It can be a challenge to live with strangers or even friends. In such an atmosphere, it’s important to realize that boundaries apply in ways that are different from living with family members.
Here are some tips that can guide you.
Do your research. Before deciding to reside with another person, it’s good to learn a little about them. If you advertise for a roommate, be sure to ask why they’re looking for a new place to live. Understand, however, that this person will likely present themselves as they would on a job interview. Like an HR representative would explore a candidate, take a little time to check the Internet. Social media can reveal a lot about a person, especially if he or she likes to party and stay out late. If this matters to you, ask this person what their typical day is like. Additionally, inquire about pets and if you’re concerned about whether he or she will come up with their part of the rent, consider running a credit check.
Respect for each other. Many therapists and divorce attorneys know that living together puts a strain even on loving and reasonable people. Roommates need to develop a level of mutual respect and boundaries. Specifically:
- Do not eat the other person’s food unless you ask first.
- Do not borrow clothing.
- Do not take personal possessions of the other person without asking first.
- Be cognizant of quiet hours, times the other person sleeps and awakes.
- Divide the chores evenly and do them without having to be reminded.
Respect personal space. If bedrooms are separate, do not go into your roommate’s bedroom unless he or she is present. A separate bathroom should also be treated in the same manner.
Make clear rules about food. There are some advantages to deciding to share food, including convenience, the ability to split the cost of groceries, and the ability to bond over meals. This may not work for every roommate due to dietary restrictions, schedules, and budget. Be sure to discuss and agree on what might work for you and your roommate(s), so there isn’t a misunderstanding, especially with regard to who pays for food, cooks, and shops.
Set rules for significant others. It’s important to decide in advance rules about how often boyfriends or girlfriends can sleep over and stay for meals. No sleep-over guests should be allowed unless such an arrangement has been made. Even if the roommate is currently without a significant other and does not have prospects, it’s good to set some kind of rule because people don’t often know when they may get into a relationship, whether short- or long-term. Rules about how bills would be paid for someone who “doesn’t technically live here” are better made before it is necessary to address the issue.
Be responsible for financial commitments. Roommates shouldn’t have to remind each other about rent payments. No one person should be the sole account holder on all utility bills. Consider setting up utility accounts with two names if possible or split who will pay for which bills. If one roommate is always in charge of writing the rent check, the other roommate(s) may pay the utility bills in a way that covers the cost. The most important point about dealing with financials is transparency. Each roommate needs to know what is due and when. Remember, the electric company won’t care that one roommate isn’t paying his or her share. The lights will go out if the bill isn’t paid.
Do chores. Unless you hire personal chefs and maids, housekeeping must be done by roommates and should be done without having to be reminded. Before moving in together, find out if the roommate is tidy or messy. Take your turn to take out the trash, clean the fridge, tidy, sweep, and mop the common areas. Note that keeping track of everything one person does for the other roommate with the expectation that every favor will be returned can often lead to hard feelings when one roommate feels disadvantaged.
Finally, because life is complicated and things often pop up, it’s good to have a contingency plan if something happens and it’s necessary to move out, or your roommate leaves. Keep in mind your financial and legal obligations in such situations and have a plan should the issue arise.