Everyday Etiquette

tips for getting along in roughly 144 square feet

V1 Staff

You’re moving into a room smaller than your closet at home – and you have to share it with someone you’ve never met. Welcome to college! Whether it’s a dorm room, an apartment or a house, sharing spaces can be tough – even if you really think you know your roommates well. Here’s seven simple rules that can hopefully help ease any problems that may come up, along with some horror stories to remind you, it could always be worse...


Other than a spouse, there is probably no other person in the world you will get to know as well as your roommate. Even if you bond instantly, there may be moments when your roomie’s little quirks get on your nerves. Letting things fester (in that tiny little space) can turn an annoyance into a misery. Communication – both talking and listening – will be the key to a great relationship. However, communication does not entail mean-spirited or passive-aggressive note-or-photo-posting.

The Elephant in the Room
I have a fear of deformed people. It’s called “terraphobia.” In 2005, while I was living with three other crusty individuals in a shabby crowded house on Chippewa St., my roommates taped my worst fears all over the walls of my bedroom in the middle of the night. No one should ever wake up to a picture of a two-headed Chinese man on the ceiling, or a sausage tumor-faced man from Portugal taped to the mirror. After ten solid minutes of screaming like a little girl, I calmed down and forced my evil roommates to remove the pictures. I thought the nightmare had ended... until the next day, when I logged into my Facebook account and there he was, the big daddy of ‘em all – my profile picture had been changed to Joseph Merrick, the elephant man. - Shane B.

Stuff: Less Is More

By the time you’ve managed to fit in 2 beds, the mini fridge, mini microwave, computer, CD-changer (OK, maybe that’s a little dated) and TV, will there be any room for clothes (not to mention a few books?) There is no way you are going to duplicate all the comforts of home. The less you bring, the less you have to keep track of and maintain. But this rule doesn’t give you license to rearrange your roommate’s things, or sequester them in unused rooms.

The Cat Foiler
The last roommate I had was the worst. Anything I left in common areas he would scooch into the sunroom... even things that belonged in common areas.  (toothpaste in the bathroom, etc.) He wasn’t a fan of my cat, which led to him lining every surface with tin foil (?!)  [As a musician] I was about to leave for tour, and had only been gone for a day, but would be staying at my house the night after my first show. My roommate had apparently caught wind of it. I walk in the door... candles were lit, there was new furniture, everything was rearranged, all of my stuff was shoved in the sunroom with the futon pushed in front of the doors and my roommate was holding back a puppy. I looked at him with my mouth hanging open and all he had to say was “I thought you were leaving for tour!” – Savannah S.


Rule #1 Don’t. Rule #2 If you absolutely must borrow something, always ask permission first. Return it in the promised timeframe and in the condition it was in when borrowed. If you damage or lose something you borrow, you are responsible for replacing it. Can’t afford to replace it? See rule #1. Nothing causes more strife between roommates and friends than borrowing money, food, clothes, CDs, sports equipment… But perhaps more importantly than the no-borrow rule is society’s no-steal rule. AKA the law.

Grand Theft Auto
I moved in with a friend who I knew not nearly well enough. Her mood was all over the place and she’d throw toddler-like fits. A third mutual friend who had just returned from California moved in with us. Up until that point I had been the only person living there with a car, but the new roomie had one in storage. Crazy roommate offered to buy it from her, so the new roommate signed over the title - unfortunately, she did so without getting the money first. Crazy roommate packed said car with a bunch of our stuff and drove it to California, and never registered it in her name. My poor other roommate had years of legal issues getting the car - which was later impounded in San Francisco - out of her name, so that she could legally drive and own a vehicle again.  – Larisa S.


If the law of averages works, one of you will be extremely neat and the other extremely messy. Here is where you learn the great art of communication and compromise. Mom doesn’t live here, but you do. The neatnik will have to learn to tolerate life’s imperfections. The slob, well, it’s time to start picking up after yourself.

Booger Battles
I once lived in a trailer with a roommate who kept introducing new “roommates” into our abode. The first was her boyfriend, “Crow”, who was in a bad metal band. Bad. Then his friend, “Nose” (who just got out of jail in Arizona) moved in. Their band buddies used to come over and they would all have spit fights in the kitchen. I would find trails of mucous down the refrigerator. I stayed in my room. – Janet Kay H.

Lights Out

It’s inevitable. One of you will have an 8 AM class and the other will want to study until 2 AM. Work out routines for late night studying (is there a lounge?) late night returns (tiptoe and use a flashlight?), early morning classes (tiptoe out and dress in the bathroom?). Everyone needs their zzz’s. And you don’t want to spend precious sleep-time tending to your roommate, either, so try to take care of yourself.

Burrito Burn
I came home from the bar once and my roommate was passed out with his head resting on the stove between two burners that were on. He was making a bunch of Mexican food and his face was covered in guacamole, refried beans and sour cream. Both of his hands were full of shredded Mexican cheese and refried beans. Noticing my roommate in a very unflattering state of being I quickly took action, carefully removing his head from the stovetop, and gave him a sponge bath in the middle of the kitchen as his lifeless body slept right though it. To this day he maintains this never happened. – Josh S.

Quiet Time

Most dorms have quiet hours. Loud music, parties, or socializing in the hall will not be appreciated by your fellow dorm-mates and are a one-way ticket to unpopularity, much like this overly rambunctious young lady:

A Whole New Room
A friend of mine had a roommate who spent every morning Febreze-ing their dorm room to choking levels and blasted a Disney Princess CD for her workouts. Her favorite move was hula hooping while singing “ A Whole New World”. Off-key. At the top of her lungs. – Jillian P.

Irreconcilable Differences

When the course of rooming does not run smooth, seek counsel. Your hall or dorm will have an RA (Resident Advisor) who is usually an older student or grad student – young enough to remember what it was like to be a freshman, but old enough to give good advice. Chances are you and your roomie are together for better or worse until June. Unless something like this happens:

Pickle Rage
In 2007, I was living in the on-campus apartments at UWEC, sharing a common living space with three other guys with separate bedrooms. One evening, one of the roommates came home drunk and accused the three of us of stealing his pickles from the fridge. Incensed by this, he trashed our kitchen and living room, ripping things off walls, tipping over houseplants, and shouting through the night. We had put up with behavior like this before, but that night reached a new low. The following morning after we assessed the damage, we finally realized we had been living with habitual domestic abuse. We called campus police, who removed him from the hall. We filed a no-contact order against him. When university police searched his room they discovered a large hunting knife, which is not allowed in residence halls. A few days later the three of us received an email from the guy in which he apologized and said he was moving out promptly, which he did. – Tyler G.