Roommate etiquette boils down to a basic respect for the privacy, property, and personal dignity of each member of the household. Just a few simple maxims, with which all of us are already familiar, should yield a solid base for roommate etiquette anywhere in the world. Perhaps it goes without saying, but the virtues of doing unto others, doing no harm, and trying not to take things personally, form not just a basis for roommate etiquette, but pretty much the basis for interpersonal relationships under any context and setting. With that said, all the extended respect and personal restraint in the world still won’t enable or entitle you to control the behaviour of others, or vice versa.
The following is a list of things where competing rights, needs, and lifestyles tend to overlap. Negotiation and conflict resolution are definitely good skills to implement in any relationship, and nobody with any sense is going to advocate for the kind of conflict avoidance that leads to resentment and passive-aggressive behaviour. In that sense, it seems most accurate to think of setting up ground rules not as conflict avoidance, but as resolving conflict in advance in a way that gives each concerned party an honest chance to make informed decisions about their own conduct.
- Keep a list of jobs that need to be done around the house. Everyone living together should contribute to the list so the responsibility doesn’t fall on one person. Designate who will do what chores, and rotate each week.
- Gas, water and electricity bills are usually divided equally among roommates (if your rent doesn’t already include your utilities). Decide before living together how you will handle Internet and cable. Some roommates shop together for food; some don’t. Be clear about what the expectations are from the beginning with regard to money, and how bills will be paid.
- Feeling like a third wheel is never fun, so don’t make your roommate feel like one. Be open and honest from the start. Maybe there should be a regular girlfriend/boyfriend night, or at least plenty of notice if someone is staying over. Remember, this is your roommates’ home too, and they need to feel comfortable there. Communication should keep this problem from becoming a bigger conflict.
- TVs, music and parties all create noise. Planning a party? Give your housemates or flatmates plenty of notice. This way, if they need to study or find a quiet place, they can make necessary arrangements. Show respect and it will be shown to you.
Maybe you hold the entire lease in your own name. Maybe you own the place yourself and rent out spare bedrooms. Or maybe you’re one of the renters in a place where that is the case. It’s common in those situations for other utilities to also be confined to a single account, in which case one person is legally responsible for coming up with the payments whether he or she is able to collect from the roommates or not. If you’re the responsible party, keep hard copies of bills on hand to prove your claims. Maybe even consider having copies made for each person who shares responsibility on the account. If you’re one whose name does not show up on the shared-expense accounts, there’s nothing wrong with asking to see a copy of the bill in question, and crunch the numbers yourself. But for goodness sake, acknowledge that the person who holds the account in his or her name has really stuck their neck out for the rest of the house. Don’t leave them hanging.
The appropriateness for using certain elements of the shared living space will fluctuate depending on the time of day. For example, playing music at a respectable volume in the middle of the day probably won’t elicit a response one way or the other. At 6:00am however, it’s a safe bet somebody won’t appreciate the noise no matter what music you’re playing. Many of the issues concerning time and appropriateness will have to be judged case by case. Having a few rules established in advance will build a framework for making many of those judgements.
There may be certain differences in how much total space each person can rightfully claim, and there may be perfectly good reasons for the disparity. Maybe one person pays premium rent for a master bedroom with a connected bathroom, while others pay a pittance for a shared bedroom with a community bathroom. Whatever those differences, fairness dictates that each person has as much right to use and personalise shared spaces like kitchens, dining rooms, and living rooms. However, having rights to use and personalise shared spaces shouldn’t translate into cluttering, soiling, or otherwise dominating a so-called ‘fair portion’ of that space. Whatever diminishes someone else’s ability to use or enjoy shared space ought to be discussed, and a workable solution decided.
Certain elements of refrigerator stock—like basic condiments—may be convenient to share in the interest of saving space provided the parties involved share similarities in how they eat and/or budget. Groceries involve several aspects of someone’s personality, such as lifestyle, diet, and income. So unless there are several significant parallels present, it’s probably best to manage groceries individually, and collaborate whenever it’s expedient.
Cooking & Cleaning
“Being Clean” is very subjective and roommates often have different tolerance levels for messiness. Your roommate probably doesn’t mind the newspaper on the table nearly as much as the dishes that have been sitting in the sink for three days. It’s the little things. Like when your housemate has cooked you a delicious meal and you offer to do the cleaning. Like wiping bench tops after use and rinsing the cleaning cloth. The solution is to agree on a definition of cleanliness; your idea of a clean apartment isn’t everyone else’s. Does it mean everything should be spic-and-span all the time, or the rugs vacuumed just once a month? Defining your terms early will help reduce problems.
If a healthy, stable living environment is at all important to you, do your best not to spread negative gossip about your roommates. Occasional frustrations with each other’s habits and quirks are par for the course. But the fact that you live day-to-day with these people means that you know each other more intimately than you do others. The intimate circumstances you share places each person in more vulnerable relation to one another, and news of personal attacks and/or betrayals can have an extra measure of sting. Hopefully, the ground rules you establish afford each person adequate privacy, dignity, respect, and space to preclude colouring daily interactions with an air of annoyance.
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