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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

How to Deal: You're "The Bad Roommate"

It seems like the perfect set-up. Just when you can’t push the trash any further down into the abyss and bizarre smells have begun to waft out from the bottom of the can, all of it magically disappears, with nothing in its place except a brand new garbage bag.

The dishes in the sink never pile up, and you often discover that the sticky pots and pans from last night’s cooking experiment have been miraculously washed and returned to their proper place. Nothing disturbs your slumber after the hour of 9 PM or before your alarm sounds in the morning.

No, you don’t live at home. You have The Perfect Roommate.

Of course, the downside to realizing that you have The Perfect Roommate is that you simultaneously realize that you might be The Bad Roommate. It’s an easy fact to ignore, because things seem to be going so great. The bathroom is always clean, the kitchen is never a mess, and there’s never too much noise. And unless your clean and considerate roommate also happens to be brutally honest about her feelings, it’s unlikely that there has been much open conflict about the situation.

On the other hand, you may have known for a while that you are The Bad Roommate, but you feel as though there’s little you can (or want) to do about it. Maybe you will forever be The Bad Roommate because your Perfect Roommate is just too—well, perfect. Her semi-OCD tendencies, natural knack for organization, and weekly sojourns to IKEA make any effort on your part feel utterly redundant.

Whatever the excuse, if you’ve started to fear that you’re bordering on “Bad Roommate” territory—or have been outright told that you are—it might be time to make a change. I’ve been there. And here’s my advice about how to go about doing so.

1. Be Honest With Yourself

Admit it: Have you been taking advantage of your roommate rather than stepping in and offering to help? Although some people do occasionally enjoy cleaning and organization (weird, I know), very few people take pleasure in washing someone else’s used dishware or picking up her dirty socks from the floor. And absolutely no one likes being taken for granted. So be honest about your habits, and admit to yourself where you’ve been a little lazy (or where your roommate truly has unrealistic expectations).

2. Talk About It

Initiating a difficult and potentially awkward discussion with someone that you share close quarters with isn’t on the top of anyone’s “Favorite Things To Do” list—especially if there hasn’t been a blow up (yet). But sometimes, it has to happen. Typically, someone who is overly polite and considerate in her living style is also that way in her personal relationships, and she might be more comfortable burying her angry or annoyed feelings rather than openly discussing them with the offender (a.k.a., you). But, these feelings will only fester, and even the most well-intentioned person eventually cracks. So, it’s a good idea for you to open up and address the situation, before it becomes a really volatile one.

3. Decide What Can and Can’t Be Done

If you and your roommate are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to what can be considered clean versus dirty, loud versus quiet, or anything else, you must come to a middle ground. And just because you’re the one who doesn’t mind the mess—that doesn’t make it your roommate’s job to keep the apartment clean. Maybe you can’t commit to cleaning the bathroom sink every time you brush your teeth, but you could agree to give it a good scrub-down once a week. Maybe she could let your shoes on the floor go, most of the time.

Also consider putting your decisions into writing; drafting a bathroom cleaning schedule or dividing the sink into sections that are determinedly “your dishes” and “my dishes” (yes, I’ve done both) encourages accountability and prevents the need for repetitive conversations.

In the end, everyone has a different outlook on what they consider to be a comfortable living space. But it’s up to you and your roommate both to respect each other’s opinions and find some kind of happy medium.

Photo courtesy of Steven Depolo.