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Roommate Etiquette: How to Live Together in a Sluggish Economy

Sure you had roommates in college, but the second time around is a lot harder. Here are some easy tips for a smooth co-habitation experience.

If you are like millions of Americans who have lost their jobs in this depressed economy, meet the new lifestyle trend: doubling up to make ends meet.

Your college roommates may have been a piece of cake, but the second time around may not go as smoothly for anyone having to share living quarters.

If it’s been a long time since you’ve shared a bathroom, the one person in the world you will get to know—and fast—is your roommate.

Even if you bond instantly, there may be moments when the smallest of issues will get on your nerves. Don’t let problems fester until you explode; address them as they happen! Communication, more listening than talking, is the key to a successful relationship.

According to Sue Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies, “Familiarity often leads to shortcuts in considerate behavior and communication, especially in a roommate situation.”

You can address the potential problems by creating boundaries, making agreements, setting limits, and voicing expectations beforehand. Do this before you move in together.

Fox goes on to say: “Privacy is another sticky issue for roommates, especially if both are friends to begin with. Address how and if food should be shared and honor whatever the agreement is.”  Start with the basics:

  • Equality.  Make sure both names are on the lease, and share responsibility for whatever might go wrong.
  • Money Matters. Have the rent automatically debited from both bank accounts every month so neither roommate has to worry about an eviction notice. The same goes for monthly utilities.
  • Borrowing. Don’t borrow your roommate’s belongings unless absolutely necessary. Always ask permission, and return the item in the same condition and in a timely manner. Nothing causes more strife between roommates than borrowing issues.
  • Be Considerate. Your roommate may or may not be your friend, but he or she will be your business partner. Treat that person with tact and consideration at all times. Remember the little things we learned long ago: no slamming doors, no phone calls after 9 p.m., and by all means, no loud music late at night.
  • Communal Rules. Who buys the household supplies should be established from the start. Setting up a petty cash fund isn’t a bad idea for items such as soap, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies.
  •  Keep Your Home in Order. Chances are, one of you will be neat and the other messy, but your mom doesn’t live here, you do! The orderly one will have to learn to tolerate his roommate, and the slob will have to learn to pick up after himself.
  • Less is more. There is no way to duplicate all the comforts of your former home. The less you bring, the less you will have to keep track of. Think the Golden Rule when it comes to roommates: Do unto them as you want them to do for you! 

Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert and the author of A Traveler’s Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the City & County of San Francisco and the founder of The AML Group, certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from U.C. Berkeley and Microsoft to Nordstrom and KPMG. She has been quoted by The Sunday Times, the San Francisco Business Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. She has appeared on various radio and television stations, such as ABC, CBS, and Fox News. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on www.Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and www.Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.

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Keri Brenner January 10, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Wow, Lisa! These are some excellent tips. Particularly about the automatic rent deduction from both bank accounts. Saves a lot of arguments that way. Thanks very much!
Irene Morgan January 15, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Shared or not shared food can be quite an important issue. There is nothing so annoying as having a not shared food household, where you find that your room mate eats your food when she/he runs out. This is difficult to work out although perhaps having separate shelves in the refrigerator and pantry which are carefully labeled can be a beginning. Nonetheless, I remember having treated myself to a special cheese, which was completely used by a room mate without any regards to the cost involved and that it was not his.
Rena B January 16, 2012 at 03:12 AM
It is also important to perhaps have a chart of who buys the supplies such as toilet paper. While the financial aspects may be obvous, I had one room mate who thought toilet paper somehow miraculously arrived in the bathroom and that light bulbs put themselves into sockets. It was really annoying to be the one who purchased these things all of the time. He did not seem to notice if we ran out and the kitchen would be without a light until I replaced it. That is why I suggest a chart which makes it clear who is doing what.

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