So, you’ve finally decided to go for it and share every day with the same person! No, you’re not getting married; you’re moving in with a new roommate. While you may not be exchanging vows and saying “I do,” you are making a relatively long-term commitment. A roommate relationship is unique in many ways, but its business-like status does offer one advantage that you won’t find in your relationships with family, friends, or a partner: The opportunity to set ground rules before going forward.
Here are some pragmatic things to tackle before you get keys made.
1. Agree on a Décor.
Though the most superficial item on this list, it’s also the one that will likely come up before your first month’s rent is due. Is your new roomie a “Keep Calm and Carry On” wooden sign, tchotchke-loving clutter-bug, whereas you’re a modern art, minimalist-living neatnik? While each of you are free to decorate your rooms as you see fit, the bathroom, living room, and kitchen are neutral ground. If you’re lucky, your tastes won’t clash or one of you will be happy to relinquish decorating power. In this imperfect world, you’ll have to reach a compromise before the throw pillows or favorite sports team posters get unpacked.
2. Create a Realistic and Thorough Budget.
A boring but vital “must.” In addition to your rent, which your landlord may request separately or in one payment, there are other mutual bills to consider. If you have cable and internet, but your roommate doesn’t watch TV, what is their share? If they want to crank the heat all winter long but you’d be happy to throw on a sweater and save some money, how will you divvy up that bill? Will you be splitting all of the groceries, sharing the staples (like toilet paper, toothpaste, milk, and bread) but buying your own groceries otherwise, or writing your name on everything you pay for? More than a budget, this is about learning their (and your) lifestyle and preferences to create a fair system.
3. Store “Doubles.”
When you cohabitate, there are bound to be doubles. Sure, you both need a bed and a dresser, but do you need multiple couches, coffee tables, cooking sets, dishes, and microwaves? For the most part, you may want to keep the “best” item in the apartment, and store the rest for the inevitable day when one of you moves out. A self-storage facility like Gotham Mini Storage is also a great option if you want to sell anything, but have nowhere to keep it until you find a buyer.
4. Sign a Roommate Agreement.
This may not be The Big Bang Theory, but that doesn’t mean a succinct roommate agreement isn’t a good idea. A document listing all of the things you’ve each agreed to—from chores and bills to overnight guests and pets—is a smart way to ensure you’re both on the same page, as well as a solid reference should one of you fail to adhere to it. It may sound callous and cold, but it’s better than a “he-said-she-said” over taking out the garbage.
5. Define the Relationship.
If you’re moving in with a stranger or friendly acquaintance, you need to decide what you’re both really looking for—a live-in friend, or merely someone who pays half the rent? That’s not saying you may not grow into friends as time passes, but your living situation can become strained and toxic if your expectations aren’t aligned.