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What I've Learned from My Shitty Roommates

Becoming a better housemate is a pretty important, though tricky, step on the path toward full-blown adulthood.
March 10, 2015, 4:00pm

Photo by Michael Rababy

Last night I made a smoothie at 3 AM, despite knowing that all of my housemates were asleep and unconsciously preparing for another day at their soul-sucking, meaningless jobs. I did it anyway. I let that blender rip, and I couldn't care less about waking everyone up in our 1,200-square-foot apartment that we somehow squeeze four adult men into. I wasn't trying to be malicious, but I honestly hadn't even considered their well-being until the deed was done. Then again, they haven't taken the trash out in months, so really, it's par for the course.

As of 2012, one third of working-age adults were living with at least one other adult with whom they were not married. That could be because the median age of marriage is steadily rising in America (as of now, it's 29.2 years for men and 27.1 for women) and young people like me simply can't afford to live all alone.

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Living with roommates has definite financial benefits (at least, if you live with people who actually pay rent on time), and there are social upsides, too: Data suggests that people in communal living arrangements are less prone toward depression and suicidal thoughts. If nothing else, it means that you have someone there to binge-watch House of Cards with, which is significantly less depressing than spending hour after hour on Netflix by yourself.

But having a roommate can also be fucking annoying. I've had some terrible ones (one used to leave half-eaten McNuggets in the folds of the couch and once jumped through our apartment window naked while tripping on 2C-I), and I, in turn, have been a shitty person to live with. I've neglected to buy toilet paper for months at a time, I've ignored dirty dish pile-ups in the kitchen sink for far longer than is appropriate, and my mother visits more often than I can really justify.

Becoming a good roommate is like wearing training wheels in the struggle toward becoming a decent and well-adjusted person. It's difficult, but it's important. And since having a roommate is an inevitability for many of us, we've got to learn to get along. Here's what I've learned from my past shitty roommates about how to be a better roommate in the future.

Keep Your Friends Close, but Not That Close
It's fine to have friends over, but be mindful that they don't overstay their welcome. If you have a one-night stand, try to usher that person out before you leave for work the next morning, lest your roommate finds her pouring a bowl of his Captain Crunch and asking if you guys have any almond milk.

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Also, consider the type of people you have hanging around. For instance, do you commonly associate with people who don't tell you their real names, pass the time by smoking synthetic weed and discussing the numerology, and aren't allowed to see their children? If so, maybe you should go to their places when you're going to spend a few hours looking at a dollar bill with a magnifying glass.

Nobody Likes Your Pets as Much as You Do

If it's your pet, then it's your responsibility—so don't pretend not to see that huge pile of animal defecation that little Izzy made after eating a pound of trash because you forgot to feed her. Clean the fucking litter box. Do not expect your roommates to pick up the slack, or to take care of your pet when you're visiting your parents for the weekend—to you your pet is the light of your life, but to everyone else it is a sack of fur attached to a mouth and a poop hole.

For instance, there's a cat freeloading in our apartment right now who will piss on any article of clothing left on the bathroom floor and likes to climb into the washing machine when bored, and mostly I worry that it'll break the washing machine one day.

Photo by Michael Rababy

With Roommates, as with Sex Partners, Communication Is Key

You're out of toilet paper and you bought it the last four times? Well, why didn't you just say so! When you live with someone, you've got to be open and straightforward about what you want or need. Don't leave passive-aggressive notes taped to the refrigerator and expect anyone to know what they actually mean. Because they won't.

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If the presence of that half-eaten and week-old Greek yogurt is driving you to thoughts of mass murder, then just say so. Tell them you're sick of cleaning up after their filth because they likewise might be tired of your bullshit attitude about everything and it's best to get all of that pent-up frustration out in the open.

If you're having trouble mustering up the strength to tell your roommates what's bothering you, take a page from couples' therapy and talk about how the problem makes you feel. For example: "When you left your dirty dishes in the sink for a week, it made me want to perform a lobotomy on myself with a rusty soldering iron." See? Communication is easy!

It's Not Your Fault if It Doesn't Work Out

Just because someone is a good friend doesn't mean they'll make a good roommate, and just because you live together doesn't mean it's going to be pleasant. My roommate around this time last year was a close friend until she swore to me that a brazen gust of wind blew her rent check right into the hands of a homeless person as she was getting off the streetcar. Needless to say, she didn't pay rent that month and we didn't live together much longer after that.

Another story: A friend of mine was living with a girl he met on Craigslist—a nice, liberal-arts-y type who was studying social work. She had two pet shih tzus: a momma dog and the smallest puppy from a litter the momma had birthed months before. My friend and the roommate had been living together in relative peace for a while when, one day, he left the door open while bringing in some stuff from Safeway. The momma dog ran out the front door and was quickly hit and killed by a neighbor's car.

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The girl, walking home from a convenience store, witnessed the entire gruesome accident and was completely—and justifiably—destroyed. After profusely apologizing, my friend packed up all of his shit and was moved out the same day. Point being, sometimes really horrible stuff happens and that can make it really difficult for two people to continue coexisting. So you just kind of move on or move out.

Having Terrible Roommates Makes You a Better One

First, I'll qualify this: I'm not the world's best roommate, by any measure. But having some terrible roommates in the past has, at the very least, made me aware of what you shouldn't do when you're cohabiting with someone (smoothie incident notwithstanding). I do make an effort to treat my roommates with the respect that I expect from them, and that's definitely a win.

Nearly everyone I've lived with is struggling through various states of arrested development, learning to be more adult and less petty about things. And we'll get there, eventually—at which point we'll probably be making enough money to finally live on our own.

Follow Mason Miller on Twitter.