How to Handle Roommate Conflicts

Here is a sneak preview excerpt from Chapter 10 of  the Her Campus Guide to College Life: How to Manage Relationships, Stay Safe and Healthy, Handle Stress, and Have the Best Years of Your Life. Reprinted here with permissions from the authors. How to Handle Roommate Conflicts

After all is said and done, you and your roomie are going to face typical roommate conflicts, whether you’re just getting to know each other or have been friends for ages. It’s unavoidable, and it definitely isn’t the end of the world! The important thing is knowing how to handle issues so that they don’t escalate into major conflict and cause you extra stress.

Allow us to set the scene for you: It’s the start of the semester, and you and your new roommate are all settled into your double (it may be the smallest one on your floor, but the two of you can make it work), or you’ve finally found someone who can cover half the rent on your off-campus apartment.

At first, everything is great! You’re both super cautious about keeping the space clean, being quiet during sleeping hours and asking before you invite a campus cutie back to your place. But after a few weeks of stellar conduct, you may find yourself kicking your shoes off in the doorway or sneaking your boyfriend or girlfriend back to your room without telling your roomie first, or she may be doing it to you. It’s no big deal, right?

Unfortunately, your roommate probably doesn’t appreciate stumbling over your gym shoes, and you may not like listening to her clack away at her keyboard at ungodly hours of the night. So how do you deal? Here are a few lifestyle differences you might run into and how to cope with them.

She’s Super Messy

You’ve been taught to make your bed first thing every morning and to fold your clothes straight out of the laundry before putting them away neatly. Your roommate, on the other hand, leaves clothes strewn across her bed, which remains perpetually unmade. There’s trash everywhere, but thankfully only on her side of the room.

This is perhaps the most iconic example of roommate clashes. An unmade bed can be unsightly to someone who loves cleanliness, but it can be equally difficult for a girl who’s oblivious to messes to suddenly get the urge to clean.

How to Deal

If you have a need for clean, try to keep it to your side of the room. Your roommate is not under your control, and you cannot expect her to conform to your standards. It only becomes a real issue—an issue you can call her out on—if her mess spreads into your shared space, or worse, your personal space. If the room gets smelly or grimy, that’s another sign you can speak your mind and try to work it out.

Suggest making a chore schedule. No one likes forcing herself to do chores, but trust us, you’ll be thankful you did it! A cleaning schedule is a great way to divide responsibilities and make sure that your room is clean on a regular basis. It’s best to come up with the schedule early in the year so you can stick to it—no excuses!

If the problem gets to be more serious, consider approaching your roommate about it again. Remind her that it’s your space, too, and it’s her responsibility to help keep it looking nice. If the problem gets way out of hand and your roommate gets angry or aggressive about it, consider taking the problem to your RA or another member of Residence Life. They’re there to help you with housing and roommate issues, so take advantage of their assistance.

She’s Up When You’re Sleeping

One of you likes to get up with the sun, while the other loves burning the midnight oil. We all have our own circadian rhythms that are hard to reprogram. It’s equally frustrating for her to try to sleep with the lights on as it is for you to hear her alarm blaring hours before you’re slated to wake up.

How to Deal

If you’re finding your sleep habits are causing tension, there may be a way to get back in sync! Get a sleep mask to keep the light out of your eyes and earplugs to block the sound of the alarm. Try to be as quiet as possible in the early mornings if your roommate sleeps late, or do your late-night studying in your dorm’s common room if you’re the night owl. Try to be respectful of your roomie’s sleeping times. After all, being wakened in the middle of a good dream is perhaps the worst thing ever.

She’s Absent

When you pictured your dorm, you may have imagined yourself and your roomie hanging out, eating snacks, and watching chick flicks every night. While that’s not a completely impossible scenario, it’s not always the reality. Enter the MIA roomie, who simply doesn’t seem to exist. Sometimes girls practically move into someone else’s room or spend all of their time off campus, coming back only to grab clothes or when drama erupts between them and their friends.

Absent roommates can be tricky, as they’re usually absent for their own reasons. Some girls get invested in their new significant others, make friends in a different building, or are simply too busy to hang around the room. There’s nothing wrong with a busy roommate, but it can be kind of a bummer hanging out by yourself when you come home from class!

How to Deal

If your roommate’s absence bothers you, try inviting her to hang out on the off days when she does come back to the room. Ask her what she’s been up to lately. If she’s not giving much of an answer, don’t pry, but do be wary. You want to make sure she’s not getting herself into any kind of trouble!

If you’re truly worried about your roomie and where she might be, encourage her to talk with your RA. She could be getting into a sticky situation with a controlling boyfriend or girlfriend or staying out too late and crashing at other people’s rooms who don’t actually want her there.

She’s Always in the Room

While having a roommate who’s never there can be a bummer, so can having a roommate who’s constantly in the room. It’s always fun to have some roomie bonding time, but you’ll need a break from each other once in a while. It’s called alone time, and you might go nuts without it! Trust us: It’s easy to get sick of each other when you’re sharing a small space for at least a whole school year!

How to Deal

If your roommate is in your room around the clock (except for class time), you might want to have a chat with her. It could be that she’s simply not involved in anything else or doesn’t have many other friends, so encourage her to branch out and commit to something on campus. Clubs, organizations, sports, or on-campus jobs can be a great way to spend your time, get involved, and meet new people (more on that in Chapter 14). Meeting new people means making friends, and having friends means having a social life outside of the dorm room! It’s a win-win: Your roomie will find some besties, and you’ll have some much-needed, solo rest time in the room.

If, on the other hand, your roommate is simply more introverted and isn’t looking to meet new people, steer her toward the library or student lounges on campus for studying. Remind her that there are plenty of other places on campus to hang out and get work done. If it’s necessary, remind her that your shared room belongs to you as well, and that you’d appreciate having the space to yourself once in a while.

She Always Has People Over

“The more the merrier” isn’t always true, especially when it comes to sharing a relatively small space. Unfortunately, some roommates don’t think about this and bring in friends and significant others to hang out—all of the time. Worse still, they don’t always ask (or warn) you that you’ll be having company, so it can throw your plans and your rest and relaxation (or study) time way out of whack.

How to Deal

It’s always polite to ask! If someone’s going to be in your room other than you, let your roomie know in advance, and ask her to do the same for you.

If your roommate seems to have people over all the time without telling you, however, talk to her about it. As with so many other roomie problems, communication is key. While you might feel a little awkward telling your roommate to not invite her friends over, or even asking her to essentially kick them out of the room, she has to realize that your room is a shared space. If you’re having trouble coming to an agreement, look at your schedules and find a way to fit in times or days where it’s acceptable to have guests. For example, let her know that she’ll have the room to herself and is free to have friends over if and when you go home for the weekend. The night before a huge exam, on the other hand? Probably not.

She Uses Your Stuff All of the Time

For some new college students, having a roommate is like having the sister they never had growing up: double the closet space, sleepovers every night, and tons of clothes to share. For others, a roommate is just a roommate, and their belongings are personal, not to be shared or borrowed. No matter how you treat your property and privacy, you should make sure your roommate is on the same page.

How to Deal

As soon as you’ve settled in, you should discuss boundaries with your roommate. This could even be done while you’re crafting your roommate contract (more on that later!) or cleaning schedule. Make sure you tell her specifically what you’re comfortable sharing, whether it’s clothing or even chairs (some girls won’t want you to sit on theirs). Everyone treats her own privacy and property differently, so make sure to remain open-minded and respectful!

If a borrowing issue arises as the semester continues, you’ll have to address it. When she borrows a scarf off the back of your chair for a day, simply mention that you’d rather she not do that. If she repeatedly goes through your belongings to pick out her favorite things to borrow, you may want to consider having a more serious conversation about boundaries. If the issue persists even after the conversation, take it to an RA, who can help mediate.

For more information about handling roommate conflicts, buy the entire book at!