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Ask UfYH: Roommate Negotiations

Q: So, I’m moving in with my significant other in about six months. I haven’t had a roommate since college (a couple decades ago) and this is a very new type of experiment for us both. We are lucky to have almost identical levels of slobbiness, but I’m wondering if there is a FAQ on how-to-unfuck-your-new-roommate-situation somewhere. I expect we will hash out how we divide chores and such, but I’m hoping for advice on any issues that others have had. Is there a new-roommate checklist so I can avoid potential problems?

A: First of all, high fives for realizing that before you move in is the best time to have this conversation, while everyone still likes each other and isn’t annoyed by the other person’s music and bathroom habits and OH MY GOD DO YOU HAVE TO BREATHE SO LOUD ALL THE TIME. Whether you’re moving in with a significant other, a blood relative, a good friend, or a complete stranger, the process is pretty much the same. And while this is a discussion that’s easiest to have before moving in, it can always be initiated even if the living situation has been in place for a while.

  • List the chores. Devise a comprehensive list of things that will be necessary for maintaining the household, and how often they will need to be done.
  • Each make a list of what you hate doing, and what you don’t mind. If one of you hates doing dishes, but doesn’t mind cleaning the bathroom, and the other would rather face a mountain of cruddy glasses than have to clean a toilet, you can make good progress in dividing up the chores so that either no one is doing stuff they hate, or you’re doing an equal number of things you’d rather not.
  • Make a chart. Or a list, or a calendar, whatever is easiest for you. This may seem childish, but when everything is clearly spelled out with days and assignments and gold stars or whatever, there’s no need for passive-aggressive behavior, because you’ve already talked about and agreed upon this.
  • Talk about what to do when things aren’t getting done. Don’t fool yourself. At some point, one of you won’t be holding up your end of the bargain and the other one will be pissed off about it. And then you’ll switch. Talk it out and figure out a way that works for you to ask or remind the other person to keep up with their end of the bargain. That way, when it inevitably happens, you have mutually agreed-upon behavior to fall back on. “Hey, it’s Day 3 of no dishes being done, and in accordance with The Roommate Treaty of 2014, I’m exercising my right to ask that they be done by tomorrow.” Again, it may seem childish, but the more you have in place beforehand, the less likely you are to ever have to rely on passive-aggressive nonsense.
  • Have you noticed a theme about avoiding passive-aggressive behavior? I hope so. Because it never works. It’s obnoxious and petty and erodes your credibility. As much as it might seem excessive to have a contract, however informal, if it helps you avoid the Post-It notes of doom, you’re doing OK.
  • Revisit the agreement as things come up. You may find, in a few months, that the person who is supposed to bring the trash to the curb isn’t doing it because that’s the night they work late. Or that it’s easier for one person to take bathroom duty at the end of the week rather than the beginning. It’s perfectly OK to revise as things come up, as long as you’re discussing it like calm, rational people.

Good luck! Remember that with this, like with so many other things, a little bit of preparation can save you a lot of hassle down the road.


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