What to Do If You Have a Dirty Roommate

A Seemingly Little Mess Can Lead to Much Bigger Problems

Male college students smiling at each in dorm room
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When you imagined what college life would be like, you probably didn't picture living with a dirty roommate. Unfortunately, however, a messy roommate can quickly turn your college experience into one that seems positively dreadful. From dirty dishes to clothes all over the place, living with a less-than-clean roommate can be a challenge for even the most easy-going college student.

Fortunately, while the mess your roommate leaves around might seem overwhelming, there are several steps you can take to make the situation more bearable:

1. Figure out what bugs you the most. Is your roommate just messy, meaning he does things like leave dirty clothes and wet towels everywhere? Or is she dirty, meaning she leaves dishes in the sink for days on end and refuses to clean up after herself in the bathroom? Or does he continually wake up late, meaning he doesn't have time to shower before class -- even though he desperately needs to? Figuring out where the main issues are can help you figure out an approach to the solution. Extra tip: Try to look at patterns of behavior, not necessarily specific instances.

2. Figure out where a comfortable compromise is. Part of having a good roommate relationship means learning the delicate art of compromise. While ideally, you'd like your roommate to do everything exactly how you want, he or she probably wants the same from you -- which means, of course, that something has to give. Try to figure out what you're willing to sacrifice in order to prove your willingness to work toward a solution.

3. Lead by example. You may find your roommate's dirty dishes totally gross ... and yet you yourself may be guilty of not washing your own stuff from time to time. If you're going to ask a roommate to change his or her behavior, you'll have to make sure you can meet the standard you set. Otherwise, you're not being fair to your roommate -- or yourself.

4. Drop hints. Sometimes, you can communicate with your roommate in an indirect, non-confrontational way by just dropping subtle hints here or there. If your roommate is always late because he's trying to figure out which clothes are clean (enough), you can jokingly comment about how doing laundry with you on the weekends might help him get to class on time, for example. Just make sure your hints are constructive and suggestive of solutions instead of passive-aggressive ways to get a dig in.

5. Talk to your roommate directly. At some point, if you have a funky roommate, you'll have to talk to him or her about the things that bug you. Doing so doesn't have to be awkward and confrontational, however, if you follow some basic rules. Keep the conversation about the room instead of each other. (Example: "The room has so many clothes thrown around that I can't find a place to study" vs. "You throw your stuff everywhere all the time.") Talk about how you're feeling in the situation instead of how frustrated you are with your roommate. (Example: "When you leave your dirty rugby clothes on my bed, I think it's super gross and worry about my stuff staying clean." vs. "You're really nasty when you come home from practice and you need to keep your stuff away from mine.") And follow the Golden Rule when you're talking with your roommate, too, meaning that you should talk to them the way you would like someone to talk to you if the situation were reversed.

6. Sign a roommate contract together. Your RA or other hall staff member should have a roommate contract available for both you and your roommate to sign if you didn't already do so when you first moved in together. The contract can help you both figure out what kinds of rules to set. If nothing else, a roommate contract can be a great way to initiate a conversation about each of your preferences and what kinds of things you'll both need to pay attention to in the future.

7. Talk to an RA or another staff member. Even if you've tried to compromise, lead by example, drop hints, or address the issue directly, it is possible that your dirty roommate is, well, just too dirty and funky for you. If that's the case, you'll need to talk to your RA or other hall staff member. They'll want to know what you've tried to do to remedy the situation thus far.

And, if you do need to get a new roommate, they can help you start the process.