So maybe I'm a bit of a keener...
October 29, 2007 11:16 PM   Subscribe

What makes a great roommate really great?

I try my best to be conscious about the kind of roommate I am, but I'm looking for tips on being a great person to live with -- and maybe even things I could do to be an outstanding housemate.

I share a house with 4 other girls. We are all in our 4th year of undergrad studies, so needless to say, we're under a bit of stress. As well, we are all very social and involved in extra-curriculars, and most of us have part-time jobs.

We've already established rules for sharing certain food items and for alternating chores, so what else can I do to keep the harmony? Lately, we've all been more stressed than usual, and there has even been some hostility/girl-drama amongst us, even though we're all great friends and we're not the girl-drama type.

I take care of the bills for the house, do my chores well and on time, contribute to the shared items, bake for my housemates on occasion, look after communications with our landlord, lend stuff when asked, stay in my room when my friends are over if someone is studying or reading in the kitchen or living room (our common areas), keep the toothpaste gunk-free, do the crappy stuff no one likes to do (keep the garbage can from getting sticky/smelly, emptying the sink strainer drain thing), respect privacy (especially when boyfriends visit), run errands for them if I'm out and about anyway...

We get along pretty well, but I want to go the extra mile for my roommates.

Help me be a better cohabitor!
posted by gursky to Human Relations (31 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
My CEO's daughter just published a book on this very subject. Which isn't that helpful since it's not even available yet, but it's all I've got because the only time I've been in a non-romantic roommate situation was my freshman year of college.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:29 PM on October 29, 2007

Best answer: 1. Don't leave your stuff lying around. (E.g., don't leave your jacket on the couch in the living room, don't leave your dirty dishes in the sink.)

2. If you make a mess, clean it up right away.

3. Don't cook things that stink.

4. Don't be loud, unless the other roommates are also participating in the loud activity. (No loud music, no loud sex, etc.)

5. Give your roommates "space" when they need it.

6. Do your chores on time.

7. Don't hog the communal resources. (E.g., don't watch the TV in the living room 24/7, don't spend three hours cooking in the kitchen every day, don't have guests in the communal areas every day, etc.)

8. If one of your roommates brakes one of the above rules, don't get pissed off. But, it's OK to ask (once) politely to stop the offending behavior.

If you follow those eight rules consistently, your roommates will love you. (All these are basically ways of minimizing your presence, from the perspective of your roommates.)

But, from what you said in your post, and from the fact that you even posted this, I get the feeling that you'll be just fine.
posted by epimorph at 11:39 PM on October 29, 2007 [5 favorites]

I think you should all learn to give each other space when necessary, don't sweat the small stuff, and just try to keep things in perspective. You all want to graduate with good grades, that is the most important thing, so tailor your behaviour to what is most conducive to studying. Come exam time this might mean getting out of each other's faces, like living at the library or cafe instead. You may have to prioritize mere civility over friendship.
posted by randomstriker at 11:40 PM on October 29, 2007

When I lived with three other girls, one of them was the "you" -made sure the bills were paid, talked to the landlord, etc. Sometimes she came across like a house mom or an RA, even though we were all (about) the same age. Don't be like that.
posted by clh at 11:41 PM on October 29, 2007

Best answer: Don't talk about each other. If Roommate A has a problem with Roommate B, make sure she takes it to Roommate B and not to you. If she does tell you her problem, in confidence, don't pass it on to Roommate B.

The worst -- and most difficult to avoid -- situation amongst female friends in a living arrangement is the tendency to talk shit about each other. Even if it's "Roommate B hasn't done the dishes once this week!" That might seem harmless, but it can easily turn into a situation where two or three girls team up against another. Not good.

Also, be sure you're not taking too much responsiblity. Like, do your roommates feel okay with you taking care of all the bills and landlord stuff? What happens if something goes wrong -- a check goes missing, etc.? Make sure that while your baking cookies, you're not turning yourself into a doormat.
posted by brina at 11:46 PM on October 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just keep doing what you're doing, and relax.
posted by robcorr at 11:46 PM on October 29, 2007

You seem to be on the right track. Maybe alternate the "crappy stuff no one likes to do" just as you do with chores? Realize that in group living situations the occasional drama is very common. Also, unless you all hang out socially already, a fun group activity once or twice a semester away from the house (bowling, movies, park, etc.) may help people connect as friends and keep tensions from getting out of hand.
posted by PY at 1:02 AM on October 30, 2007

As much as possible, the ideal housemate is not there or seems as if she's not there, but her share of things is always magically done. Her private life is hidden in her room for no one else to see, hear, or smell.

She realizes that five unrelated adult-sized kids (that is, five undergrads) in a shared house can be four too many, especially in terms of privacy, and that at least one of the five will be an unbearable little psycho who, if there were a god, would have been run down by a cement truck or lost at sea long ago, so she frequently studies at the library or a cafe, meets friends in public places, goes away some weekends, and generally gets outside and does not lie around the place all day. This helps to keep her sane and lowers the pressure in the house.

She does not create electronic noise because she has a pair of real headphones (not leaky ear buds) that she uses for all audio and video, even when she's alone in her room. Her phone is set to vibrate and is on her person so no one else has to put up with the loud ring tone plus the scramble to get the phone every time she gets a call. When she gets a call in a common area, she politely leaves the room to take the call, she does not sit and blabber while others are forced to listen or leave.

She has good manners even if her housemates were raised by toe-picking slobs. She sets a good example without telling others how to behave.

She leaves no dirty dishes, no laundry, and no clutter of any kind behind her.

She doesn't force others to hear her clomping in late or testing the bedsprings all night. Her housemates know little or nothing about her bedmates or friends because they never see them. Her housemates never try the bathroom door only to discover that her boyfriend is in there reading the paper.

If she shares a bedroom, she never tries to bring home a bedmate, never even thinks of trying to cajole the roommate into acquiescing to such an arrangement, because she has the sense and decency to get a hotel room or go to the bedmate's place (assuming she's not going to be a burden there).

She does her share and maybe a little more of all common tasks and she cheerleads (but not annoyingly, not even noticeably) for others to do theirs with her -- for example, instead of cleaning the kitchen alone X times a month, she cleans it 2X times a month with another housemate.

If she needs a lot of time on the toilet, she tries to use a college toilet during the day so she isn't camped in the home toilet later. She showers to get clean -- in, wash, rinse, out -- and not to slowly wake up in the morning or slowly relax at night or sing her seven favorite songs.

She pays on time and fucks nothing up. If everyone were like her, landlords would stop demanding deposits and start lowering rents.
posted by pracowity at 1:03 AM on October 30, 2007 [11 favorites]

Good manners and pulling your weight.
posted by Abiezer at 1:24 AM on October 30, 2007

If she needs a lot of time on the toilet, she tries to use a college toilet during the day so she isn't camped in the home toilet later.

is going too far, imho. i'm sure you already have your shower schedules worked out n'at, but making sure to use an outside toilet rather than your own is really taking it too far. you live there too, you're not merely a guest.

i would say to keep doing what you're doing, but maybe try to work out alternating doing the stuff no one likes to do, as someone mentioned earlier. unless you truly like keeping the garbage can tidy, it's not fair that you clean up everyone's mess.

you sound like a stellar roommate, don't let them take advantage of that.
posted by thisisnotkatrina at 1:24 AM on October 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

A great room mate always thinks of the other room mates first prior to acting, and puts in some extra effort to keep the room running smoothly. Additionally, if you all are not great friends, a great room mate doesn't inject him or herself into social situations but also invites the other room mates when appropriate. By, the way, you already sound like you are a great room mate.
posted by caddis at 1:29 AM on October 30, 2007

You sound like you're already a great roommate, so I'll echo what robcorr said:

Just keep doing what you're doing, and relax.

As an aside, my best-ever roommate was a gay man... I'm a straight woman... It was the best situation ever, because I had a man in the house with no sexual tension. What made him a great roommate was his cooking ability. So, if you have a great secret recipe that only you can cook, take advantage of that and make your roommates salivate for it!
posted by amyms at 1:29 AM on October 30, 2007

Once in a while (but regularly), go out of your way to do something super-nice for your roomies: make a great dinner for everyone to share; bake a pile of cookies; clean the bathroom when it's not your turn; whatever. I find this is a recipe for success in pretty well any relationship, and it makes you feel good to boot.
posted by biscotti at 3:25 AM on October 30, 2007

A good housemate remembers that it's no coincidence that everyone seems to have PMS at once. A good housemate puts extra effort into remaining calm at such times.
posted by anaelith at 3:40 AM on October 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

and maybe even things I could do to be an outstanding housemate

...hmm the best roommate I ever had gave me tons of sex. No commitment, no games, no drama just loved to do it. Are you willing to do this?

A friend of mine said the best roommate he ever had made his bed, did his laundry for him and cooked him breakfast and dinner (-mom is that you?). Are you willing to do this?

I'd stop being so concerned about being the best roommate. From your post it sounds like you care and are a decent person. Nothing more is required. Be a kind empathetic person and if your roommates are the same they'll think you're an outstanding housemate. And if they don't....fuck em (not literally of course).
posted by tr45vbyt at 3:42 AM on October 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I take care of the bills for the house, do my chores well and on time, contribute to the shared items, bake for my housemates on occasion, look after communications with our landlord, lend stuff when asked, stay in my room when my friends are over if someone is studying or reading in the kitchen or living room (our common areas), keep the toothpaste gunk-free, do the crappy stuff no one likes to do (keep the garbage can from getting sticky/smelly, emptying the sink strainer drain thing), respect privacy (especially when boyfriends visit), run errands for them if I'm out and about anyway...

Will you marry me (or at least move in and be my roommate)?

Seriously, you're ten times the roommate I ever was when I shared living quarters. I was usually stuck on the basics like paying my half of the bills on time and not leaving my dishes in the sink. It sounds like you're already going the extra mile, so I would just keep it up. I assume that you're as stressed as your friends so there's no reason for you to overextend yourself. I would guess that your current contribution is already greatly appreciated.
posted by bda1972 at 4:28 AM on October 30, 2007

Here's a minor thing that I really appreciate: give your room mates a heads up before you start you shower in case any of them need the toilet.
posted by carolr at 6:07 AM on October 30, 2007

It sounds like you are a great roommate as far as doing what you should, and you're even going above and beyond.

However, the key here is how you, and the others in the house, react in moments of stress. Doing too much good stuff, trying to be perfect, can actually be detrimental to your laid-back-ness. Make sure that none of you feel taken advantage of, and that you do what you need to -- as much as possible -- to keep yourselves from going bonkers.

When someone leaves dishes in the sink, this could be the difference between a gentle reminder and a major international dish-throwing incident.
posted by amtho at 6:30 AM on October 30, 2007

Respect and good old-fashioned do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
posted by heartquake at 6:54 AM on October 30, 2007

hm. Several of the 'favorited' answers are good, albiet a little misanthropic in their lean.

keep in mind that the crowd here tends to be a little introverted, and may live alone by choice, so their answers are slanted that way. Personally, I prefer a roommate who communicates effectively, and whom I get along with socially. Roommates who tend to hide in their rooms or never see or speak to me? Those tend to really creep me out, actually.

So the answer, of course, depends on the group dynamic and everyone's personality, especially in a communal house, and the solution is just to be adaptable and open minded.

Anecdote-by-way-of-example: I'm a 39 year old woman, yet when I was 37, I lived with 3 young male college students (it was an emergency-housing situation that turned out awesome, actually). And the thing is, it could have been a trainwreck, yet we 4 had a BLAST living together because all of us were respectful, considerate of each other's space and privacy, but we cooked, cleaned, and DID things together. I taught the 19 year old how to cook, he taught me how to pwn in Halo. I gave the 22 year old a lot of much needed bike maintenance and some heartfelt relationship advise, he gave me a shitload of excellent mp3s and did the lion's share of driving on our house ski trips. The 21 year old did a bunch of fix-it-up projects for the landlord that lowered all our rents and heating costs. On and on - we were truly a community household that worked together, and I know these situations are rare, but when they work, they're awesome. And what the others said above - we didn't talk shit about each other, we had a good rotating cooperative housecleaning schedule worked out, and all the guys (and me) were conscientious about things like bills and not having loud sex at 2AM.

On the flip side, I also had to let little things like the random party night (this was rare, tho) go. Understanding and communication solves a lot of problems. Communication as in confronting things openly and rationally, not leaving pissy little passive aggressive notes everywhere (had a roommate years ago who did this, he was kicked out rather quickly by the household).

I'm still friends with all 3 of those guys, incidentally, even tho one's moved out of state, we still keep in touch.
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:05 AM on October 30, 2007 [5 favorites]

3. Don't cook things that stink.

also, don't forget to acknowledge your roommates' contributions. when i would get in the (rare) benevolent mood to do all the dishes or clean the entire bathroom, it made it worth it if i heard a simple "thank you!" from my roomies. it made me want to help out more often and made me secretly hate my roommates less.
posted by kidsleepy at 7:47 AM on October 30, 2007

The best roommate I ever had slept over his gf's house 4-6 times a week. Awesome.
posted by any major dude at 8:01 AM on October 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Great advice so far. I'd add: unplug the subwoofer. Or just use headphones.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:02 AM on October 30, 2007

They mind their own business, don't snoop, clean up their shit, wash their dishes, and cook a lot of food that they're willing to share.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:22 AM on October 30, 2007

And they don't have too much company visiting the abode.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:22 AM on October 30, 2007

I had a roommate like the one pracowity describes in my last year of school. I lived with him and another girl, and me and the other girl would go literally weeks without seeing him. He didn't use the kitchen. He never had people over. I didn't share his bathroom but when I looked in it, there was never any evidence that he had been there. I had a friend stay for the weekend once and she asserted that she didn't believe we even had a third roommate up there. We had to present his coughing as proof because he never came out once. She was convinced he was a ghost.

And, yeah, it was nice. But we felt pretty guilty, because in our rent calculations we had included rent for the common areas, and he never used them, so we always felt like we owed him something. At the same time, because he was SO nonexistent in our house, he'd ignore packages that came when he was home, for example. We could never ask him to stay home to meet the plumber because we didn't know where he was a lot of the time and he didn't answer his phone, and anyway the plumber was coming for the kitchen pipes, which he had never used. In a whole year of living with him, I never saw his car.

I felt like the biggest asshole, you know? I wish he'd felt at home enough in the house where he was paying rent to come down and say hi once in a while. He seemed nice enough when we met him from craigslist and I would have liked to get to know him better, but his aloofness made it pretty clear that he had absolutely no interest in getting to know me.

I'm not going to represent myself as the most considerate roommate (I'm the most messy person I have ever, ever met and I don't know how to stop) but I think part of living together has to be actually living together.
posted by crinklebat at 8:26 AM on October 30, 2007 [5 favorites]

re: pracowity's post.

Or you could just, you know, live together, and not act like you're on some misanthropic stealth mission.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:23 AM on October 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: my least favourite roommates of all time did one or more of the following: smelled bad, thudded feet when walking, asked too many questions (how do i change the lightbulb? where can i buy milk? someone's at the door for rebecca and nobody named rebecca lives here, what do i tell them?), drank my milk, left the counters sticky and the dishrags damp and stinky, told long boring anecdotes, made awful, detailed farting and plopping noises in bathroom all the time (turn on the fan for shit's sake!), went insane and were mean, paid house bills late and didn't apologize, slammed doors, were needlessly confrontational, antagonized my cat, smoked in the house (it's a nonsmoking house and that was clear when she moved in), and let their SOs hog the bathroom in the morning. and i also disliked it when their boy/girl friends would call the house on the shared line and not say hi to me when they asked to speak to their partner.

my favourite roommate of all time struck a good balance of caring how i was and leaving me alone when i looked busy. she would freak out with praise when i cooked or cleaned, and she was funny and laid-back. she woke me up on time for school if i slept in, helped my hide from my unwanted phonecalls, shared her cookies and let me wear her red plaid pants (it was 1999, that was a big deal).
posted by twistofrhyme at 9:33 AM on October 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Never ever let your significant other, if you have one or get one, stay over more than 50% of the time. Your roommates will either be pissed and say something, or be nice but secretly hate you for adding another roommate that they can't get rid of without confrontation. Having a couple in the house always makes the single people feel like it isn't their house.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:30 AM on October 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

my personal rule when I lived with three other girls was to try to leave the common bathroom better than I found it. Would that the other two that shared it with me felt the same way... but really, sounds like you're already being a superwoman roomate.
posted by missmobtown at 2:19 PM on October 30, 2007

pracowity's ideal roommate needs to grow a spine and realise that it's ok for her to actually LIVE in the damn place she's paying rent for, and for other people to notice that she does.
posted by jacalata at 1:05 AM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

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