Haasch: How to live with others

One of college’s most difficult and valuable lesson: don’t be the problem roommate but do advocate for yourself.

Palmer Haasch

I met my freshman roommate over Facebook. It was May 2015, just before we graduated from high school. We connected after I posted in the class of 2019 Facebook group. It was the first time I had ever been obligated to share a room, and knowing my roommate in advance assuaged some of my fears.

Things turned out fine. My roommate and I hit it off. Three years later, we still live together. I got lucky with a perfect match-up and found my best friend. In the years since, I haven’t been quite as fortunate. Whether I was living with friends or strangers, I’ve learned how to navigate many of the most common snags that arise in living situations. It’s not uncommon knowledge that a person’s college years are some of the most formative of his or her life, and some of the toughest lessons come from coexisting with other stressed human beings in cramped environments. As much as I’d love to believe that I’ll move into my own place and live alone when I graduate, I know that’s not going to be feasible. And frankly, I get lonely and sad when living alone. Sharing space will remain a necessary reality for many of us. Better to learn lessons now rather than later.

Living with strangers can be both a blessing and a curse — you don’t have to worry about confronting a friend, but communication boundaries become a bit blurrier. Last summer, I moved into an apartment in Los Angeles when I relocated for an internship. I had one roommate that was constantly and noisily in and out at odd hours and left the living room filthy only to complain (loudly, at 8 a.m.) that her pizza had grown mold during its week-long residency on our kitchen table. When I arrived, I had to clean an apartment that looked like it hadn’t been swept in a year and clear out a kitchen full of rotting food and drain flies. When I had to share a room, my sanctuary disappeared and I spent almost all of my time outside of the apartment that felt dominated by other roommates. The situation necessitated a delegation of responsibilities, but as a subletter I felt too out-of-place to confront the girls that had been living there for months.

So I got smart. This summer, I’m living with strangers in New York and was sure to ask the right questions and confer with other roommates when problems arose. I wasn’t going to be coerced out of my own living space again. If you’re paying rent, you have every right to be there even if you’re temporarily taking over a lease. Being on good terms means a positive living experience, or at the very least, a civil one.

In Minneapolis, I’m lucky to live with my best friends. We communicate well, which I know because I get slammed in the group chat for leaving out empty cans of La Croix Sparkling Water. My own faults aside, communication is the most important skill we have to learn. Candid discussions about issues like rent, chores or use of common space can be uncomfortable but are ultimately necessary. Bottling things up not only doesn’t address the problem but leads to further resentment and further tension. Extenuating circumstances exist — always take care of your health first — but generally we owe it to ourselves and our roommates to keep communication channels open and flowing. It’s crucial for our current and future living spaces.