I’ve lived with over a hundred women. No, I’m not the worst roommate who sends others running for the hills, nor do I move frequently. I’m actually a fairly normal 20-something. I lived in a sorority house for two years in college, and then shared a house with four of the same sorority sisters. Right after I graduated, I moved into an apartment with two roommates. They were both engaged within a year, so two new women moved in. I now live in an adorable bungalow with three other friends.
My roommates have seen a side of me that few other friends have seen. They know that my purple fleece pants are my favorite item of clothing for laying on the couch, that I’d rather not speak to anyone until at least 9 a.m., that I prefer not to work out with other people and that nothing sounds better to me after going to the gym than eating Chick-fil-A.
I’m far from a perfect roommate. I’m pretty messy, I am a verbal processor, I can keep weird hours and I covet alone time, but I like to think that I’ve learned some important lessons along the way. While others work toward living alone, I’ve grown to see the benefits of living with others with some strategic ideas.
Choose When to Speak Up
I currently live with three other girls. While we care about each other, one small annoyance about Roommate A expressed to Roommate B can turn ugly quickly. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of gossip. Some annoyances are good to speak up about, but others will be quickly forgotten. It’s important to know the difference. When I’m frustrated it helps to remind myself that if I don’t want to confront a roommate about something directly, then I need to drop it and move on.
Learn What Each Roommate Values
I spent months worrying that the messy bathroom upset my roommate, but did not think twice about leaving my cereal bowl in the sink. Then after asking her, I found out that the dirty bathroom didn’t bother her, but keeping the kitchen clean was of the highest importance. It’s been a win, win situation because I can focus my efforts on what matters most to her, and worry less about toothpaste residue in the sink.
Learning what a roommate values goes beyond knowing that she likes a clean kitchen. Like you would with a good friend, seek to learn what your roommates like after a hard day at the office—coming home to quiet or going out for dinner. Nothing shuts me down quicker than voicing my frustrations and a roommate responding with advice. When I’m frustrated, I don’t want someone telling me what to do; I either want empathy or silence. Getting to know your roommates, asking intentional questions and observing their reactions to different situations will help you better care for them.
Communicate Your Expectations
Home should be a safe space; a place where your needs are met, and where you can experience rest. This cannot happen unless you are open with your roommates about personal space, cleanliness standards and boundaries when it comes to sharing food. Some roommates set ground rules at the beginning of living together to clearly set out rules or expectations. Depending on your home’s need for structure, it may be helpful to write out these rules and post them in a public place.
The following topics should be discussed either leading up to moving in together or in the first month: overnight visitors, noise levels, cleaning responsibilities and paying bills.
Ask For Forgiveness
You will inevitably break a wine glass, shrink a favorite shirt, forget to take the trash out or hurt a roommate’s feelings. Believe me, I’ve done all of the above. Be quick to apologize. Some apologies are easier than others. Our homes are where we are able to live out grace, apologize and forgive. If you learn to practice forgiveness with those closest to you, this practice will follow into other areas of your life.
Seek To Out-Love One Another
It’s human nature to want to make household responsibilities fair. In every living situation I’ve been in, during a hard week someone starts keeping score. It sounds something like this:
“I’ve taken the trash out the past four weeks” or “No one else ever empties the dishwasher” or “Roommate A always leaves her dirty dishes on the coffee table.”
Full disclosure: That someone who keeps score is often me. Unless your roommate is the worst, chances are, he or she is doing things that you are unaware of. No one wins when you keep score. Instead, make it your goal to serve more, love bigger. Like forgiveness, servant-heartedness will follow you into your office and into your church.
If enjoying the roommate experience sounds a lot like being a good friend, that’s because it is! Whether it’s a short-term or long-term experience, living with a roommate can be a great experience when you adopt the correct attitude and desire to make the most of it.