How to communicate and set boundaries with your roommates

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Two people are upset, ignoring each other after fight (Getty Images)

By Grace Barone, Lifestyle writer

Going to college brings many firsts for students, one of them is experiencing life outside of their parent’s house. Living on your own for the first time can be a difficult adjustment for some people. Not only are you completely responsible for yourself, but you may also have to adapt to living with a roommate. If your roommate is great, you lucked out! If they’re not so great, here are some ways to deal with a dreadful roommate situation. 

Whether you’re in a dorm or an apartment, chances are you’re going to have a roommate. Picking a roommate can be a tricky situation. If you’re a first-year in the dorms, unless you already know someone at NIU, chances are you’ll be paired with someone you don’t know. This can sometimes be a great situation; you’re on your own for the first time, you’re paired with someone that exposes you to different things, you have a buddy that you can go out with and meet new people with. 

On the other hand, living with someone is a very intimate experience. You get to know exactly how someone else operates; do they let their dirty dishes sit in the sink for weeks? Do they have loud parties on school nights? Do they use all your expensive shampoo without asking?

What to consider when picking a roommate

If you’re living in an apartment, you typically have more of an opportunity to choose who you share your space with. While choosing your roommate, you should conduct some sort of interview with each other to see if you’re compatible. Make sure you’re asking the right questions; don’t sign a lease together if all you’ve established is whether or not you guys like the same music or have the same favorite movie. Figure out their class schedule; do they have a job? Are they a morning or night person? Do they know how to load a dishwasher or work a Swiffer? 

Grace Miller, a senior art major at NIU, has had her fair share of not-so-great roommates. 

“Living with someone else makes you realize, not everyone was raised the same as you,” Miller said. “They might have never had to do chores or share their stuff with anyone. You’d be surprised how many people have never had to clean up after themselves until they move out.” 

Know when to set boundaries and when to compromise

Setting clear boundaries with your roommate right away can help avoid some of these issues. Make sure there’s an open line of communication between everyone so if one of your roommates is doing something you aren’t pleased with or vice versa, the issue can be talked about in a peaceful, mature manner. Bottling up everything and never confronting issues can grow resentment, which is never good. 

“I sort of kept my mouth shut in a lot of situations because I’m not a confrontational person and I’ve learned that’s not how you go about things while you’re living with people,” Miller said. 

Remind yourself you also need to be flexible and compromise with roommates. Learn what deserves a conversation and what doesn’t. No one likes a nagging roommate that has an issue with every speck of dust. 

Maranda Gonzales, a sophomore early education major at NIU, decided to be roommates with friends from highschool. 

“I knew them already so it eliminated living with a stranger,” Gonzales said. “I thought I knew them well enough to know what I was getting myself into but you really don’t know someone until you live with them.” 

Gonzales said that moving in took longer than it should have and that it was difficult to find time to relax.

“My first red flag should have been move-in day, it took us way longer than it should have to move in. Every square inch needed to be disinfected before we moved our stuff in,” Gonzales said. “Everyone likes a tidy place, but when it’s at an extreme level it becomes too much. I felt like I couldn’t just relax ever, something was always needing to be cleaned.”

Moving in with your best friend may also not be the best idea. With a best friend, there’s a different dynamic than a roommate you have no previous relationship with. Boundaries can become blurred because they’re your best friend. Even friends need boundaries. Signing a 12-month lease is different from an extended sleepover with a friend. 

Living with someone else brings a lot of valuable lessons and aids in the growth of your independence. Roommates can become lifelong friends, if you do it right.