I GREW UP IN A HOUSE with five other kids.
My parents worked all the time. To say that life was in a constant state of chaos is an understatement. As a result, no one really had the time to show any of us how to do anything around the house… it was just more of a “go figure it out” kind of thing. Maybe other people had this experience too, but as I enter my last year in my 20s, and I think about where I am today, I realize I was mostly raised by the roommates I’ve had along the way. And since I have spent most of my 20s as a struggling writer in Los Angeles, where rent is far from cheap, it’s fair to say there have been a few. So to all 23 of you: thank you for shaping me into a functional human being who my boyfriend (slash my current roommate) can remain attracted to and even find responsible — essential qualities I am happy to peacock to my partner.
For roommates, #1-3, thank you for being nice during the days we spent together, and I apologize in advance for you having to deal with my parents moving my stuff into another dorm room when I broke my ankle and was in the hospital.
Now, for lessons learned…
Roommate #4, thank you for teaching me that baby powder is an essential life-hack tip when it comes to adding texture to your hair and keeping it clean for an extra day (or five). I still believe this is a trick only viable for blondes, but my highlights and now ever-growing grays agree too.
Garbage and recycling is a competitive art of self-worth. How you take care of your own garbage says a lot about how you see yourself and frankly, you only want it to say good things. The margin for error here is loaded with judgment by anyone you share space with. So, thank you, college Roommate #6 for leaving me that passive-aggressive note to rinse out my tuna can before throwing it in the recycling. While your communication tactics were subpar, you were right, that was gross and disgusting and now everything I throw out gets rinsed out before it gets chucked.
People who leave their stuff all over the floor are also the kind of people who usually don’t mind if you move said stuff to the top of their bed. I felt bad moving Roommate #8‘s belongings when she was at work and found myself tiptoeing around her mess. Then I just started moving it on top of her bed so it was out of my way. She wasn’t mad when she came home, she just threw it back on the floor when she got back into bed.
Don’t smoke pot with any roommates’ little siblings — especially if they’re still in high school. Even though you did as a kid with your older siblings’ friends. That wasn’t normal. Sorry, Roommate #7.
If you have to poop and a special someone is over and you don’t want it to smell, flush the toilet immediately. You reduce your stink liability by 90%. This isn’t a fact, per se — just general observation. Then you can take your time cleaning up, but do not, under any circumstances, wait longer than half a second from exposure to air. Roommate #12 taught me this. Sly ol’ thing, she is. And as a result, I’m indebted to her until the end of time for successfully convincing any man that my sh*t don’t stink.
Don’t put tampons in the toilet. I already knew this. I grew up in a house of six women. However, Roommates #17-19 did not know this and I suffered the consequences when the pipes blew up and I was on the bottom floor, flooded by toxic waste.
This brings me to another lesson learned from #17-19: don’t pay rent to your landlord in cash. I was writing rent checks to my roommate (not always a good idea, you should really consider the consequences of this) who was then paying the landlord in cash. I wasn’t aware of this fact. This made getting rent stopped after our plumbing issue very difficult. Seeing as said landlord was using cash to start an illegal pot farm.
Similarly, thank you, Roommate #20 for teaching me to take out the trash before going out of town for two weeks. A bug-infested garbage can is something I never want to come home to again. Also, I’m really sorry I didn’t know that was a thing and you had to deal with that. Not great.
The second date is really the first date. Roommate #22, you taught me this and it’s seriously one of the most valuable lessons in dating I’ve ever learned. While it doesn’t have much to do with cleaning or living, it certainly has paved the way for a more sane approach to dating, which means there are less empty cartons of ice cream that need to be recycled.
The art of filling the dishwasher will be interpreted differently by all. All 23 of my roommates had a different approach to this, and adjusting for each person proved to be very confusing for me. As a result of failed people-pleasing, I have learned that sometimes, you just have to do things your way. A thrice-weekly subtle reminder that freedom of choice is important and it reminds us to accept people for who they are. And that if you prefer the forks down instead of up, you have the freedom of choice to fix them.
Don’t put a plastic cutting board in the storage drawer under the oven. Seems obvious, eventually, but it’s stupid. Also, don’t ignore the fire alarm when it’s going off either. Especially if you don’t know there’s a plastic cutting board under the oven. Roommate #22 and I taught each other that lesson. Good thing I had renters’ insurance. Seriously. $10,000 worth of damage and it could have been a lot worse. Only cost was the split deductible of $500. A huge sigh of relief, as I was virtually unemployed at the time.
Get renters’ insurance. My boyfriend, who is currently Roommate #23, told me to do this and I promptly ignored it. “You think you know me, you don’t know me. You can’t tell me what to do.” I had just left my job and invested in a camera in a bid to shoot videos for a YouTube channel. Call it divine retribution or just shitty luck, but my car was broken into and the camera was stolen. If I had the renters’ insurance, it would have covered it. Needless to say, I got renter’s insurance.
It’s a tough world out there — one riddled by inflated housing costs, student loans, and over-priced data plans for our much-needed smartphones. Some of us may have a long future of co-habitating with other singles who are desperately trying to get by. Yet, if you can come to the table with an open mind, knowing that whoever you are living with was likely raised very differently from you, you will realize you can learn a lot from these people. So, come in peace and try your best to communicate your needs and your shortcomings to these people. After all, they’re more than just friends and less important than family, yet likely complete strangers all at the same time. It’s important to be kind to them.
Plus, they know the horrible secrets of the people you’ve brought home when you’ve exhibited less-than-stellar judgment, and you really can’t afford to have them hang any of that over your head.