What you should actually consider when looking for a roommate

Great roommates are hard to come by.

When people are looking for roommates, they often compare the same few preferences or lifestyle traits: cleanliness, noisiness, and price. These questions all only cover the what of the matter, without paying much attention to the how or why. However, if you’re living in close quarters for more than a few weeks, the whys and hows will start to add up.

Living with another person is always a learning experience. You’re confronted with your own habits when you see them through someone else’s eyes. Often they’re little things, like whether you change clothes when you get home or leave on what you wore to work or school, or where in the house you like to do work, if anywhere. However, there will inevitably be bigger things. Here are some things that are important to consider if you want to ensure drama-free living. 

1. Taking up space

spread out season 3 GIF
[image description: gif of Marge Simpson spreading out across entire bed]
When sharing a space you learn how many different ways a person can take up space, beyond just physically. People can also take up emotional space, like if they come home every day and unload everything that happened to them over the course of a day onto whoever happens to be home. This can be a positive thing if everyone unloads equally and it becomes a bonding ritual, but the burden of emotional weight can be unevenly borne. Are you treating your roommate and/or being treated as an audience or an equal?

Roommates often inhabit spaces even when they’re not there. Learning which forms of this you find grating and which forms are okay is important to know how you’ll get along.

I’ll be the first to admit that I leave things all over the place—my bag by the door, my shoes wherever I take them off, my hair towel on a doorknob. While I’ve become more conscious of and conscientious about it over the years, it’s still an essential way of how I inhabit and feel at home in my space. I shouldn’t go into a living situation expecting myself to radically change in that respect, nor should anyone else expect me to.

With auditory or emotional space, I’m much tidier. My first step in processing is often on my own and I usually close my door when on the phone or listening to music. When you think of a noisy roommate, you think of someone constantly having people over or blasting music, but it doesn’t have to be that extreme for it to affect the tone and dynamic of your home.

2. Asking the right questions

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[image description: Gif of Tom Hanks on SNL sneaking up on couple saying “Any questions?”]
When looking for a roommate, you should ask lots of questions, both of that person and of yourself.

Instead of “How clean are you?” ask “What does cleanliness mean to you and how important is it?” Is a dirty dish okay as long as it’s in the sink or does it need to be washed right away? If something is out of place, will you be anxious, slightly irked, or indifferent?

Instead of just “How much can you spend on rent?” ask “How do you spend money?” If the house needs a new pot, do you prefer to buy one used that gets the job done or buy a set of matching cookware? Would you split the cost of a cleaner before moving in or out or do it all yourself?

Instead of “How much noise do you make or are you bothered by?” ask “What kind of noise do you make or are you bothered by?” Do you listen to the news in the morning or get ready in relative silence? Will late night conversations keep you up?

4. Loving the one you’re with

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[image description: gif of two dogs hugging]
My roommate is a night owl, while I am a sleepy sloth. Sometimes she’ll come home late, hungry for a snack or on the phone with a night owl friend, and wake me up. In the moment, I’m grumpy as heck, but if I wait a few minutes she usually makes her way to her room, I fall back asleep and by morning all is right with the world.

No roommate is perfect, but it’s important to recognize when one’s pretty close. When you find one, cherish them and do the work to make your shared home a place they want to be.