Roommate Survival Guide: Dorm-room etiquette

Click here to see this article as it appears on EYE WEEKLY’s official website. Originally published August 24, 2010.

It’s February and your cutlery is being held hostage. Your roommate has had enough: you don’t do the dishes and this is what a slob like you deserves. Of course, you know exactly what kind of hypocrite you’re dealing with. That fork-napper has been leaving nail clippings all over the washroom for five months. If that weren’t enough, he whistles when he breathes — and he breathes all the time. Where you may have worried about his health before, now you wish he’d just choke and die. You have the February Itch.

It isn’t uncommon for the first-year roommate relationship to strain in February. The last break before finals has passed, leaving exams and oppressive weather free to keep the two of you confined. People snap. Whether it’s cutlery hoarding or the silent treatment, some tension is bound to happen. After all, the roommate relationship is usually based on a late-summer compatibility survey — one you probably let your parents or siblings fill out because you were partying with your high school buddies (time of our lives!). Once it sets in, the only cures for the February Itch are venting and finding some distance, lest it progress into full-blown biological warfare (pee in the shampoo bottle). With September around the corner, how can you avoid going too far?

Be honest early and often
In the first few weeks of school, many people are extra accommodating and committed to becoming best friends. They over-commit without thinking of the consequences. (“Oh, I love those throbcore-Bieber remixes and I couldn’t fall asleep without you blasting them!”) This will not last. First, be honest with yourself: think about what time and space you’ll need and how much you can compromise.

What are your expectations in first year? How high a priority is school? How often would you like (or allow) guests? How sexy will those guests be? Be sure to carve out quiet time; everyone needs to recover eventually. At the end of the year, you may find that communal living isn’t for you. But while you are in the game, give and take is necessary.

Your Roommate
Sometimes people forget their roommate is a human being. They become a projection of nightmarish scenarios, bad habits and former enemies. Worse, they can be seen as an experimental subject. No matter how much you loved She’s All That, you are not entitled to turn your shut-in roommate into a party animal or vice versa. Worse still, avoid turning your Psychological Science textbook into Psychology At Home. Just focus on getting your bachelor’s degree.

Don’t go all Degrassi on their ass
Sometimes the freedom of university leads to titillating experimentation and sometimes it leads to trouble. Your roommate may face financial, family or relationship problems. Don’t aggressively insert yourself. You are not the last line of defence, though you may be an early warning system. If trouble comes up, keep it quiet and respect your roommate’s privacy and their need to deal with their issues alone. You can offer your support or information about where they can get help, but respect comes first.

The Gritty
When it comes to chores and cleanliness, simple rules work best. Alternate weeks for taking out garbage or cleaning the washroom. If someone cooks, someone else does the dishes. Clean up after yourself. Residential Assistants often offer “contracts,” but eventually you’ll be on your own, so try to build a system that sustains itself within your room. Some things might be more important to you than to your roommates; you may have to accept sole responsibility for those pet peeves.

Keep things separated
No one wants an emotional custody battle over the prized futon. A simple way to avoid this is to divide furniture purchases by room. This is extra-helpful once you move out. If you long for the return of the RA, allows you to track ownership online, along with its chore-scheduling and rent-reminder functions. Short of that, roommates should be able to communicate across a dorm or common room without resorting to electronic mediation.

Get out, all of you! Get out!
Whether it’s to party, to study or for a romantic encounter, you’ll have to hit the road eventually. If your roommate is cramming or bedridden, give them some space. A little time apart on a regular basis can do wonders for your relationship. There are hundreds of pubs, libraries and coffee shops around the city that you can explore.

The Horror… the Horror
There are, of course, situations that are beyond compromise. College campuses and the internet are full of legends about bodily fluids being employed to settle petty grievances, people skipping town when the rent is due, inconsiderate orgies, theft and more. If anything like that happens, get out — and send us a letter if you come across the orgy thing. You don’t need to sacrifice yourself for your roommate relationship.

Take comfort in that fact the nightmare scenarios are the exception. With some goodwill and these tips, you can survive the whole year together and maybe, just maybe, become friends.
No thanks necessary when February rolls around.


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