When a friend of mine was looking for her very first place to rent (back in the days before craigslist and other online tools were so widespread) she answered a few paper ads pinned to the bulletin board in her university’s common area. She had a long series of rather disastrous roommate interviews — maybe the best example is the one where she mistook her potential roommates for college ballet students, when in fact their reference to being “dancers” kept them out a little later at night than she expected. After nearly giving up, she donned her Birkenstocks and marched on over to one last interview. She recalled that the home itself was falling apart at the seams, but the four other women living there were a perfect fit. They are all still friends, 20 years later.
Despite the success stories you’ve heard, not all roommate tales are good ones. When you live with someone day in and day out, it can get tense and major disagreements can be lurking just under the surface. Whether you have already rented a place to live or if you, like my friend, are looking to rent a room from an existing rental situation, you can still take control of your roommate destiny. Here are some tried and true tips to help you pick your best roommate match:
- Sense and sensibility: Ask questions about lifestyle and other things that will impact your daily life, like a commitment to sustainability. I had a roommate once who would shut off the tap while I was doing the dishes, she was so committed to saving water. Clutter is something many people fight about as well — some people don’t mind things laying around as long as the house itself is clean. For others, this is a deal breaker. Think of how you like your surroundings and ask the right questions.
- Great expectations: While you might want to find someone who will become your new “family,” this isn’t always the way it works out. You may want to settle for someone who checks the boxes when it comes to keeping a harmonious household, even if you don’t end up becoming besties. When you go into a roommate relationship with sky high expectations, you will likely be disappointed, so keep your outlook on the important, everyday things.
- On the road: What times of the day are you generally relaxing and when are you “on the road” or at work/school? It might make sense to find someone who has a similar schedule, so your roomie isn’t partying until the wee hours of the morning, when you have to get up and going to make it to an 8–5 job. If your place is cramped, it might make sense to have opposite schedules so you don’t have to share the space as often. Some people starting out in expensive cities like Manhattan will find roommates with completely opposite schedules (night shifts) because there is only one place to sleep in a small studio.
- War and peace: This concept is simple. Pick your battles. This will mainly be a task AFTER you move in with someone. But make sure you lay the groundwork in your initial interview when it comes to the things that are extremely important to you. Things will always come up later, such as someone’s propensity to steal your food, and you will have to make a decision about how much to rock the boat.
A good roommate is hard to find, but it is absolutely possible to do. A bit of extra planning, attention to detail, and expectation setting at the beginning can go a long way to form a roommate relationship that can blossom into a lifetime friendship. Just ask that group of friends 20 years later.