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When you've got tests, assignments, parties and friends to keep up with, picking up your stuff can seem pretty unimportant. However, what would you say if you came back from a challenging exam only to find a mountain of trash, clothes and books to cross before you can hit your bed? Chances are you wouldn't like it, so remember that this isn't just your room. Stick to your agreements on what will work for both of you.
Let's say your roommate asked you for some quiet time to work on a project. Talking to your friends or cranking the volume on the TV not only shows that you don't care about what he or she wants, but that you're giving him or her the green light to do the same when you ask for some silent time. Remember the golden rule, and treat your roommate as you want to be treated.
Practice common courtesy when it comes to possible touchy issues like visits with "special guests", drugs and alcohol in your room and respecting their property. Matthew D'Oyly, Residence Life Coordinator at Hope College, in Holland, MI suggests that "even if it is against campus policy for that to happen, be sure to have the conversation." Giving your roommate some notice about having someone spend the night or entertaining guests in your room gives him or her time to make arrangements to do something else that evening.
This includes everything from borrowing their laptop to asking if you can have a friend crash in your room. Setting policies on borrowing right after moving in can help avoid big trouble when these problems creep up in the future.
Everyone has annoying habits, and when you live with someone, it's extremely easy to vent about your roommate's faux pas to mutual friends. "The first one to know about a roommate conflict should be the roommate," says David Tuttle, interim Vice President of Student Affairs at Trinity University, in San Antonio, TX. "Students often hold onto stuff and blurt it all out when things get to be too much."
Another major violation to steer clear of is snooping through your roommate's things. The thought may be tempting, but the outcome will be disastrous if you get caught. Also try to stay out of your roommate's personal dramas, whether it's with friends, family or significant others.
A huge piece of the college puzzle is learning how to effectively initiate communication when a problem arises. Advise your residents not to beat around the bush, drop hints or use passive aggressive behavior to get what they want. As the RA of the floor, you may be asked to intervene if your residents cannot come to a solution on their own. "Nipping stuff in the bud is important; otherwise it will fester," says Amy Zalneraitis, author of Room for Improvement: The Post-College Girl's Guide to Roommate Living. "Not addressing it is a license for them to do it again."
The key to cohabitating peacefully may just be acceptance that this person may not become your best friend. Paul Bradley, dean of residence life at Northwestern College in Saint Paul, MN explains that many times "students come into the dorm believing their roommates will be their friends for life, their best buddies. The roommates, on the other hand, may see the room only as a place to sleep since they already have a social network. Then it's a mess; there's hurt, confusion and tension."
Common aggravations like sloppiness, food habits, visitors, personal space, volume levels and quiet time are just a few of the issues that can pop up while learning to live with someone in the residence hall. While communication about an issue is the best way to handle them, finding that extra ounce of sympathy in dealing with these issues may just save you from uttering the words "we need to talk" once again.
Download our Roomate Preferences Worksheet and our Roomate Contract to pass out to residents during a floor meeting. You can also use the main points in this article to start a discussion on how to deal with living in such close quarters.