Roommate Etiquette 101: How to Share a Kitchen

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Living with a roommate can be fun…or it can make you want to head for the hills. The kitchen is one of the most contentious rooms in the house. A sink full of unwashed dishes can quickly become a battleground, and smelly leftovers the ammunition in a war against between roommates. But how do you share a living space with another human being without driving each other crazy?

Personal Responsibility

You are ultimately responsible for your own messes. Unless you live with your parents—and if you do, maybe considering helping around the house anyway—no one is going to clean up after you. That means you need to wash up after you cook and follow the kitchen protocol for dishes. Do they go into the dishwasher? A drying rack? Do you dry them with a cloth and put them away immediately? Whatever it is, do it.

The tricky part comes in when not everyone holds up their end of the bargain.

Set House Rules

Everyone who lives in your home should understand and agree to the house rules. Write it down. Make it your own personal Constitution. If everyone knows that you’re supposed to achieve Sink Zero—meaning no dishes or grime left in the sink before bed—then you have something to show when a roommate isn’t picking up her slack (or her stuff).

A formal list of house rules can also help with issues such as overnight guests, quiet hours, bathroom chores, and so on.

Try a Chore Chart

A chore chart can be a lifesaver when it comes to roommate etiquette. It’s a little bit kindergartener-ish, but so is leaving your gross food all over the place and expecting other people to pick it up. While everyone should be able to clean up after they use the kitchen, there are some chores that need to be tackled on a regular basis.

There are two ways to approach these chores. Either everyone in the house takes ownership of a particular task, or else everyone takes equal responsibility on a rotating schedule. It’s up to your roommate dynamic which one will work best. But get it in writing and post the chore chart where everyone can see it. That way it’s clear who is supposed to mop the floors on any given week.

Make It Fun…And Learn to Compromise

Cleaning doesn’t have to be awful. Team up with a roommie or two, put on some tunes, and dance while you cook and clean. Sharing a meal together can bring you closer together as housemates. Plus, teaming up gets the work done in half the time!

And finally, don’t be the roommate who turns every minor dispute into the Last Stand at the Alamo.  It’s okay if your housemates don’t load the dishwasher exactly the way you prefer. It’s less okay if they cook terrible-smelling fish, of course, but you still shouldn’t be a jerk about it. The trick to living with a roommate is finding a balance between your personalities and lifestyles.

And if that doesn’t work? Hire a cleaning service.