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How to live with roommates

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Do you have roommates? Whether you're living with other people by choice or because you have to, it is not easy sharing your living space with other people. Janet Woojeong Lee from NPR's Life Kit shares tips on how to make a roommate situation work for you.

JANET WOOJEONG LEE, BYLINE: Whoever you're living with, best friends or complete strangers, you will run into hurdles, and it's more often going to be the small stuff that really gets in your head.

ROB BROWN: I often recommend to people to sweat the small stuff.

LEE: That's advice from Rob Brown, who does conflict mediation work at Northwestern University. He also used to work for residential services on different college campuses. Brown says if you can handle the initial awkwardness, sweating the small stuff could save yourself from conflict or even your relationship in the long run.

BROWN: If there's something that you really don't want to happen again, the only way your roommate is going to know to behave or act differently is if you say something.

LEE: That may be addressing things in the moment. Clear the air as soon as you can. Bring up something that's been happening. Like, hey, I noticed you left your shoes out in the middle of the hallway. Then propose a change, and it doesn't hurt to include a why. Would you mind taking them off on the side or moving them to the shoe rack? I've been tripping over them lately. Brown says it always helps to close out these conversations with a genuine thank you.

BROWN: We can't necessarily control people and control their behavior, but we can present a very clear question and request for the future.

DANIELLE BAYARD JACKSON: As unsexy as it sounds, a lot of rooming together is business, and we're negotiating what it looks like to create an environment that we both feel safe and comfortable in.

LEE: That's friendship coach Danielle Bayard Jackson. She's worked with clients who have a hard time getting along with their roommates. Bayard Jackson says when dealing with conflict, the way you communicate your needs can be a game changer.

BAYARD JACKSON: So if your friend is leaving dishes out and that's kind of annoying, you're going to have to ask yourself, you know, when's the best time, and what's the best tone? Is it something I can bring up kind of playfully in a moment of laughter and say, like, hey, girl, for real, can we have these dishes out of the sink? Girl, I don't want bugs. You know, so can we do things playfully and match the tone that's appropriate to the situation?

LEE: Another option Bayard Jackson recommends is having designated roommate meetings, biweekly or monthly check-ins that everyone commits to.

BAYARD JACKSON: The good thing about this is sometimes, it'll save you from saying something that you don't even need to say because maybe it bothered you in the moment and you're like, OK, I'll wait till our weekly meeting. And three days later you're like, you know what? It wasn't even worth it.

LEE: And a group gathering like this also provides opportunities for you to have fun while taking care of business.

BAYARD JACKSON: People have these, like, PowerPoint parties, which is really popular on TikTok. And so, like, each person makes a really fun, playful PowerPoint, and they - you know, they get together and have drinks, and it could be on any subject.

LEE: Try sprinkling in some whimsy and lightheartedness whenever you can. Be open to trying new things and lean into the energy of communal living. At the end of the day, you'll be coming home to someone else.

BAYARD JACKSON: And so I think if you can remain curious about the other person you're living with and what it is that they have to teach you - maybe not explicitly, but what you can learn from observing them and sharing space with them - I think you might be surprised. And so leaning into the ways you can learn through this experience, have some financial stress alleviated and then also how you can have certain skills developed within you, then you might find a way to even be grateful for the situation.

LEE: For NPR's Life Kit, I'm Janet Woojeong Lee.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEORGIA SONG, "IT'S EUPHORIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Janet W. Lee
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