5 Common Roommate Fights & How to Solve Them, According to an RA
As a resident advisor, I’ve seen everything from petty arguments over dirty dishes to a full-on brawl over window blinds. My two semesters (and counting) as an RA aren’t just about witnessing problems, though — I’m also trained to solve them. In fact, I feel like I should earn at least a minor in conflict resolution after all the squabbles I’ve squashed.
I’ve learned roommate fights are part of the adjustment process of living in a dorm. Living with a roommate isn’t always a walk in the park (and for those who say it is, they must have gotten really lucky). When individuals with different lifestyles, backgrounds, and personalities come together, disagreements are bound to happen. Much like the college experience as a whole, sharing a dorm room gives you an opportunity for personal growth and connection with others — conflict included.
It doesn’t matter how big or small the disagreement is; it’s how you handle it that’s important. With open communication, compromise, and understanding, you’ll be well on your way to keeping the peace and making those shared living experiences a little less bumpy. Below, I’m sharing the five most common types of roommate conflicts I’ve seen, along with my RA-approved tips for how to get through them. Although these arguments may leave you feeling isolated, know you are not alone!
The Unequal Chore Load Fight
When one roommate feels they’re contributing to dorm room responsibilities more than the other, brace for conflict. The reactions can vary from person to person: Some roommates may openly express their frustration and anger, leading to heated arguments and confrontations. Other roommates may adopt a passive-aggressive approach, leaving notes, making sarcastic comments, or intentionally neglecting certain tasks to express their discontent.
Chores like taking out the trash, sweeping the floors, and cleaning up dishes are among the most commonly fought-over issues. To settle this fight, it’s best to establish a cleaning schedule to ensure chores are divided fairly. A simple calendar can help maximize communication and create a system that’s easy to follow. You can create a digital chart (like this one by @thelunaredit) or make one from scratch together, as a roommate bonding activity. There will be no more confusion over whose turn it is to wipe down the microwave this week, or how long it’s been since anyone disinfected all the surfaces in your dorm room.
Here’s how to handle the conversation if you want to ask your roommate to help out more with chores.
- Find a time when you and your roommate are relaxed — not busy, stressed, or surrounded by other people.
- Explain how the chore situation has impacted your day-to-day life. Use “I” statements to avoid sounding like you are accusing your roommate. For example, you could say, “Hey, I noticed I’ve taken out the trash every day for the past two weeks, and it’s been making me feel overwhelmed. Can we figure out a way to evenly split this task?”
- Suggest working together to create a plan that works best for you both.
The “That’s My Stuff!” Fight
When sharing a room, it may be hard to establish boundaries around each other’s belongings. Arguments about borrowing clothes, taking snacks, and using up household supplies, like paper towels and batteries, can get very tense, very quickly. To avoid this, talk with your roommate at the beginning of the semester about the items you will or will not share. But if you do find yourself in a situation where someone is using items they shouldn’t, it’s not too late to address the issue. Initiate a conversation with your roommates to discuss the concerns and establish clearer guidelines for borrowing and asking permission. Again using “I” statements, you can say things like the following:
- “I noticed you borrowed my pink sweater. I was really hoping to wear it tonight, but now it’s dirty. In the future, could you please ask before you wear something of mine?”
- “I love swapping beauty products with you, but my night cream is very expensive and I don’t have it in my budget to keep replacing it. Could you please avoid using it from now on?”
- “I’ve been the one to buy all our paper products and cleaning supplies for the past couple months. Since we both use these items, could we take turns shopping for them going forward?”
If you find these topics difficult to talk about, you can ask your RA to help mediate this discussion. Trust me — we’re used to it!
The Fight Over Your Sleeping Situation
Having incompatible sleeping habits can result in lots of disrupted sleep and, therefore, lots of crankiness. Different types of sleepers can coexist, though, as long as they establish communication and respect each other’s boundaries. Here’s how to handle a couple of common sleep conflicts.
Light sleeper vs. snorer: People can’t really help it if they snore, and most college students don’t have it in the budget to pay for an expensive sleep apnea mask. One solution could be to split the cost of a white noise machine to drown out the snoring sounds, or the person who snores could gift their light-sleeping roomie a pair of nice earplugs.
Night owl vs. early bird: Talking to each other about quiet hours and downtime can help create a routine where everyone rests comfortably. The roommate who wants to study or socialize at night can utilize common areas like libraries or study lounges to minimize disturbances while the other person sleeps. The roommate who gets up early can take steps to be considerate in the morning by using a quiet alarm and a small desk lamp or ring light instead of turning on the overhead lights. Overall, being mindful of each other’s schedules and openly communicating about potential sleep interruptions can go a long way.
The Guest Policy Fight
It’s super common for roommates to have different opinions regarding frequent visitors and overnight guests. Some individuals may prefer a more private living space, while others may enjoy having people over more often. Some roommates may be comfortable with occasional overnight stays, while others can’t sleep peacefully knowing someone else is in their room. Discussing these boundaries at the start of the semester can help establish guidelines that respect everyone’s needs within their room.
But even if you have this convo early on, things can change throughout the course of the school year as you and your roommate learn more about your own living styles and preferences. If you find you and your roommate are no longer seeing eye to eye on this topic, you can compromise by establishing visiting hours and limits on the number of visitors you can have in your room. When it comes to overnight guests, you can discuss factors such as advance notice, how long the guest will stay, and limitations on the number of overnight guests at once.
Effective communication and a willingness to understand each other’s needs are critical to finding common ground. If you’d like to formalize these rules, you can ask your RA to help draw up a roommate agreement you can both sign.
The Conflicting Personalities Fight
When college students arrive at their dorm, they often think they will automatically become besties with their roommates. For many, this is not the case, and that’s totally OK! Just because you two aren’t the greatest friends doesn’t mean you can’t be the greatest roommates to each other.
Of course, if at any point you feel unsafe around your roommate, don’t hesitate to contact your RA. But if your problems are just a matter of not meshing, there are plenty of ways to handle this. You can try to figure out common ground to bond over, such as a shared hobby, favorite movie, or similar opinions about pineapple on pizza. Or, if you’re really that different, you can do things together that everyone has to do, like grabbing lunch at the dining hall, studying at your desks, or attending mandatory events like floor-wide meetings. If all else fails, you can simply come to terms with the fact that sometimes people just don’t click. As long as you two can coexist in your shared space, you can always fulfill your social needs with your other friends.
What to Do If Your Roommate Comes to You with an Issue
As much as you may want to believe you are the perfect roommate and can do no wrong, there may come a time when you’re doing something to upset your roommate — even if you don’t mean to. If your roommate ever comes to you about one of the above issues, or any other issue, for that matter, here’s how to handle it.
- Actively listen with an open mind. Avoid becoming defensive or dismissive, and show that you care about your roommate’s perspective.
- Apologize and take responsibility when you are at fault — this is crucial to solving the conflict!
- Work together on an improvement plan and ensure you stick to your end of the agreement.
Above all, having respect for your roommate and being mindful of each other’s needs and boundaries will go a long way in helping you have a fun and safe living environment.
If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health concerns in college, help is available.
- Call or text the 988 Lifeline at 988 — available 24/7.
- Call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI, or text “HELPLINE” to 62640 — available Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. ET.
- Many schools also offer safe, confidential mental health services — contact your student affairs office for more information.