Having a roommate is an experience most go through at least once in their lives, be it in a college dorm, a first-time move out from the folks’ to save expenses, or even as a couple moving in together. On the other hand, we all know someone who refuses to live with anyone else because of the terror installed in their nervous system from living with a person who was, shall we say, not so compatible with their lifestyle.

Chances are the bad roommate stories happened because no research was done and no ground rules were set in place before the move in. There are cases when complete strangers move in together for convenience sake, and later find out they don’t get along, to say the least. For this reason, keep these roommate laws in mind when considering who you should move in with and how it should be done.

1. Realize there is no 10 out of 10.

Nobody is perfect, not even you. Everyone will come with their own quirky habits and behaviors. No matter who you move in with, you’ll always have to deal with things you don’t like. This is part of your growing experience and will make you a more tolerable, not to mention tolerating a person in the future. Don’t expect the best of the best, because you may never get it. If you really can’t live with anyone, you’ll find out after this first try, and from then on live alone and save yourself the hassle of even trying to find a roommate the second time around.

2. Get to know each other.

There are lots of people out there looking for a roommate for various reasons. There is no reason to pick the first one that comes along. If you’ve put an ad out requesting a roommate, have an appointment in a public setting (such as a cafĂ© or mall) to figure each other out. You not only want someone who you can tolerate, you also want someone that can tolerate YOU. It won’t be fun living with someone if they’re bothered every time you breathe.

Be sure to ask if your candidate has had roommates before, and why they’re looking for a new one now. You might get some insight into whether this person can’t be lived with, or visa versa (perhaps in their previous roommate relationship they hated the loud music and smoking inside, which you also can’t stand). See if they’ve got references from older roomies.

When you think your personalities match enough to be potential roommates, go on to the next step.

3. Reveal your annoying habits.

Tell each other now. Especially if you will literally be sharing a bedroom. Does one sleep with the light on? Does the other wake up really early to start practicing an instrument? Are there going to be burping or other bodily noise issues? Whatever it is, let it be known now. You don’t want to be blamed for or shocked by anything down the road.

4. Set the ground rules.

Decide on chores that you will either split up or put on a rotating schedule. Make it clear what things are not tolerable, cleanliness-wise (e.g. hair all over the sink, dishes left out, dirty socks greeting you at the front door, etc.). Make an agreement, even in writing if you have to, that you will respect each other’s hygienic practices. This will go a long way and prevent the feeling of personal space being invaded.

Set up a financial payment plan. How will you split the costs of cleaning supplies and toilet paper? Will you be getting a landline, or will you both only use your cell phones? In terms of rent payments, the best scenario would be to have both of you on the lease. That way, if things get spoiled, there won’t be one lease-holder that will be legally responsible for damages and financial compensations if the other takes off in an unfriendly manner.

Convey your feelings about animals. It may be that neither of you owns any pets now, but who knows, down the road, someone might offer a free kitten to one of you that you just can’t resist much to the other’s disfavor. This can be a source of contention in the future and resentment can arise in the person who wasn’t allowed to bring that cute little kitty cat home.

5. Finally, relax, and take it easy

Don’t expect the worst, just be prepared for it, and if you’ve followed the above steps, you’ve already done your job! This could be the beginning of a life-long friendship for the both of you that you won’t regret. It all depends on your take of the situation. Be flexible, and you’ll get flexibility in return.

Living Coherently

Getting on the same page with your roommate is all about communication. Understanding where the other person is coming from, as well as, their thoughts and expectations will make the relationship run smoother. Whether in college life or post-college roommate situations, the tension between roommates can seriously harm the ability of the room to be a comfortable haven. One of the most common areas where roommates tend to disagree is with decorating.

Colors

Roommates with vastly different styles who are suddenly thrust together through no fault of their own are usually those in college dorm situations. Random names are placed together and incoming freshman wait with bated breath wondering who they will be rooming with in the fall. If a conversation can occur before move-in day about a general color theme, it will help ease some tension and make the room appear more cohesive. A room that is coordinated will be more calming and peaceful than one that is a random assortment of contrasting colors. The primary colors, red, blue and yellow, are an excellent place to start when trying to coordinate room colors.

Decor

Dorm rooms are stark and barren until filled with the trinkets and baubles from home. Each roommate will bring her own unique style to space, and that style must be respected as a part of who she is. If one roommate is a fan of all things pink and glittery and the other is hard-core gothic, there will obviously be a clash in decorating styles. A firm understanding must be made between the roommates that anything offensive must not be part of the decorations in the room. Without this understanding, roommates will never be able to be on the same page. Being on the same page does not mean being exactly alike, it simply means that each person’s ideas and personality are respected equally. In most cases, roommates can easily work together to mesh their room’s decor in some fashion.

Privacy

Privacy is a huge issue for new roommates. Incoming college freshman are used to the privacy of their own room, or a room that they shared with a sibling. Suddenly sharing a room with a complete stranger is intimidating. Quickly create an understanding with each other about each other’s privacy needs. Invest in a folding room screen if need be to create an added sense of privacy. The key to feeling comfortable with each other is by building a solid foundation of communication early on in the days of being roommates.

Do not underestimate the importance of talking with each other. Understand that a new roommate may not like the same style or decor, but that her likes are just as valid and have an equal part in the room. When discussing topics that may be touchy, like privacy, meet and talk at a neutral place. Have coffee at a local coffee shop and discuss the issues. If there is difficulty discussing them, ask a resident advisor or the resident director to step in and provide guidance and mediation. Getting on the same page with your roommate can be done, but it requires mutual respect and understanding.