now he doesn't, and he's not sure what changed in the equation because there was never any clear communication or clear boundaries established. Yes, it's clueless behaviour to us, but that's honestly how these people think.

A lot of it boils down to compatibility in communications and sharing skills. I had a roommate for two years who was as good as a partner at sharing laundry / grocery /cleaning duties and costs and soforth. I took care of his cat when he was on vacation because he diligently took care of his cat at all other times. I bought cat food once or twice when he was flat broke between jobs, and he bought cat food 100% of the other times. We never even had to discuss this stuff, it just worked out because we were on the same page. I've also lived in households where everything was labelled, everyone shopped for themselves, and all personal belongings (including towels and toilet paper) were kept safely locked in bedrooms, and yea, it was kinda like living in a hostel. The key here is that EVERYONE understood the rules and we were all on board with it.

Coping strategy suggestion: Set boundaries, establish consequences. Sometimes you have to wake up freeloaders to their habits by forcing them to accept responsibility. We have a friend, who used to be a roommate of mr. lfr's (and yea, as a roommate he was kinda like "Dan" in the OP, only not quite as overtly selfish, merely clueless). Anyway, this guy has been permanently banned / disinvited from communal outings unless he takes care of paying out the tab. Why? Well, because he's the sort who, left to his own devices, will skate out early, leaving $5 behind because "hey I only had a pint!". Forget about his share of the tip, or the 3 extra taster rounds he shared with the table, or the fact that he ate way more than his share of a couple plates of communal nachos. We (meaning I, since I'm willing to be the bitchy old hag in this case, cos I got left holding the bag one too many times) ultimately confronted him about this by saying "Yo, dude, NO MORE MOOCHING. It's disrespectful bullshit, and I'm not going to pick up your slack anymore." The irony is, this guy is an accountant. You'd think he'd have more, um... accountability.

So I told him flat out that unless and until he was willing to bring his credit card and be responsible for the tab at group outings, he was persona non grata. And (this is kinda important too) the friend group backed me up on it.

The way this works in roommate situations is (again): set boundaries, establish consequences. TELL the offender, up front, that there will be no more "shared resources" until they pay in their share, and continue to do so. Also, unless he's polite when he borrows your stuff, asks first, and uses it politely (without keeping you awake all night) that your stuff is going to be put away / secured and he will no longer have the privilege of use. See how simple that is?

Learn how to confront people about these things. It's a life skill that will take you far.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:30 AM on April 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

I favourited AlsoMike's answer because his answer, unlike many of the others, provides an actual path to get from the yucky situation that exists currently to some sort of acceptable situation. Others suggested moving out. If that's an option, take it if you want. But maybe you don't have that option for whatever reason, in which case many of the passive-aggressive feel-good answers given here will not help you, and will in fact prolong and further escalate the situation.

No, you shouldn't "have to", morally speaking, tell your room-mates to act their age. But you do have to, from a pragmatic standpoint.

What you need to do is exercise a little self-interested empathy. Yeah, you feel like your room-mate's boyfriend is a jerk. He's done some jerky things. But doing passive-aggressive stuff is not going to help YOU in the long run. You've got to talk to him/them. You have to have an explicit conversation about what behaviours and resource-uses are and are not acceptable in the shared living spaces. And you have to come to the conversation in the mindset of one of several adults who are talking together in an Adult Manner.

I'm not saying you're in the wrong. And from what you've said, it sounds like these guys are moochers, and maybe whatever agreement is made will go in one ear and out the other. But you're sure not going to see rectification of the situation any other way, except if you move out ASAP.
posted by tivalasvegas at 10:39 AM on April 22, 2010

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