When the closet overflows, posters grate: living with a roommate
Boston — It's September. You want to plug in your tape player to practice your Spanish pronunciation, but to do it, you must also disconnect your roommate's radio, refrigerator, popcorn popper, and hairdryer. Nobody warned you that you'd be rooming with the Appliance Queen.
Frustrated, you collapse back on the bed, only to stare at a life-size poster of Steve Perry tacked to the ceiling. ''Ugh!'' you groan, as you roll over toward the refrigerator for that last nibble of cold pizza, only to find the greasy cardboard remains.
Roommate hassles. Like leftover pizza, they can be stale propositions. But there are some ways to minimize the friction that can occur between two people thrown together in a college dorm.
Space. In most college and university housing, lack of space is a foregone conclusion. Start with a room arrangement that at least gives the illusion of roominess by keeping furniture toward the walls, with ''trip-ables'' like trunks , low tables, and electrical chords out of the center. The less chance of bruised shins from late-night stumbles, the happier the relationship.
If you don't know your roommate well (maybe even if you do), it's a good idea to ''take sides.'' Split the room and closet in half, or if it's obvious that one roommate has more stuff, settle on a percentage. On your side of the room you can put up your own posters, photos, and other paraphernalia. Remember, just as you'll have to look at what your roommate puts up, she'll have to look at your artwork as well.
Housekeeping. Housekeeping can be a matter of survival. One of the most enduring images of college dorm life features two roommates: one who is ultra-tidy and sprays Lysol disinfectant into his shoes, the other oblivious of the fact that his Addidas are so ripe they go for strolls around the room when he is not there.
If you are neat and your roommate is not and it bugs you, let him or her see how beneficial an orderly life style can be. If your roommate is the on-the-go type, but leaves piles of clothes and papers around, agree on a deadline when everything has to be picked up - for instance, by the Friday afternoon of each week. Do not, repeat, do not pick up after your roommate. Once you do, you'll be handed a mop and broom for the rest of the term. Instead, teach your roommate quick timesavers like reading while doing the laundry, washing out a glass immediately after use, and encourage finding alternative ways of keeping the place livable.
If a light touch doesn't seem to work, try bargaining. Offer to treat your roommate to a meal out after a little cleanup. Or, if all else fails, find a subtle friend of the opposite sex who visits regularly and have him or her drop a few hints.
Borrowing. Shakespeare's Polonius said it best: ''Neither a borrower, nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend.'' Borrowing can lead to the worst kind of friction. Set a policy and stick to it. Especially important is deciding how to handle borrowing when the owner is absent. Let your roommate know which items are important to you and how you would like them treated. The best way to have your possessions treated well is, naturally, to use consideration when borrowing from your roommate.
Car borrowing has the potential to cause the greatest problems, no matter how you look at it. One previous roommate and I had several discussions that resulted in some requirements for the many people who borrowed her car. In addition to putting gas in the car, she asked that a contribution of $4 or $5 be made toward maintenance every time someone got behind the wheel.
Privacy. More important than the physical surroundings, the attitude toward each other's privacy can determine compatibility. When so many things are changing quickly, it's vital that a college student have access to privacy - someplace, other than the library, where he or she can come to terms with college demands. In most cases, dorm rooms can provide a sanctuary if each roommate is considerate and sensitive to this most basic need.
Too much can be said on the drawbacks of rooming with another person. Boarding away from home, especially for the first time in college, can be eye-opening. You always guessed that people lived differently; a roommate can show you new ways of doing things and new habits of living.
Oftentimes, a roommate with an entirely different major and completely opposite interests can help you appreciate, though you still may not like or agree with, other vocational choices and the people who choose them.
And who knows, you may even come to like Steve Perry.