For many students, their dorm room may be their first shared living experience - and they may well be doing it in a space smaller than their bedroom. This can make for an explosive combination, unless you prepare ahead of time. Here are five steps to ensure that you and your dorm mate get along, even in the tiniest of spaces.
Set ground rules
This is the first step in any dorm relationship. Unless you set expectations for your shared experience, things can quickly get out of hand. Anticipate common issues that might pop up, and try to reach a mutual understanding about them in advance. For example, be honest about how tolerant you are of clutter and reach an agreement about the level of tidiness expected. Do you like to listen to music while you’re working? Your roomie may require absolute silence (in which case, break out the headphones) or maybe you share the same taste in music. Just try to be sure that you know either way.
The same goes for sharing. While your roommate might consider it socially acceptable to borrow your sweater "just this once," you may not. Consider setting those ground rules ahead of time.
At some point, your needs for your shared space will conflict. Working around each other and aligning your activities ahead of time can save headaches and tensions later. Be smart, and set a schedule.
You can arrange working times in your dorm room so that you both know that’s the time to keep the noise down. Try to work out a schedule of appropriate times to have guests over, and understand how many, and how late they can stay (‘a few friends for a couple of hours’ can easily morph into ‘full-on frat party for the entire weekend’).
Don’t forget to consider bedtimes and wake times! If your dorm buddy is a night owl, but you like to be in bed early to prepare for your 5am yogathon, you have some compromising to do.
Finally, you can get a bulletin board and put the schedule on it. That way there’s no confusion and you both know what’s happening.
In a dorm room, space is at a premium, and every inch counts. Try to talk to your roommate to understand which spaces are personal and which are public. Some, such as beds and desks, seem obvious (but make sure they know that the space under the bed is yours, too).
Others, like closet space and sitting areas, might warrant a discussion. Try to be sure that you both understand what is expected in shared spaces, including what you can leave in them, how much of that space you can use and when, and try to ensure that you both respect the rules.
Once you’ve set boundaries around your spaces, you have to make those spaces work. Try to be strategic about what you put in and around them to create a harmonious environment. Consider using space-saving devices like hooks, hanging racks and hampers to minimize clutter. Consider moveable drapes if you need privacy for work.
Score bonus points here and be a minimalist. Try to cut down your stuff to the bare essentials. That human-sized teddy bear that you couldn’t stand to leave at home may comfort you, but it’s also effectively a third roommate. Not cool.
Even with all these tips and tricks, you’re still likely to find conflict. When things come up, try to bring them up immediately to avoid simple niggles turning into brooding resentments. This is where interpersonal skills come in. You can set regular summit sessions - do it over a burger or a coffee if you like - to raise issues politely with each other before they become real problems. That means talking openly and kindly about anything that’s bugging you, and not being defensive when your room mate does the same. Try to reach a compromise that you’re both happy with, so that the air is always clear.
Try to follow these steps, and get ready for a happy dorm experience. It may be snug, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a lot of fun.
About the Author
Danny Bradbury has been writing about technology and business since 1989. His clients have included the Financial Times, the Guardian, and Canada's National Post.
All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is” and neither the author nor Office Depot, Inc. warrant the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.