How To Deflate Roommate Tension – A Five Step Guide

When you’re young and idealistic, the word ‘roommate’ feels full of promise, acting as a magical, catchall phrase that implies deep-seated friendship rather than co-habitation between two or more people who barely manage to tolerate each other.

But the real world is pretty good at crushing idealism, and difficult roommates aren’t so much a possibility as they are a nigh-on guarantee. Even if you move in with your best mates, the pressure of sharing living quarters is going to get to you one way or the other, and unless the person you have chosen to live with is literally Mother Teresa (which is improbable at best, let’s be real) the cracks are going to appear, and probably sooner rather than later.

But though it’s unlikely that you’re going to avoid roommate squabbles altogether, it is possible to deflate them, and to ensure that you walk away from your tenancy agreement with your friendship – and sanity – intact.

#1 Establish the ground rules early

As awful as the phrase ‘ground rules’ sounds, it really is important to put your boundaries in place early on. Whether someone is moving into your space or you are into theirs is beside the point: either way, it’s always important to let people know in a non-confrontational manner the things that matter to you.


Sheldon laying it down in his roommate agreement. Image: The Big Bang Theory, CBS

You work nights and need lots of sleep during the day? Tell ‘em that. Have a significant other who is probably going to be over a bit? Let them know. You might feel like you’re being a nag, or being needlessly difficult, but if you ignore such requirements they’ll only fester away, culminating in an ugly argument that will hurt all involved.

#2 Draw up cleaning schedules 

‘Chore wheels’ have a strong association with that passive-aggressive roommate of lore: the pain in the arse that nobody can stand, constantly tutting away at the slightest sign of mess. But putting things down on paper guarantees that everyone is aware of what they’re required to do, and cuts out feelings of resentment before they’re allowed to grow.

Schedules are also particularly helpful in a household where people work very different hours, ensuring that nobody misses out on vital information. Make sure you don’t go overboard though: you don’t need to make note of every single chore that needs doing, nor do you want people to feel like it’s a constant job that they can never get a break from. A week on/week off system tends to work pretty well.

#3 Don’t take things personally

When you’re trapped in close confines with someone, whether they be a mate you know intimately or a total stranger, it’s very easy to overanalyse every facet of their behaviour. Say they come home in a bad mood: it’s natural to instantly assume that every one of their grumpy stomps and blunt replies comes as a response to something that you personally have done.

But in actuality, nobody is ‘up’ all of the time, and everyone is bound to have a bad day once in a while. Give your roommate space if they need it, and be sure that if they want to talk to you about something going on in their world, they will.

#4 Be respectful of communal spaces

This is a tricky one. After all, you don’t ever want to forfeit a living space just because you’re trying to be polite – that defeats the purpose of a shared room. But, by the same token, you never want to make someone else feel like there’s an area in their own house that is ‘out of bounds’.

A good way of making everyone feels welcome is by never leaving your property strewn around a communal space. Don’t park your laptop on the dining room table while you’re off in your room, or leave your shoes slap bang in the middle of a corridor. Whether deliberately or not, leaving bits and bobs all over the place comes across as territorial, and will often lead to a sense of resentment and annoyance.

#5 Check in with each other

After you’ve been living with people for a while, it’s very easy to become complacent: to stop treating your roommates like human beings and start thinking of them as extra bodies in a cramped space. For that reason, having brief, honest chats with your roommates is always important.

You don’t even need to talk about anything relating to the house, or even drop in a phrase more substantial than a ‘How was your day?’ Even the most minor of minor check-ins guarantees that everyone in the house feels like they have access to open lines of communication, and that they can talk about any issues that may be arising for them.

Brief chats are also a good way of ensuring that everyone remains civil, and that you never end up feeling like you’ve got a stranger living on top of you. Sure, it might not mean that you and your roomie become best friends for life, but it will stop World War 3 from breaking out at any given moment.

Raise it, raise it.

Lead image: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Netflix.

Joseph Earp is a freelance writer and music critic whose interests include horror cinema, The Drones and cheap regret. He tweets at @TheUnderlook