You’re ready to live independently, but are you ready for a roommate?

Questions to discuss before you share a house

What do Bert and Ernie, the Golden Girls, and the cast of Friends have in common?

 They all were roommates, at least on television. These characters figured out how to live together, respect each others’ space and be supportive friends. On television, they made it look easy! But in real life, becoming good roommates can be challenging.

For transition students planning to move out of their family homes, living with a roommate is often the first time they share space with someone who is not family. This means starting from scratch in setting boundaries and expectations, and that can get messy and complicated.

What can students do to make the roommate experience go smoothly? Communication and respect are the keys to success.


The pros and cons of having roommates

Some of the benefits of having a roommate are obvious. Roommates make renting more affordable: each person pays their share of the rent and utilities like water, electricity, and trash removal. Roomies share the work of independent living too, by dividing up the cleaning chores.

Sharing an apartment or house means more than paying bills and mopping floors, though! Roommates can become great friends: sharing dinners, chatting over coffee, playing video games. Some roommates just do their own things, and that’s fine too. Even if roomies don’t become close friends, just having a person around keeps loneliness at bay. Having a roommate can feel safer—they know if you need help, or are sick, or what time to expect you home.

On the other hand, some roommate combos are like oil and water. Their lifestyles just don’t blend. To find the right fit, both people need to understand how the other one lives. For transition students, that means sharing information about your disability.

Talking openly about your strengths and the challenges you face will help your roommate understand how you live. For example, if you rely on buses or walking for transportation, you may need to find a place close to bus stops and shopping. Are there tasks that you’ll rely on your roommate to do? Also, roommates should know if personal support workers will spend time at home with you. The more you talk about, the fewer surprises you’ll find later.


Setting ground rules and expectations: More questions that roommates should discuss

Before moving in to share a house or apartment, future roommates have a lot to talk about. The topics range from big-picture questions like what kind of lifestyle do you like? to the nitty-gritty details like what does a clean bathroom look like to you?

One important conversation is setting the ground rules on borrowing things like clothing, sports gear, cars—and even little things like toothpaste. Is it okay to share the peanut butter? How about borrowing a bike, just for a quick ride? Maybe you shared all these things with brothers and sisters at home, but this new arrangement will be different. Decide the ground rules for what can be shared, what can be borrowed with permission, and what possessions are off limits.

Seems like a lot! But that’s not all… Here are 5 more questions all roommates should discuss

1. What are your expectations for quiet hours? If your normal bedtimes and morning routines don’t match, what noise level is acceptable during those times?

2. How will you manage paying the bills? If one person takes charge of bills, how will the other transfer money?

3. Sometimes a roommate comes with a furry friend. How do you feel about pets?

4. Are you okay with a little mess, like dishes in the sink and laundry on the couch? Or do you expect the kitchen and couch areas to stay tidy?

5. Most importantly, how will you communicate if something is bothering you? Create a plan to check in regularly, so small problems don’t grow into big problems.