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Deal with Roommate Conflicts

Jennifer Leclaire

June 03, 2008

Deal with Roommate Conflicts
The beginning of Laura Maxwell's experience at William Woods University was a little more stressful than she expected - thanks to a messy roommate. Her roommate's closet was a landfill spilling into the middle of the floor constantly threatening to take over the room. An ever-growing mound of crunchy laundry remained unwashed for weeks at a time and her shoes smelled like rotting meat. "Her desk was covered in chocolate-coated candy wrappers and sticky pop cans," Maxwell recalls. "But the worst part was the smell. Sausage. Our room smelled like sausage and that smell crept out into the hallway constantly. It was nauseating."

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Like Maxwell, college students across the country run into roommate conflicts from time to time. But experts say you should embrace these arguments rather than avoid them. "If you address a conflict early you can resolve it," says Julian Hertzog, professor of psychology at William Woods University in Fulton, Mo. "If you wait until you just can't take it anymore then it can become a major problem."

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So how do you deal with the messy roommate? What about the one who hogs the telephone, the television and the food? Or how about the one who doesn't pay his fair share of the cable bill? And let's not forget the space invader. When it comes to money, advice columnist April Masini of, suggests making it clear who's paying for what up front to avoid conflict down the road. "Don't wait until after the electricity gets turned off because everyone thought someone else was paying the bill," she says. "Monthly meetings in the morning - not at night when tempers run high after a long, tiring day - will help clarify problems and sort out responsibilities." Then there's food and common living space. Masini suggests being generous when you can so that when you are in a crabby mood you've sowed some good seeds from which you can reap. "If you cook well, cook meals when you can. If you shop well, stock up on food your roommates like - when you can," she says. "Get a television in your own room so you aren't hogging the common TV. Same with the phone, computer, the daily newspaper and any other shared items or spaces." Hertzog says if things really get heated, use the old 10-second rule before responding - or just leave the room altogether. If your roommate seems to have free reign of the fridge, then put your food in a Tupperware container with a colored-lid to stake your claim. Most conflicts can be avoided or solved with cool-headed communication Hertzog says. Discussing potential pet peeves up front and remaining calm when your toes are stepped on teach you to voice a problem, to hear a different view and to find a middle ground. As for Maxwell, she lasted one semester with her messy roommate before escaping to another dorm. "The best advice I can give is to be considerate of your roommate and to be honest," she says. "If something is bugging you then let them know, because these are supposed to be the best years of your life and no one should have to be reminded of their college years every time they smell sausage."

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