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How to become a better roommate

Published: Oct 14, 2009

Getting along with roommates can be a delicate dance -- some days, it's as easy as kicking back and hooting comments at "American Idol" together, and other days it's a matter of picking undergarments off the kitchen floor and trying to track down their original owner... while maintaining a cool attitude in the process.

The sad truth is that as much as we would all like to believe that we're the perfect roommate -- we're not. If half of making a living situation work is communicating frankly but thoughtfully about things your roomies could be working on, the other half is a matter of buckling down and recognizing that you could probably contribute more to the relationship, as well.

Here are five ways to look within your own living style and make a positive change that roommates may appreciate.

  1. De-clutter the common areas

    When you move from room to room in the apartment, scan the area. If you've left anything out in the open that belongs to you -- clothes, DVDs, random bits of trash, magazines -- put them where they belong. Make an ongoing effort to take your own random assorted stuff out of the shared areas and off the shared counter space -- it'll be immediately appreciated.

  2. Take the noise elsewhere

    There are a lot of ways we can make noise that impacts a living experience: throwing parties, cranking up music, "hanging out" with significant others two or three times in an evening. All of these tend to be fine in moderation, but if you're sensing tension with roommates, see if you can export the noise -- throw the party at a different friend's apartment, use headphones, stay over at your boyfriend's or girlfriend's place for a change. It's not a matter of eliminating loud noise (it's your apartment, too, after all) but decreasing the frequency and intensity can make a real difference.

  3. Acknowledge the positive

    When a roommate does something right -- finishes the dishes on time, pays the rent promptly, cleans the living room, and so on -- thank them! A few kind, casual words of thanks can make a world of difference in a strained relationship.

  4. Pay stuff on time

    It's easy -- incredibly easy! mind-blowingly easy! -- to defer paying a bill or rent. Maybe you can't find the checkbook or debit card. Maybe you've got some pressing business on Facebook. Maybe you just want to catch up on last season's episodes of CSI: Miami. Whatever the reason is -- get over it, pull out the money-transfering device, and pay whatever you owe THE EXACT SECOND YOU BECOME AWARE OF OWING IT. Make it a habit. Bill comes due? Bang -- pay it. Write rent checks a month early, and mail them in a week early.

    The secret of this is twofold: One, it costs you the same amount of money. Two: Your roommates (and landlord) love you for it. It's a simple thing, it can even save you late fees, and it makes everyone enjoy living with you.

  5. Take the lead

    A lot of times, one roommate winds up being the "responsible" one -- making sure the bills are paid, enforcing chores, representing the apartment in disputes with landlords or the cable company. If that's you, condolences and congratulations. It's a bunch of annoying work, but you'll get stuff done right the rest of your life. If it's not you, consider picking up the lead on something. "I'll always deal with the rent." Or: "I'll make sure the dishes and garbage get done, regardless of who's signed up." Stepping up on stuff like this can mean just an hour or two of work a month, but it wins a bunch of goodwill.

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