The Freshman 15: Topics To Discuss With Roommates

As you settle into college life, one of the first people you’ll meet will probably be your roommate. Although this doesn’t apply to those who stay at home and commute to school, you will quickly have to adjust to sharing a very small space with someone who might otherwise be a complete stranger. Roommates come in all shapes and sizes and can become your best friends or the agoraphobiacs who never leave the dorm, but regardless of the closeness of your relationship, you should keep an open line of communication in order to avoid conflicts. This month, we will focus on some of the topics it is helpful to discuss with your roommates before things get too out of hand.

The Freshman 15: Topics To Discuss With Roommates

1. Who is bringing what?
Before you pack to move into the dorms, you need to know what appliances to shop for and what your roommate will provide. You don’t want to end up with two microwaves in one kitchen, or two television sets in one bedroom. Conversely, you don’t want to avoid purchasing something that your roommate doesn’t have, either. Keep a list of what each of you plans to bring to the room, and if you need additional items, try to split them up as evenly as possible.

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2. Overall cleaning habits.
Are you the compulsive neat-freak type, or do you let things pile up throughout the week? These two types of people tend to get on one another’s nerves, so it is important to identify your personality types right away so you can show more respect toward each other. If your roommate cares a great deal about keeping the place neat, for example, then the knowledge of your roommate’s preferences will make you more aware of your own habits, and you may think twice about leaving dirty dishes in the sink overnight.

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3. Daily/class schedules.
If you realize right away that your roommate believes in “Early to bed, early to rise,” but you’re more of a night owl, you will have a better chance of sorting out those issues early on. Figure out if your roommate has an 7:30 a.m. engineering class she needs to go to bed early for, so that you can find a way to dim the room and keep quiet as possible during the evening hours. Your roommate will hopefully be able to return that favor by getting ready for those break-of-dawn classes without making too much noise. Also, if one of you likes to nap in the afternoon, you can work it around the other one’s course schedule.

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4. Locking doors.
Although I always felt safe when I lived on campus, I always knew that my belongings were less secure when I shared a bedroom and a key with a roommate. Not only did a greater number of people have access to my bedroom that way, but also there was always a greater chance that one of us would forget to lock the door on the way out. You each have a key for a reason, so remember to talk about it and use it.

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5. Daytime visitors.
You don’t need to notify your roommate of every friend you ever plan on inviting to your dorm room, but you should at least give fair warning to your roommate if you plan on becoming a complete social butterfly. If you’re hosting a lot of little get-togethers and your roommate doesn’t like having so many people in the dorm at once, then you need to come to a compromise. Figure out a rough number of people you would accept in the dorm at any one time, and if you are expecting a greater number of people one night, then give your roommate the heads up.

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6. Overnight visitors.
These can range from one-night-stands to visitors from out of town. While neither of you needs to divulge all of the details of your social life (although, chances are, you’re both probably fully aware), you should be cognizant of your roommate’s feelings about the situation. In other words, don’t hole up with your boyfriend all the time — it will make even the coolest of roommates completely uncomfortable, even if you live in an apartment-style dorm and don’t even share a bedroom. If your best friend is visiting from another university for a few nights, just let your roommates know ahead of time so they aren’t asking themselves “Who is that strange girl in the apartment?” a few days later.

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7. Borrowing and sharing policies.
This is one that my friends complain about to this day! It’s great to have a roommate you feel comfortable with and with whom you share similar interests or fashion sense, but you should always ask your roommate before borrowing something of his or hers and vice versa. When you do return that item, return it in as good as or better condition than when you borrowed it. (Word to the wise: Don’t borrow or share boyfriends. This is usually not good for your relationship as roommates.)

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8. Use of living space.
This concept especially applies if you are sharing the actual bedroom with your roommate. Each of you may have completely different personalities, viewpoints and personal style preferences, and while you can certainly decorate your particular sides of the room in your own way, you want to make sure that neither one of your style choices makes the other too uncomfortable. For example, if your roommate decides to plaster a lot of nude photos or a Confederate flag on the wall and that makes you queasy, speak up. College is the time to be exposed to all sorts of different worldviews, so it is important to choose your battles wisely, but if you feel that your roommate’s decorations are appallingly offensive, politely tell them that it makes you uncomfortable.

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9. Best way to reach you.
In case of emergencies, you always want to have backup. Store each other’s phone numbers into your phones so that if you ever do need them at the least convenient time, you will be able to contact each other. One late night early in my first semester of freshman year, I was almost locked out of my room because I left my key in a friend’s car downtown (I was young!), and without my roommate’s number, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back in until the next day. Luckily, my roommate was around to let me into the dorm, but I could have avoided a lot of anxiety if I had just gotten my roommate’s number in the first place. (Would have avoided even more anxiety, had I kept ahold of my key, but hey- freshman year is the time you’ll make the most mistakes.)

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10. Noise habits.
The roommate with the loud set of speakers who likes to practice his music always seems to get paired up with the quiet roommate who would prefer complete silence. Find a place for compromise and stick to it.

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11. Study habits.
These often border on noise habits because many times, roommates will fight over the noise levels in the room while doing homework or studying. If you can’t come to an agreement on the appropriate level of noise for the room during certain hours of studying, then you should take turns in going to the library to study and making loud noise on other parts of the campus.

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12. Chores.
Although some tasks are entirely your own responsibility (such as how often you decide to do laundry), others are important for the entire room. Who is going to vacuum the floor/clean off the kitchen surfaces/put away dishes? For my first two years in the dorms, my roommates and I often battled over who had to take out the trash. Although we devised a trash schedule to take care of this problem both years, I often found myself picking up the slack and resenting my roommates for it, even though we were all friends, and one time I even fell down the stairs carrying trash out when I was sick. Talk with your roommates early on to figure out what needs to be done as far as cleaning goes, and figure out who is going to do it when.

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13. Bathroom schedules.
If you and your roommate both have a 9 a.m. class and you both want to take a shower beforehand, how are you going to decide who gets the bathroom? Devise a schedule so you can figure out if one of you needs to get up earlier than usual, or if you should merely switch your showers to the evening. This way, you aren’t completely pressed for time in the mornings and caught off guard because of it.

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14. Personal space and alone time.
When you’re an independent person who suddenly has to share a bedroom with someone, it can be a difficult adjustment. Chances are, your roommate feels the same way. If you can figure this out early on, it will be easier to decide how you might be able to create your own brief solitude while your roommate is in class or at a club meeting. If you like to keep to yourself, this is also important for your roommate to know, so that he or she doesn’t bother you too much and so that you don’t seem too cold or distant.

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15. Methods for dealing with conflict.
Having a roommate can be one of the most exciting aspects of dorm life, but occasionally you won’t see eye to eye on things. (Tweet this!) In such cases as these, it is important to know your roommate well enough to know the best ways to communicate with him or her in the face of a conflict. Talk about your personal styles for coping with such disputes early on, so that you know the best ways to seek compromise with one another.

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Some questions for readers:

– What are some of your worries about dorm life?
– If you have already lived in a dorm, what were some conflicts you ran into? Ways you fixed them?
– What other topics would you like to read about in future Freshman 15 posts? 

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4 comments

  1. I enjoy these posts so much. I’m at a community college right now, so I still live at home, but I’ll be going to a four-year university and living on campus next year. Whether I’ll end up with a roommate or not, I don’t know, but these topics work just as well for when you’re sharing a room with your sister 🙂

  2. hey Valerie, this is an awesome post. I’m bookmarking it on my computer. I’m a freshman next year and this is awesome. One question though: how do I say this stuff to my roommate next year when I meet her with out sounding really mean? thank you!

    1. Caroline, I’m so happy you enjoyed this post! 🙂 As someone who is completely non-confrontational, I understand your concerns about asking some of these things. Just a few tips:

      – First of all, you don’t have to talk about all of these topics at once… you can ease into them within your first month or so in the dorms. I know that my university posts our roommate assignments during the summer so that we can connect with them before the school year starts, so if you and your roommate friend each other on Facebook before you meet in person, you can discuss a few of these topics then. For example, “I was wondering what kind of appliances we’ll need for our kitchen. What are your thoughts?”

      – You can ease into topics like daytime and overnight visitors as you’re getting to know each other. For example, one of the first things my freshman summer roommate and I talked about the night we first moved in was boys. During that time, she mentioned a boyfriend who went to another school and talked about how he might spend the night later in the semester, so that was a good time for us to lay down whatever rules we had for that sort of thing. Some of these topics will come up naturally.

      – Be kind and nonjudgmental. If you ask in a positive way, you won’t come across as mean. However, if you frame the question in a mean tone, then your roommate might get the wrong idea. Just be as friendly as possible and you should be fine!

      Let me know if you have any other questions. Also, if you are interested, I’ve written a bunch of other Freshman 15 blogs like this that you can check out for more college tips! And if there’s something I haven’t written about that you would like to read, please let me know and I’ll be sure to include it. Thanks for commenting!

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