New roommate at 40, where do I start?
September 15, 2012 5:12 AM   Subscribe

I’ve decided to get a roommate to offset my bills. What is this going to be like?

For the first time in my life, I am going to have a roommate. We are both 40, both going through the same kind of things in life (divorce, only having kids every other weekend, boyfriends, etc.). What rules should you set? How do you set rules? How do I make her feel like this is her house too? (I’ve lived here for a while by myself) We have been acquaintances for 26 years, went to high school together, worked together in high school…we have kept in touch, but not really had much of a ‘friendship’ over the years. I guess I’m envisioning Romy & Michelle…but I don’t know how this is supposed to work. Any advice is appreciated. :)
posted by Amalie-Suzette to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The biggest issues with roommate are not being on the same page regarding finances / cleanliness / sharing. Get agreements about those out on the table before day one and everything else should be manageable.
posted by any major dude at 5:25 AM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd add guests (especially potentially long-term ones) and noise (especially off-hours) to any major dude's list.
posted by grudgebgon at 5:52 AM on September 15, 2012

You both have kids? Do they get along? Will the kids be using the same bedroom when they come over? If one of you exes changes the visit schedule at the last minute, will that mess up the other roommate's plans. Discuss all these things in advance.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 5:53 AM on September 15, 2012

Yeah, you need to work out the intersection of guests and kids, how you want to split bills, and kitchen usage -- do you share groceries? Do you only share staples? Do you share nothing? If you share, how do you replace it?

I would consider having someone in to clean once every week or two to avoid that issue.
posted by jeather at 6:51 AM on September 15, 2012

Do you live in a cold area? Add heating too your list of potential issues under finances. It may seem like a small thing, but, from experience, the fact that I wanted to keep the heat at a temperature that would require bundling in sweaters during the winter and she wanted t-shirts is a vast difference in an oil bill -- one that we worked out when she was willing to pay a higher rent during the winter for the luxury of higher heat. You're a landlord here, and might have to give way on certain things, though.

Are you going in together on certain common items? (toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies). Know in advance.

Is there a point at night when her having a tv on loud is going to bother you? That sort of thing.

Also, either of you have pets, or is there the potential to get one in the future? Allergies? Would both of you be okay with that?
posted by instead of three wishes at 6:57 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Romy & Michelle were BEST BFF FRIENDS who also lived together. Do you want to be roommates, or are you expecting to become best friends? Think about that and make sure that you're both on the same page.
posted by thebazilist at 7:00 AM on September 15, 2012

This might go without saying, but since you're renting to a friend and didn't explicitly say it, I will tell you:

Make a lease - there are free versions on the internet that you can modify. Have her sign it. Lay out the terms of the rental in the lease (timing, financial issues). If you want her to be able to move out at any time without needing to give you advance notice, put that into the lease, but please, just have one.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:37 AM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Since you've lived in the space by yourself for a while, it's easy for a roommate to feel like she's only renting a room, and is somehow missing out on her half of the shared spaces. To be welcoming about that, talk about what furniture she's got, whether she wants any of her things (furniture, art, books/music/video collections, stereo/tv) to live in the common spaces, and be willing to move some of your stuff to the attic if necessary to make space. Talk about whether/how you're sharing dishes/pots/pans and what the rules are for care and cleaning (don't put those knives in the dishwasher, this is how you clean a cast-iron pan, use these dishes but not those).

If not talk, at least think, about what you'd expect to have happen if she used your (item) and accidentally ruined it, and assume that will happen at least once for some item or other. You've got kids, so in some sense you know how to not take things like that personally, but on the other hand, this is a relationship in which you're not the boss. Even though it's your house, you're not the boss - and neither is she.

Get all your stuff out of her bedroom, and make a lot of space for her in the kitchen and bathroom - not just "here's your shelf of the medicine cabinet" but look at every horizontal surface in the space, and be ready for there to be twice as much stuff as you've currently got. It's not like being married and sharing everything - she's coming in with (presumably) an entire household-supply stash of her own. Even for things/spaces you expect to share - a linen closet, kitchen cabinets, etc - consider moving your personal stuff out and moving yours and hers back in together. That way you don't have to add her favorite saucepan to the top of the stack of your entire collection; it's easier to see the total "stuff" inventory and put a few of your things into storage instead of leaving them on the bottom of the stack and overfilling the space.
posted by aimedwander at 8:09 AM on September 15, 2012

You need to make arrangements for the kind of roomate you need to live with. That will give you the best foundation for the kind of friendship you want this to be, which it may or may not.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:11 AM on September 15, 2012

Damages: what happens if she or one of her kids accidentally breaks something, damages the carpet, etc.

I took in a friend as a border and she had a small child. Who ended up drawing all over the walls of the newly-painted room with lipstick, the new carpet was filthy and beyond repair, and weird phone charges were showing up.

In another situation, my roommate and her boyfriend would stay up late and blast the TV, which was on the other side of my bedroom wall. They blew out the speaker and she refused to pay to have it fixed.

I know my own kids have done kid things like playing soccer indoors with a blow up beach ball and shattering an overhead light fixture; or when I was a kid, I threw a rock at an icicle and broke a window due to my poor aim. So make it clear that damages, like grape juice on the carpet, are her responsibility.

The biggest issue is communication. It's really easy to build up annoyances when you see someone's hair in the sink, a coffee cup not rinsed out, or open the fridge to find your last ice cream bar missing. Make sure you are on the same level as she is with these things as they crop up. Maybe sit down together and draw up a list of house rules, and go over them periodically to make sure there are no hidden resentments building up.

Another weird thing one of my roommates did was tell me I could borrow her clothes. She loaned me a dark sweater to wear to my brother's funeral, which was being held in a cold place. I think I might have borrowed one blouse after that, but I wasn't in the habit of going through her closet because my job had a more conservative dress code. I went in one day and she had posted a huge not that said, "PLEASE DON'T BORROW MY CLOTHES ANYMORE." It was totally passive aggressive and I was very hurt. We went from being really good friends, doing each other's hair and make-up, hanging out together, to not liking each other very much due to stupid little things like the TV and her clothes, which I never would have touched if she hadn't offered in the first place. So think twice before you offer to loan clothes or other personal items, and do protect your personal boundaries as far as space and quiet time. Also, are you okay if she has her b/f over when your kids are there? Stuff like that.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:14 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I suggest starting very polite and respectful of her privacy and her things, even if it comes across as a bit wooden and formal. You want to be good friends, and that's great, but that's something that builds over time. Trying to start that way is a recipe for hurt feelings if/when one of you decides they want more privacy or alone time.

The same is true of offering her things. It's better to be a bit stingy and uptight (POLITELY!) and then gradually become more generous. If you start out being loaning things/giving food/doing chores and then get sick of it, resentment and hurt feelings all around.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:30 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have a substantially bigger room, or if you have more than one room that are "yours," then (my opinion, and the law where I happen to live) charge a fair pro rata share, not half of your expenses. Fair is good for preventing resentment.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:34 AM on September 15, 2012

Response by poster: I live in a 2 bedroom condo. Each bedroom has it’s own full bath, so we each have a bedroom and a bathroom to ourselves, and they are on opposite ends of the house. There is a one car garage, that I’ve always parked in, so I don’t really know how to share that other than turning it into storage.
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 12:46 PM on September 15, 2012

In some ways it's easier to be roommates with someone who isn't a close friend. You might be thinking your friendship with this person will be like it was back when you knew them, but accept that it will be different. You see different sides of someone when you live with them.

I don't know who Romy & Michelle are, but if they are best buddies who do everything together I wouldn't expect that -- and if she suddenly wants to do everything and go everywhere with you, that's not a good sign at all.
posted by yohko at 4:57 PM on September 15, 2012

Leases for a period longer than month to month can be a very good thing, but remember that they work both ways. She can't walk away AND you can't generally make her go. Just don't be overly optimistic in setting the initial time frames. I believe, in just about every jurisdiction you can agree (do it in writing) for a review date when you can look at how it's working and extend or terminate (with a reasonable, stated period to move). You certainly don't want to wind up with a roommate from hell and be without a feasible way to get your house and life back.

As with most successful personal relationships, recognize and respect each others' right to privacy.

Have a stated understanding that financial matters will be handled in a timely manner and that this, while hopefully friendly, is a business arrangement.
posted by uncaken at 6:05 PM on September 15, 2012

What rules should you set? How do you set rules?

Assuming that you guys are both trustworthy adults, in my experience you're going to want minimal rules. I'm in my thirties, and since my early twenties "rules" have been things like no smoking in the house, whether pets are OK or not, what can/cannot be done physically to the space, and the like. Things that could make or break our relationship with our landlord (or, if one of you owns the property, things that could affect the value of the house, endanger your safety, etc).

That said, in place of most rules there has been a lot of open communication about shared expectations. This is where the things that would have been governed by House Rules back in college tend to come in -- stuff like household chores, quiet hours, overnight guests, and the like. This will be especially important in light of you guys having kids and dating and such. The more people involved, the more complicated things can get and the more important it will be to have a sense on where you guys stand on this stuff.

Re making her feel like this is her home rather that just renting a room? Make decisions together and be prepared to compromise on the small stuff. My last roommate situation was great, but we had problems with this, largely because my roommate tended to make unilateral decisions about household issues, arbitrarily veto my suggestions, and the like. For example I'd come home and the whole kitchen would be rearranged. Or I'd see some cute throw pillows, say "Hey roomie, wouldn't these look great in the living room?" and the response would be "No." Mostly petty stuff, but it always made me feel like it wasn't really my home. At a certain point, I stopped engaging with her about this stuff and started acting as if I was a lodger. Want to paint the hallway? Go right ahead. I won't be around this weekend, anyway. Oh, you bought new curtains. They're... nice. It didn't ruin our living situation, but it did prevent us from being as close as we could have been if only she'd been willing to cede a little ground.
posted by Sara C. at 11:01 PM on September 15, 2012

she had posted a huge not that said, "PLEASE DON'T BORROW MY CLOTHES ANYMORE."

Yeah, anytime there are notes and signs going up, it's not a great sign. Talk to each other. Even if that means sometimes you are in open disagreement.

I mean, if the note is positive, that's fine. And sometimes a note to clarify something is vital if you're not both around to talk about it. For example I'm prone to culinary experiments and often keep weird hours, so from time to time I'll leave a note that says "Please help yourself to brownies!" or "Yogurt curing in the oven. Feel free to remove if you need to."

Before you write a note, ask yourself if you could see it featured on this website.
posted by Sara C. at 11:15 PM on September 15, 2012

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