Login | Contact

Back To School or Back to the Broom Closet?

CC0 public domain no attribution required cleaningManaging life, in general, can be tough for some people. Living by oneself can produce a mile long list of things to do… cleaning, cooking, decorating, shopping, or even enjoying activities. As the new school year approaches, many of you will leave home, enter college and live with strangers, your new college roommates. Some of you will remain home and live with family as you attend classes.  Frankly, there will be very different explanations, opinions and even arguments about how these tasks should happen,  who is responsible, if responsibilities should be delegated, or if one person is expected to  be primarily responsible for everything.

Are you the responsible one feeling the burden for delegating or picking up after everyone? Of maybe, you relied on your parents to pick up and clean after you having never learned this responsibility of sharing household chores. As you transition into your college years whether you live in a dorm or an apartment with roommates, or live at home, be aware of this possible imbalance and view that everyone shares the same standard of cleanliness you grew up with at home. This assumption about your roommate or family member can lead to conflict over responsibilities especially of mutually shared spaces such as the bathroom, living room or kitchen.

While I have not lived with college roommates, I have dealt with my family, who more often than not, leave everything to me to clean up. For me, it has been quite a challenge to live with this lifestyle, and to accept this environment. If you are like me, the one who needs clutter free and a clean home environment, you may have to learn to walk away even when you feel the need to clean up after your roommates, so you don’t lose time or energy better devoted to your studies.  This struggle with chores causes a lot of tension between me and adult family members taking away valuable time from my academic focus.  So, I have had to make concessions and figure out how to best navigate these situations, and these strategies may be helpful to you as you get ready for living the college life.   I have several suggestions regarding managing expectations of chores and preventing conflict in these types of situations, especially within college dorm settings or other similar settings:

  • The moment you begin living with college roommates or other folks (or before if you can) define how each of you would like for your home to look and determine how willing each of you are to respect the other’s wishes. If you discover your roommate does not share the same standard of cleanliness, then you can either give it some time to see how things really present itself, or you may have to eventually reconsider your choice of roommates and move to another place.
  • Together, create a list of items to do and place this on the shared refrigerator. If it works that people can follow the chores list, this will prove helpful. If not, use this list as a means to enter into another conversation.
  • If both of these tips fail and you find yourself doing the bulk of the chores with anger and resentment you can either 1) resign to cleaning (after all, it is your standard, not theirs, you are trying to maintain), or 2) not do anything in the joint space. This takes a great deal of patience and letting go of standards. Sometimes, if the shared space stays dirty and unsightly long enough, you might find they can’t stand it themselves either and they will pick up. This may seem like reverse psychology, however, sometimes it motivates people to move towards betterment without fighting or being up in arms. The key here is if your roommate does finally clean up DO acknowledge their effort and DON’T be sarcastic. You want to reward good behavior.

Finally, life should not be just about the chores. For me, it is not fair for one person to do everything. So, if you’re starting to feel like a maid/butler, then it’s time to set boundaries and tell your roommates or family members how you feel. Life obviously isn’t perfect.  However, it is important to communicate your need for a basic standard of living and encourage a mutually shared space that promotes well-being and uplifting circumstances.

Have a good week,

Ann Margaret Zelenka

Graduate Student Intern

University of Baltimore

Negotiations and Conflict Management M.S. Program

Leave a Reply

Back to School: Tackling Roommate Disputes

Roommate ProblemsWhen I was pursing undergrad, my friends often came to me with roommate conflicts. When you prepare to go away to college, you talk to your parents about the supplies you will need, how bills will be paid, and map out your plans for when you will visit again. But you don’t talk to your parents about what you will do when your roommate is messy, eats your food, or just has a different lifestyle than you.

Universities and Community Colleges have prep classes that offer guidance on adjusting to college life and highlight the differences between high school and undergrad, but what is often missing from the curriculum is conflict management. They don’t tell you how to have a difficult conversation regarding the upkeep of your dorm, the policies on visitors, or rules for food in the refrigerator.

Some other roommate conflicts college students may encounter are:
• Lack of privacy
• Borrowing without permission
• Study time vs party time
• Lifestyle differences

The question is how do you resolve these differences when experiencing them for the first time? Colleges often have conflict resolution mechanisms in place such as the Resident Advisor (RA) or the Student Resources Office. Resident advisors are usually students responsible for fostering a community atmosphere in dorms and resident halls. They can serve as peer counselors and enforce policies to ensure the safety of students living in the facility. Student Resource Offices strive to help students succeed at the institute and provide a wealth of resources ranging from job and internship placement to resume building workshops. Academic Advisors and counselors can sometimes be found in Student Resource Offices.

Some students may take advantage of their RA’s and Student Resource Offices. However, others shy away from these third parties and try to solve conflicts on their own. Here are some tips that may be helpful to you to reduce potential roommate conflicts:
• Check your false assumptions and listen to the roommate’s perspective. For example, Anna came home at 4am on the eve of your Biology final. The next evening you confront her about her lack of respect when you were sleeping. What you didn’t know was that Anna was rear-ended coming home from the library and had spent the wee hours of the morning waiting for a tow truck.
• Be transparent. Your roommate only knows what you tell them. Another typical example is you are homesick. You make an excuse and cancel your plans to go out with your roommate because you spent the last of your money on comfort foods. Your roommate’s feelings are hurt. Be careful not to assume they know how you feel.
• Set guidelines or roommate rules. Discuss and decide upfront if you are going to rotate buying groceries, when the latest visitor is allowed over, and determine the rules for sharing and borrowing of property among other issues important to each of you.

Conflict is inevitable but the key to effective conflict management is to address the issues head on by checking your false assumptions, being transparent, and setting guidelines. Don’t let your disputes tackle you, being proactive will not only strengthen the quality of interaction between you and your roommate but also prevent conflict from making your living arrangement uncomfortable. Remember, if you don’t voice your concerns, you don’t give your roommate a chance to address them.

Now go out there and have a great start to your school year!

By Tracy Culbreath
Graduate Student, University of Baltimore – Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

Leave a Reply

  • Subscribe by Email

    Join our mailing list to receive our newsletter and blogs!

  • Recent Posts