Philip Galanes Gives Roommate Advice

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Living with other people requires consideration, negotiation, tolerance, and the ability to communicate to keep a peaceful home—or dorm room. Philip Galanes, New York Times Social Q’s columnist and author of Social Q's: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries and Quagmires of Today gives advice on how to be a good roommate.

Leave a question about roommate etiquette or other social conundrums!


Philip Galanes

Comments [31]

Annamarie from Vermont

This is a great resource! I see that many of the questions have to do with communication about how the space is shared. One of my four principles of good house sharing is "do it while it is easy" in other words speak up as soon as there is a little twinge of irritation/concern. This around messy dishes, knowing when a housemate is coming and going, etc. Falling in love is a conundrum. Fourth principle "Don't sleep with your housemate!" If it is true love, then move out so you can date. Otherwise you'll be husband and wife right away. Do you really want that?

I'd like the world to know that my book, "Sharing Housing, A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates" is available and that I have a website full of free resources about sharinghousing.


Sep. 28 2012 08:23 AM
Anne from Westport, CT

Jules et Jim, by Francois Truffaut is my FAVORITE movie ever. I knew Philip Galanes was a man of exquisite taste. An excellent film to see, if you love Paris or if you love a friend and were wishing it would turn into more than friendship.
Speaking of all things French, to Steph who is dealing with the roommate from France: yes, you definitely need to change roommates b/c you can expect most people from Europe - -and heck anywhere abroad -- will be having guests visit them "in the Big Apple!!!" and stay for an extended time.
This is not like having friends from Jersey or the burbs pop in after a night of clubbing. Your apartment in Queens is now a hotel in the eyes of tourists you haven't even met. Either you accept it or you move out... Bon courage!

Sep. 27 2012 12:23 AM
Greg Caulfield from NYC

I had two roommate make 3 . One of them was my ex girl friend .
And we used walk around but naked all the time he was. He was not happy.
Greg from

Sep. 26 2012 01:19 PM
not so passive from Bushwick

What about a passive aggressive roommate who REFUSES to discuss problems? I did something when I first moved in with S that bothered her, and suggested we discuss our pet-peeves so we could avoid them in the future. S did not want to talk about it and frequently got angry and would never tell me why. I eventually moved out before the end of the lease, but is there another way I could have handled it?

Sep. 26 2012 12:39 PM
Paul Villinski from Long Island City

I lived with roommates for three decades, and invariably found that I had to push my roomies to do their share of housekeeping, which was never a comfortable situation. It finally dawned on me that we could hire someone to come in twice a month to do the cleaning, and divide the expense equally, which was a very clear-cut solution and worked like a charm.

Sep. 26 2012 12:37 PM
Kate from Brooklyn

A friend of mine has a problem with an unofficial roommate, her boyfriend's sister. Her very successful boyfriend helps support his younger sister financially, who is 30 and hasn't really found her calling in life. She currently works as a dog walker and as a sort of thank you for her brother's financial support, swings by their apartment almost every day to walk their dog for free. The problem is, she also treats their pantry like her personal grocery store. She takes a great number of bottles of wine home (which the boyfriend pays for but which annoys my friend) and eats food that my friend buys for herself for her special dietary restrictions/food allergies. The sister also dips into expensive creams and beauty potions in the bathroom, according to my friend, who has found her supplies mysteriously and severely depleted. What should my friend do? Her boyfriend is very sensitive to any criticism of his sister. Meanwhile, I hear complaints about this behavior alllll the time from my friend, so somewhat selfishly, I want her to resolve the problem so I don't have to keep hearing about it.

Sep. 26 2012 12:37 PM
Ralph from Brooklyn

I am usually super clean and tidy in shared space (i.e., bathroom, kitchen, living room.) Over the years with different roommates (girlfriends or other) sometimes things go easy and sometimes really badly, depending on whether my roommate is neat or messy. In the bad cases, I am usually accused of nagging and nit-picking. So I get frustrated by the messiness getting in my way and they get frustrated by my nagging (and I also hate doing the nagging, it makes me feel terrible.) My roommate now is my girlfriend and... well, she's messy (she freely admits this). How do we negotiate this problem?

Sep. 26 2012 12:35 PM
inwoodite from NYC

I had a couple of roommates once, not of my own choosing but of the guy I was subletting from. They seemed to be content to share a bedroom, which was fine with me, and they were supposed to be moving on after a couple of months. But instead, they ganged up against me in a campaign to oppress me into leaving, the aim obviously being to stay and get separate rooms once I left my room unoccupied. They were europeans working illegally in restaurants, when they weren't just drunk and vomiting red wine-stained paella all over our bathroom, or playing the intro to their Sex and the City DVD box sets on loop while passed out. We were in a railroad apartment so that when they locked their bedroom door I had no access to the kitchen. I had to go downstairs to the Hare Krishnas in Tomkins Square Park for a free meal when this happened. I was about to report them to the INS and hopefully get them deported after months of this hell, when they finally left. I'll never ever have a roommate again.

Sep. 26 2012 12:34 PM
Laura from Staten Island

I had a sloppy roommate, which I found very frustrating. When she moved out, and I interviewed for a new roommate, I made it a requirement that we share the cost of a cleaning person for the common/shared spaces. That worked out really well.

Sep. 26 2012 12:31 PM

It's not a roommate question, but a family question. My nephew had a major meltdown last Christmas, yelling at all of us in the family and cursing loudly, for reasons that were never clear, although we were under stress due to a family member's death. He has never apologized or acknowledged it, and just acts likes it never happened. His mom, my sister, wants me to do Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I am still hurt and apprehensive. She says he has lots of issues, and it wasn't directed at me. Should I just let it go? Should I try to talk to him? I don't want to cause a family rift, but I am not at all excited about hosting.

Sep. 26 2012 12:30 PM
Joan from Brooklyn

My roommate and I don't talk very much. I actually try to avoid her a little bit, just because I like to have some space of my own. But I feel like I've become too anti-social and it's getting slightly awkward. How do I reach out and be more friendly without it seeming sudden and weird?

Sep. 26 2012 12:28 PM
Jacob Sandmann from Sleepless in the East Village

What about upstairs neighbors? I live in a studio in the east village and my bed is lofted. The building is very old with walls and floors that do not insulate sound. We can here every step he makes. The problem is that he is often up ALL NIGHT. I can sleep but my wife can't. I've spoken to him on a couple occasions and he was nice enough to give me his phone number so I can text him when the noise is too much. I've tried texting him when his walking keeps us up and got a reply that I was complaining too much. Is there anything we can do? We've tried ear plugs, noise cancelling headphones, and sleep machines. Do we just need to move?

Sep. 26 2012 12:26 PM
Elle from Brooklyn

To Steph - find another roommate. Europeans have COMPLETELY different ideas about houseguests, hospitality, and personal space. She is not going to change, and it is just going to drive you crazy.

Sep. 26 2012 12:20 PM

A true romance is worth more than an apartment — in New York?!

I've seen people _break up_ or never get together because neither would dream of giving up his/her rent stabilized apartment.

Sep. 26 2012 12:15 PM
Hannah from Manhattan

My daughters are currently sharing a family apartment and they constantly bicker over everything from tidiness, to chores, to equitable sharing of public space. They both really want the same things; a clean, comfortable space. But it seems sibling rivalries die hard!! I would love any suggestions or resources to help them get to the place where I don't have to play referee all the time!!

Sep. 26 2012 12:15 PM
Rachel from Astoria

My roommate's boyfriend thinks it's appropriate to walk around in his boxers. I thought it would only happen once or twice but it's been over a year - how do I ask them to cover up? Do I ask him directly or bring it up to her?

Sep. 26 2012 12:14 PM

Set expectations BEFORE moving in.
- See where the person lives currently, to make sure their housekeeping habits are about on par with yours, whether it's messy or tidy.
- Talk about guest-related and other ground rules ahead of time.
- After you move in, be willing to talk openly and negotiate.

Meredith: Something that's worked out with my husband is dividing up the task according to who hates what the least. I hate doing floors, but I don't mind doing bathrooms; he hates doing bathrooms but doesn't mind doing floors. So we always divide it that way.
But one big tip is to accept that your partner isn't going to do it the same way as you would. You're going to have to accept that, if you want him to do it at all.

Sep. 26 2012 12:10 PM
chris from Westchester

Sounds like Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory has the right idea: You need a documented roomate agreement (okay, his takes into consideration some weird stuff, but still).

Sep. 26 2012 12:10 PM

This may be a relationship question, but how do I get my boyfriend to pitch in with cleaning like a normal roommate would?

Sep. 26 2012 09:58 AM

I am unemployed and have a pet. My roommate agreed from the get go to pay utilities. The problem is I spend a lot of time at home due to my employment circumstances. I try to be conscientious by turning off lights when I can but, especially during the summer months, I kept a fan constantly running in my room for my cat. A also usually have my laptop hooked up as well.

I'm getting the sense my roommate is upset at me about something, and my suspicion is that it's because I don't work. Should I feel bad? Should I confront him? I almost never run my AC so I can't imagine what he's upset about in the first place.

Sep. 25 2012 10:14 PM
Bonnie Kirsten from Chelsea New York

I'm not sure, but I have a room mate who might be in contact with bedbugs, and may have introduced them into my apartment, and now they are a problem. I had the exterminator come and spray, and there were several months that passed without incident, but lately a few have shown up once every two weeks or so, and I'm about to lose my mind. I explained how to spray alcohol, and keep all clothing and laundry in tight plastic bags, sealed, which I succeeded in keeping everything in the apartment laundered and sealed a month before and for a few weeks after the last extermination....but I'm beginning to feel I can't bear going through the whole ordeal again. Some things are still sealed, but some clothing that is being worn now, is not sealed anymore....

I just don't know what to do, whether it is my room mate, or they are just so common in NY, they have found a way of getting in my apartment another way. My room mate is neat, clean, tidy, doesn't abuse anything, and I'd hate to confront him, to find out later, they have spread through out the building through some other access point, or even that I might have introduced them myself.....????

Sep. 25 2012 09:27 PM
stephvio from Queens

How do you deal with a roommate who brings over guest too often for a long term stay? I am talking about two weeks at a time. My roommate who is a French dance student brings over her family members from france, and lets them stay in our living room for two weeks. Last time, it was her parents (both of them ) They took over the couch, living room, in my already tiny apartment. Every morning was a disaster because there is only one bathroom. Right now, her brother is staying in our living room again... and his friend will be joining him next week!!! And she is not paying anything extra although she is having guests over for two weeks. I do not know how to approach this issue with her. She is really sensitive, and last time I tried to talk to her about chore issues, she broke down into tears like a little girl, so I had to hug her and comfort her. Please tell me what I should do to ground down some rules with her.


Sep. 25 2012 09:04 PM
Virginia from New Paltz, NY

setting Boundaries...I'm all about sharing on the odd occasion, but I endevour to replace anything I've taken and I'm not impartial from 'borrowing' the odd item out of the fridge from my housemate on occasion. However, my housemate seems to have very lucid boundaries. When I buy a load of groceries I often stash a fizzy water or other things away for a later date. If she has nothing to drink, she has dug it out of my cupboard & help herself. I'm on the verge of discussing this topic directly to her but I don't want to create any unease or friction. We sometimes share cooking & meals, this is a nice aspect of living together and we complement each other in this way nicely. I don't want to come across as a tight ass but I feel I need to draw the line somewhere or at least request she ask me before helping herself.

Sep. 25 2012 07:57 PM

When you've done something horrible to your roommate because and she stops speaking to you, how do you apologize and get her to listen?

Sep. 25 2012 07:06 PM
posh from NYC

How do you deal with a roommate who you once considered your friend but then discovered she's passive aggressive and uses you as a roommate as an excuse to get it out?

Sep. 25 2012 06:53 PM

When do you draw the line with partying? When do you draw the line with overnight guests? How can you enforce that line anyway?

Sep. 25 2012 06:51 PM
E.K. from Boston

How can I tactfully broach the topic of my roommate's lingering cooking smells? I am sure what she cooks tastes good, and that she doesn't have the same reaction I do to the smell of re-used oil, onions, and various spices that persists FOR DAYS throughout the apartment. I can't help resenting that I must keep my bedroom door shut in order to preserve some sanctuary of fresh air for myself, and that my hair often picks up the smell in the apartment and thus requires more washing than usual. I should say that we are living together out of necessity and have no previous friendship at risk here--but I would still like to maintain basic civility.

Sep. 25 2012 06:41 PM
Pat from Manhattan

Is it appropriate to ask your occasional roommate when they are coming back? My roommate is part time only but I never know when he is coming back to the apartment and it drives me crazy. I didn't set that as a requirement when we set up rules, how do I broach it now?

Sep. 25 2012 06:19 PM

Does your advice apply to office mates as well?

Sep. 25 2012 06:05 PM
Matt G. from NYC

What do you do if, when living with a roommate of the opposite sex (I have two), you fall in love with one of them?

Sep. 25 2012 06:00 PM

How do I let my roommate know that he-she is too loud?.....

Sep. 25 2012 02:00 PM

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