Monday, August 5, 2013


I am  beyond thrilled that in about six months, Dr. and I will once again be living together. We lived together for two years in college and, while we had a few issues at the beginning, it was a great experience that we both believe solidified our desire to get married.

I'm the only one to have a roommate since we lived together during our last two years of college. To save monday, Dr. lived at home during med school and, simultaenously, during graduated school I lived in a family's basement in DC free of charge. When I got my first "big girl job" almost exactly two years ago, I figured it was time to move out and start paying rent. I knew that on a civil servants salary I needed a roommate and I was lucky enough to find one fairly quickly. I thought it was the perfect situation: reasonably nice apartment, near public transportation, near essential retail outlets, a put-together roommate whose life seemed on track, and cheap rent.

How wrong I was.

I wouldn't say the past year and a half has been unbearable, but I will say that the only thing keeping me in this living situation is my hatred of moving and my frugality.

In the time I've lived in this situation, I've made several crucial mistakes that I will review now in the hopes that readers can either relate and make me feel better about my misery or avoid the misfortune I've had. I'll preface each mistake with my suggestion for avoiding it.

1. Don't ever assume your roommate will be clean (not tidy--clean) just by their physical appearance or how the place looks when you come over initially to check it out. When I first met my roommate, she was fresh from work in her Banana Republic suit and trendy chunky jewelry and Kenneth Cole shoes. Nice, I thought, she takes pride in what she wears, which must mean she takes care of herself and her living space by extension. My walk-through of the apartment corroborated this view. It appeared clean - despite being home to two people and two cats - and smelled good, an important thing for me. The deal kept getting better.

Oh how wrong I was. By the time I moved in about a month later, the apartment was a completely different place. The Saturday I moved in, my roommate was on a work retreat. I walked into an apartment reeking of cat pee and litter. The living room carpet was covered in cat hair and the kitchen, well, I don't even want to go there. Suffice it to say, even a pretty unclean person would have been reluctant to live there. While my dad broguht up boxes, I got to work on deep cleaning, which took me about 6-7 hours to complete. The first couple Saturdays I lived there, I did a full cleaning of the apartment. I will admit I have high standards for cleanliness (I am fairly obsessive-compulsive and very tidy), so I clean bathrooms and kitchens every week. I also figured that between two girls and two cats, we probably needed to vacuum every week. It took me about two months to figure out my roommate never cleaned and had no intention to. She claimed she had no time because of work and promised to clean soon. When she did, I quickly figured out that he defintion of cleaning was actually "tidying up" - putting extraneous items in order, moving things that belonged in her room back into her room, etc. Her definition of cleaning did not involve Lysol or a toilet brush or paper towel. When I finally sat her down and said I couldn't tolerate our current arrangement, we were about a month into a year-long lease. She was apologetic and said she would improve, but her improvement only lasted about two to two and a half months. I waited so long to approach her, she didn't take me seriously when I did.

My recommendation: set a rotation of household tasks that need to be done every day, every week, and once or twice a month. A lot of this will depend on your personal preferences, but be honest about these preferences. If you think the bathroom needs a full scrub once a week, tell your roommate. Do this right off the bat to avoid the situation I am in.

2. Don't ever assume that a roommate is responsible just because they hold down a good job and are of a certain age. My roommate was a fundraiser for a major non-profit and was coming up on 30 years old when I moved in. In a city of young professionals, I somehow got it into my head that professional success and advanced age equated to a high level of personal responsibility. This was not the case. Not only is my roommate incapable of taking care of her physical space, she also was incapable of taking care of the typical "adult" responsibilities - paying bills on time, attending to her personal medical needs, and not letting her rather raucous social life spill into our shared space.

For example, I give her a check covering my portion of the rent each month for her to put in our apartment-provided envelope and send off within five days. On multiple occassions she would turn our checks in late, despite me giving her my portion of the rent at least 12 days before it is due. This has resulted in a myriad of lies as to why we've been charged a nearly $100 late fee ranging from "the postal service lost it" to the oh-so-untrue "you gave me your check late." I took me a while, but I eventually learned that she was paid on the very last day of every month and was, despite her rather high salary, living hand-to-mouth because of poor budgeting habits and even poorer spending habits. She would send the checks in as late as possible - sometimes actually late - to avoid her portion of the rent being taken out of her bank account before her salary deposit was made. Despite my offering to take over payment of our three common bills (rent, internet, and cable), she has perpetually been late on all three of these items.

My recommendation: Be clear from the get-go that you are a stickler for on-time payments. If you can convince the person to share the bill paying responsibiltiy with you, all the better (but make sure you get things in on time!. Your joint payments affect your credit as an individual, so invest significant time in making sure your prospective roommate is responsible in this area. CHECK REFERENCES!

3. Don't become a pushover because you're afraid of offending someone. I have paid late fees even though I didn't pay rent late. I've spent 3 hours of my Saturdays cleaning because I had no courage to ask my roommate to do her part. I've been awoken at 3am multiple times because I was to afraid to approach her about being considerate of me when she comes home late from drinking.

My recommendation: Part of being a roommate is changing your living habits every so slightly to accommodate another person. If you need something, ask for it. If you'd prefer a roommate didn't behave a certain way, tell them. Yes, they might be a little offended, but that's tough. They might ask for a different compromise; you'll need to meet them halfway. But trust me, you're going to kick yourself for not asserting yourself.

Well, that's what I've got. I truly hope someone somewhere can benefit from my advice. I've got about 5-6 months before I move out and please trust me when I say I've never wanted anything more. Pray for me!

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