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By Sarah Hubbs
Any college kid will tell you that spending nearly nine months sharing air with a complete stranger in a confined space can be less than a dream. In fact, it can be downright difficult, awkward and frustrating -- even if your random roommate ends up becoming one of your best friends.
Since there is bound to be a disagreement or two (or at the very least, a little bit of tension) you’ll need to prepare yourself. Here’s the heads-up on the most common roommate problems and what to do about ‘em:
Rift No. 1: The neat freak can’t stand clutter
Every individual comes to college with a unique concept of cleanliness -- including what is and isn’t clean, who cleans and when cleaning needs to be done. If you come from a family of neat freaks and can’t take your roommate’s clutter, you’ll need to take the lead by offering suggestions for keeping the room organized, before your room begins to look like a cyclone blew through. When talking to your roommate about keeping the place tidy, be sure to actually define terms like “tidy” and even “organized,” since his concept of keeping clothes off the floor may be a far cry from your desire to antibacterialize the doorknob after every use.
As a “housewarming” gift for a notoriously messy mate, wrap up a large decorative storage bin and let your roomie know that you’ll kindly toss stray items into the bin if you find yourself dodging belongings to maneuver around the room. (It beats breaking a leg on the obstacle course between your desk and the bed.) Then, buckle down and wait for the day when your roommate grows sick of bin-digging every time he loses something -- it might just move him to organize himself.
Rift No. 2: Someone borrows without boundaries
While some people couldn’t care less about sharing a pair of underwear or a swipe of deodorant, others might feel downright violated by this behavior. Avoid drama -- and trauma -- by finding out from your roommate what’s off-limits, and don’t be shy about explicitly expressing your own boundaries (e.g., say “You can borrow my clothes if you ask first and wash them within a week” or “Feel free to download my new Lemonheads CD to your iTunes, but put it back in the case”). Keep this discussion in mind, too, before helping yourself to anything that doesn’t live on your side of the room.
Rift No. 3: An early bird’s bedtime is a night owl’s game time
If your roommate has all 8 a.m. classes, and you don’t have one that begins before noon, the only remedy (besides praying that your roommate has better luck next semester) is respect. If you show some consideration at night when she wants to go to sleep, you’ll likely get more of the same in the morning when you’re still snoozing. At night, compromise by turning off the main lights and using a book light or small lamp instead. Dim the light on your computer screen, plug in headphones if you’re listening to music and text instead of talking on the phone. This way, night owls can do their thing while the early-to-rise can get some z’s. With a good night’s sleep, the early bird will be more likely to wake up to (and promptly turn off) his alarm -- and be more willing to leave quietly for a before-dawn class.
Rift No. 4: The dirty kid doesn’t clean
In short, no one wants to vacuum, scrub a toilet or sweep the floor. But it’s just not right for one person to get stuck doing it all. Before everyone is even moved in, all roommates involved should discuss what needs to be done, who’s going to do it and when duties will be rotated. Some dorms have a bathroom shared with the entire hall, and others are suites that have a shared bathroom between two rooms. Either way, everyone using the space should pitch in to maintain it. Work this out early on because if nothing gets scrubbed, it will be a breeding ground for mold, bacteria and illness. Gross.
Rift No. 5: The party animal disrupts the study-and-moderation person
Ideally, you’ll find yourself with a roommate whose social habits mirror your own. Unfortunately, many roommates will insist upon going out every night and stumbling in during the wee hours of the morning to disrupt their living mate’s sleep and study hours (try not to be that roommate). If you have a party-happy roommate, try to agree on ways to make his homecoming less disturbing. This can include a night light (don’t laugh), laying out pj’s before leaving for the night and leaving on a fan as a noise buffer. Unfortunately, if your roommate’s behavior begins to interfere with your studies, a last-resort option is to request a room change. After all, you are there to learn.
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