Your Post-College Guide to Living with Roommates

I’ve lived in a wide variety of apartments over the years: with friends in a college-owned apartment my senior year, in a frat house (as a subletter for guys who did not clean the place beforehand) with two girls, two boys, and two tortoises, and — now, finally — in New York City with girls who have gone from strangers to close friends.

Just like a lot of things, living with roommates post-college can be different than sharing a space with suitemates. If you’ve lived in an off-campus apartment, you probably already have a sense of what it’s like, but in each of these apartments, there’s been an adjustment period. There have been ups and downs in every one of these situations, but communication is the backbone of every successful living arrangement. Here are a few tips that I’ve gleaned from my time:

Look for a roommate in all the right places.

No one wants a nightmare roommate, so turn first to people who you already know are solid folks. Often, great connections start with reaching out to your own personal network.

  • Post on a community board: When one of my roommates in New York moved out because of her work situation, I posted on my church’s classifieds board that we were looking for someone else. That way, we already knew we had something in common.
  • Post on Facebook: Contacting your college alumni group and seeking out friends-of-friends are also good ideas. I found my roommates through a mutual family friend who knew people who were looking for someone to live with in NYC.
  • Post in the Classifieds: If your personal networks come up empty, consider looking for roommates in online classifieds like Craigslist. Take extra care by using some of the tips below to interview a potential roommate. And scope out the person’s online presence to get a better idea of their personality.

Choose wisely.

When you’re in college, you sign on to live with people for a year, but if something goes wrong, you can always head to your RA and apply for a new place to live. But with real-world roommates, you’re locked in for the length of your lease. You’re locked into the responsibilities, as well – you have to make sure your roommates share the load of apartment maintenance with you, from cleaning to paying rent on time. So, it’s important to find people who you can rely on.

  • Meet your prospective roommate in person before making a decision. When we were finding a replacement for our old roommate, we had dinner with our new roommate and realized that we clicked, in personality and in living habits. We’re all introverts who need time to ourselves but like to check in with each other when we get home.
  • Ask the right questions. Make sure everyone is on the same page first. Do you both like to keep a spotless apartment, or are you on the messier side? How do your schedules match up? Are you looking for someone to just share the rent, or for a new friend to share a home with, from movie nights to cooking together? Will your prospective roommate have a sudden urge to buy an electric guitar and play nothing but Journey at 2 in the morning? Or leave food-covered dishes in the sink for weeks?

Get on the same page about dividing responsibilities.

This has looked different in every situation I’ve been in, and that’s alright – as long as everyone agrees on the division of labor. We split the rent evenly, but you could decide that the person who lives in a bigger room pays more. In one apartment, we made a chore wheel that we alternated every week for cleaning certain rooms and taking out trash. In my current apartment, we alternate organically and take turns buying toilet paper, dishwashing detergent, paper towels, and anything else that all three of us share.

Cultivate your own space.

In college, sharing a room with someone proved difficult; there was nowhere to unwind, vent, or just cry it out if need be. Even if you don’t have your own room after college, make sure to find a space that’s yours, whether that’s a room of your own with a desk, an X-Files poster, and lots of pillows for your bed, or your own nook in the living room. If there’s not space in your actual apartment, seek out quiet corners of the neighborhood you’re in — a park, a coffee shop, or a bookstore. Maybe take turns on who gets to watch movies in the living room, or designate specific times for each person to use the kitchen.

Resolve conflict openly.

This point is a when, and not an if — people living in close quarters are going to have disagreements. Little habits of your roommates – leaving their hair in the drain, forgetting to put their food away, or having visitors without asking – can escalate into major fights if they aren’t addressed. Honesty, as usual, is the best policy. Passive aggression only serves to frustrate further, and texts can be misinterpreted. Bring up these things calmly, in person with your roommates. And be open to criticism of your own habits so you can be more mindful in the future.