5 House Rules to Set with Your Dorm Roommate

If you've grown up with your own room, college dorm life could be quite the eye-opener.
If you've grown up with your own room, college dorm life could be quite the eye-opener.
James Woodson/Getty Images

Are you ready for college life? If you're heading off to live in a dorm, odds are you'll be sharing a fairly small room with another person. This may be the first time you've ever had to share "your" space with someone else. You may have bunked with a sibling when you were a toddler, but this will be different. You'll be with a peer who is just as used to having her or his own space and habits as you are. And you won't have Mom around to set and enforce the rules.

Even if you're planning to room with a friend from home, living together will not be just like hanging out in your free time. In fact, it may be better to take your chances on someone assigned to you by the college. Fill out that roommate preference questionnaire they send you honestly, and hope for the best. After all, becoming dorm roommates has ruined many an existing friendship. If you spend most of your time together even when you're not in the dorm, the relationship can become pretty intense. You might also be cutting yourself off from new friends and new experiences.

Whether you room with someone you've known for years, someone you've messaged with for a few weeks, or someone you don't meet until you lug your belongings into the dorm, it's important to set ground rules -- in writing. Many colleges provide a workbook or roommate agreement form for you and your roommate to fill out. Talk about things frankly. This is not a time to be overly polite and say that you're fine with whatever. Work to set rules that won't be burdensome for either of you. A little give and take early on will pay dividends for months.

Keep reading for rules that address issues that often turn into problems.

5
Cleanliness

When it comes to cleanliness, one main rule applies: Stick to the schedule.

With the exception of extreme neat freaks, everyone has times when things get a little messy. But one person's acceptably messy room may be another person's disgusting pigsty.

You and your roommate should agree on what's fine and what's not when it comes to keeping the room habitable. Clutter may be OK, at least temporarily. But rotting food, dirty dishes and foul odors probably aren't. Compromise is important. Be willing to put up with an unmade bed or stacks of books – as long as the bed doesn't start to smell, and the books don't keep you from getting around in your part of the room.

Realistically, though, nobody sets out to live in a room that's a health hazard. Things just get out of control, especially when you're busy. So it's a good idea to set up a cleaning schedule. Agree as to who will clean what and how often. Establishing a day for cleaning might help. Take turns, or divide up the chores, but set a schedule and try to stick to it.

If you're the neater one in the room, don't make the mistake of just tidying up after your slovenly roommate. That will leave you open to criticisms that you've messed with his stuff and maybe even tossed something important. And it will make you resentful. If you find it hard to stick to the schedule, or your roommate isn't cooperating, have a frank discussion. Renegotiate and come up with a plan that's more realistic.

But cleaning is not your primary job. Keep reading for hints about studying.

4
Studying
Yes, we know that you're at college to get an education, but remember that people like to study at different times. Work it all out before you move in.
Yes, we know that you're at college to get an education, but remember that people like to study at different times. Work it all out before you move in.
James Woodson/Getty Images

When it comes to hitting the books, make sure you respect each other's rights to study -- and not study.

You might be thinking, "really?!" right about now. After all, studying sure seems like a conflict-free subject. You're going to college to get an education, right? So you should be able to study in your room when you need to. However, different study habits and course schedules can cause serious conflicts. If your roommate thinks it's important to get a good night's sleep but you tend to pull all-nighters right before a deadline, you may have a problem. What if you want quiet to read a book at night but she wants to hear music or watch TV while she crunches numbers?

Work out rules that cover study hours in the room, including whether "study hours" mean "quiet hours." There are various ways to compromise. Maybe you can agree to study in the library when quiet is required. The music lover might use headphones. Set sleep hours when studying must be done somewhere other than in the room, maybe in the dorm's lounge if it's late at night. If one of you is working with a group or a partner, meet outside the room. If your approaches to studying are very different, the best plan may be to agree that both of you will do most of your studying somewhere else.

Speaking of sleep, that's another area that often sparks dissension. Keep reading to learn more.

3
Sleeping

As a rule, roomies should agree that sleep shouldn't keep the other from sleeping. To avoid conflicts, you and your roommate might agree not to use your dorm room as your main place to study. But one thing you're both usually going to want to do in your room is sleep.

Make sure you talk about everything you need to get a good night's sleep. Odds are, you'll have different preferences about time, temperature and noise, just for starters.

Does one of you like the room chilly, while the other wants it warm? Rather than waging a battle over the thermostat or fan, strike a compromise. Agree on a temperature. If it's chillier than you like, use a blanket or comforter to keep warm.

If one likes to sleep with music in the background but the other wants silence, earphones for the music lover or earplugs for the quiet lover might be in order. How about lights? If one must have a nightlight, put it where it won't reach the eyes of the roomie.

Time may be the most important consideration. Agree on quiet hours and stick to them. Don't set a loud alarm clock to go off in the wee hours. If there's an unusual circumstance that requires extra-early rising for one person, maybe a discreet cell-phone alarm will do the trick. And agree that the one who rises early or stays up late will make a real effort to be quiet.

Speaking of sleeping: Read on for thoughts about sleepovers.

2
Sleepovers
Few things will ruin your relationship with your roomie faster than an unauthorized sleepover.
Few things will ruin your relationship with your roomie faster than an unauthorized sleepover.
Comstock Images/Getty Images

You and your roommate must discuss how to handle overnight guests. You could decide that the room is just for the two of you and sleepovers are not OK except when one roommate is away -- and even then with permission. If you don't want someone else sleeping in your bed, you can agree that guests must bunk on the floor.

This option may seem extreme, but keep one thing in mind: Knowledge and permission should be at the heart of any rule about sleepovers in your room. If both roommates think it's OK to have the occasional sibling or friend from another college spend a night, then it's fine, with a little warning. You may set limits on how many nights a guest can stay.

A much thornier question arises over having meet-ups or sleepovers with people with whom you have an intimate physical relationship. Before this kind of situation comes up, you and your roommate should have a serious talk about what's OK. Would you be comfortable trying to sleep in your bed if two people were romantically involved in the other bed, or would you prefer to leave the room? Discuss the possibilities. Is it never OK to use the dorm room for a date? Is it OK only with advance notice? Do you want to agree on some sign or signal in case of last-minute developments, or must there be permission ahead of time? Do you want limits on how often one roommate can have a guest? After all, you want to be able to sleep in your own room most of the time.

It may be awkward even to talk about such a rule with someone you haven't known long, but a little awkwardness is better than major embarrassment.

Possible embarrassment leads us to a really important rule. Keep reading to learn more.

1
Privacy

Privacy is another area that may be uncomfortable to discuss with your roommate, but this rule can prove very important. Agree that what happens in the room stays in the room – within reason.

Sure, you may not be best friends with your roomie. But you're going to live together in close quarters, and you will most likely know if your roommate has flunked a test, broken up with a significant other or come in a little tipsy. Keep private business private. Agree that you will respect each other and not use personal details about your roommate as fodder for gossip with your other friends.

Most important, don't abuse cell phone cameras and social media at the expense of your roommate. It's easy to snap a picture at an embarrassing moment and share it with others. But what seems funny to you might be humiliating to your roommate. Make a rule and stick to it: Neither of you will violate the confidences that you share, intentionally or otherwise, in your room. And neither of you will post or otherwise broadcast messages or photos about the other without permission.

Of course, if your roommate is breaking the rules the two of you have agreed on, or is otherwise acting in a way that's seriously troubling, you should speak up to someone. But take your problem to your residence advisor or dorm official, not to all your friends and acquaintances.

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Author's Note: 5 House Rules to Set With Your Dorm Roommate

Writing about how to get along with dorm roommates is one of those assignments that hits close to home. I have plenty to draw on from my own experiences and those of people who are close to me (and complain to me). One of the most interesting things I found in my research was the extensive roommate agreement forms and workbooks that many colleges and universities, both public and private, now offer new dorm residents. If roommates will approach these agreements seriously and honestly – trying to make things work rather than trying to make a good impression – that should help a lot. Most of us prefer to keep things simple, but when it comes to trying to live peaceably with someone you don't know well in a small space and a high-stress situation, putting things in writing makes a lot of sense.

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Sources

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  • Wake Forest University Residence Life and Housing. "Roommate Agreement Workbook." http://rlh.wfu.edu/downloads/pdfs/roommate-agreement.pdf (July 19, 2012)
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