Dealing with a bad roommate

What to do with a less than ideal living situation

Ah college—that magical time when you’re thrust into a small room with a stranger and expected to live in harmony. But let’s face it—sometimes the universe has other plans, and you end up with a roommate you really don’t vibe with. Whether it’s someone super difficult or just a few annoying quirks, here’s a guide on how to handle it all with a dash of humor.

Coordinate and compromise on routines 

Are you a quiet bookworm paired up with the living embodiment of a tornado? Or a night owl dealing with someone who wants lights out at 8 p.m.? Or, in a cruel twist of destiny, are you shackled to a roommate whose taste in music turns your head into a maraca?

Navigating extreme differences like these aren’t easy. It calls for a blend of compromise, proactive problem-solving, and a whole lot of patience. First things first—establish a solid understanding of each other's routines and coordinate your schedules to minimize disruptions. Flexibility here is key, and compromise isn't always about meeting in the middle, but finding solutions that accommodate everyone’s needs and preferences.

Survival tip: Compromise is king. But if that doesn’t work, invest in some ear plugs.

Set rules and boundaries

No roommate is perfect, so even if you do get along, you’ll likely encounter some issues. That’s why it’s important to set rules and boundaries straight out of the gate so everyone’s on the same page.

And why not write it all down? So if things do get a little weird, you have something to refer back to. Here are some important starters you might want to consider:

  • Quiet hours
  • Guest policies
  • How you’ll divide any payments
  • Who’s cleaning what and when
  • Privacy preferences

Survival tip: Set rules early, or you’ll be studying to the beat of your roommate’s air guitar solo. 

Communicate early and often 

Healthy communication between roommates is pretty much the glue that holds everything together. It prevents misunderstandings, defuses potential problems, and develops mutual respect. So if your roommate does something you’re unhappy with—address it early.

And by early, I mean soon after it occurs—not necessarily in the moment. For example, if your roommate ate your leftovers, it might be a good idea to talk about it when you’re not so hangry.

Survival tip: Eating leftovers is pretty unforgivable—and a good reason to invest in labels so you can stake your claim. 

Be a good roommate 

Be the roommate you’d want to have and lead by example. Clean up your pizza boxes, share the remote, and try and keep things quiet if you know they’ve got a big test the next day. Contributing positively to your shared space is a great way to avoid the drama.

And if you can see they’re having an off day, it’s not the time to remind them to do the dishes. Instead, ask if there’s anything you can do, or if there’s a small way you can help. It will keep the peace and show that you care about the relationship.

Survival tip: Be a roommate that you’d want to live with—it’s like the golden rule of college. 

Find an escape 

Having your own little hideout is everything. Even if you’re doing all you can to create a happy living situation, your roommate will still get on your nerves every now and again. So if you feel like you're fixing to flip out—leave the space before you say anything you might regret.

Maybe it's a back table at a library, or a low-key study spot somewhere on campus—wherever you can get some privacy or a moment alone will work. Stepping away from a situation and getting some breathing room when things feel tense will make a big difference.

Survival tip: Master the ancient art of chillaxation and learn a few meditation techniques—it’s worth it.

Know when it’s time to go

Not all living situations are resolvable—or something to laugh at. If you ever find yourself feeling unsafe or uncomfortable with a roommate, it's crucial to prioritize your well-being.

Open communication is the first step—address your concerns and let them know how their actions or behavior are impacting you. If the situation gets worse or keeps happening, don't hesitate to involve your RA or the appropriate student services. Document any incidents and keep a record, as it may be useful if formal action becomes necessary.

Trust your instincts—if you sense immediate danger, contact local authorities or campus security.

Give yourself grace

Sharing a space with someone new can be challenging—you’re not necessarily going to be living with your BFF. But if you can avoid writing any passive aggressive notes, flipping a lid over every unwashed pot, and addressing the bigger issues you do have often and early, you might just find it all bearable.

So cheers to laughter, eye rolls, and roommates who, fingers crossed, won't drive you nuts!

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

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