Survival Guide: Roomies 101

Janell Hann offers tips for living with roommates. Photo courtesy of Hann.


“Hell is living with other people.”

That expression may particularly be true for college students, who often find that living with roommates can be a challenging experience.

Just ask Janell Hann, who moved to Salt Lake City from New York in 2003. During her undergraduate years at the University of Utah, she says, “I experienced everything from goody two-shoes to the downright odd and unexplainable.”

After having lived with 19 different “roomies,” she knows a few tricks of the trade that will help you cope with whatever living situation you are currently in.

“The first thing you’ve got to know,” Hann says, “[is that] communication is huge. It’s pretty much everything. If you can’t communicate with others … your living situation will be unbearable, [especially] if you can’t express yourself in a constructive way.”

To help facilitate communication Hann suggests having a house meeting once a month. At these meetings problems are presented and everyone tries to give a solution. This turns a confrontation between two people into a house issue. Hann says these meetings “can create a sense of peace in the home.”

She explains that roommates should express thoughtfully the things that are going well in the apartment in addition to the things that need improvement. “No one wants to [be] singled out or attacked,” she says. “Just don’t forget to let people know how you feel.”

Hann believes that telling your roommates how you are feeling in a calm, non-threatening way will make everyone happier, because it won’t feel like a war zone every single time you come home. “If there is any contention in your home, it will cause stress in all aspects of your life,” she says.

Second, Hann suggests that roommates write things such as birthdays, concerts, vacations and when bills are due on a jumbo whiteboard calendar. She says that writing things down for everyone in the apartment to see creates a sense of unity.

The third thing Hann recommends doing is making a cleaning chart. In her apartment it was called “Club Cindersoot,” in honor of Cinderella. Every month she and her roommates would rotate responsibilities.

“Put each person in charge of one room in the house,” she says. “Make clear rules as to what each person is to do, such as doing your own dishes, or who’s mopping the floors and scrubbing the toilet.”

But what happens when you’re living with a Gremlin?

Don’t worry, you are not alone.

Hann recalls having a roommate who never did her dishes. So Hann made a sign to post above their kitchen sink that read, “Contention is of the devil, not doing your dishes causes contention, don’t be the devil’s advocate.” But the problem continued.

Frustrated, Hann and her roommates took it to the next level. “One afternoon … we took her empty laundry basket and filled it up with all [of] her nasty dishes, then put them on her bed,” she said.

Katherine Veeder, a resident advisor at the University of Utah, says it is the small things that can flare up and cause problems, such as differences in schedules, or one person coming home late and turning on all the lights while the other person is sleeping.

She says it is vital to be upfront about different problems, while not being passive-aggressive or angry.

Many people may find it scary to talk to a roommate about a particular problem.

Veeder, who acts as a mediator for her residents, says it helps to find a neutral, common space to discuss conflicts. “It can be really intimidating to approach someone, especially if you’re in their space, for instance, their bedroom.”

When confronting your roommate about a particular issue, she says “it’s really important to understand where [they] are coming from before you … accuse them of … doing [something] terrible.”

Veeder says sometimes it can be hard to adjust to living with a roommate, especially for freshmen, because they tend to go from the “it’s all about me” mentality to having to be conscientious of other people’s lifestyles.

She recommends doing things that will create a sense of community. Students in her house are required to take part in formal activities such as group dinners and a monthly educational program. However, Veeder and her residents end up doing a lot of other things, including watching movies and going out to dinner. They have even gone laser tagging, because it helps residents in her house get to know one another better.

Veeder says that for people who have never lived with a roommate, it can be a difficult transition. Things will work out better when picking a roommate if you know about their living style: what their schedule is, when they wake up and go to bed, and even when they like to shower. “It’s [the] little things like that that can make all the difference,” she says.