College Roommates and Cleanliness

My younger brother’s getting ready to go off to college in the fall, and last night my family got into a bit of a pre-emptive debate about it. My parents mentioned that my brother had better get in the habit of keeping his room a bit neater, in case he ends up with a neat-freak for a roommate. They argued that when you have two people sharing a room, the neater person basically sets the standard for cleanliness, and the messier person should (within reason) follow it. So if my brother’s roommate makes his bed, my brother should make his bed. If roommate keeps his books neatly lined up on a shelf, brother should keep his books neatly lined up on a shelf. Etc.

I disagreed. My feeling is that for college roommates, as long as there’s a recognizable split to the arrangement of the room (ie “my side of the room” and “your side of the room”), it doesn’t matter how neat or messy either person keeps his side. As long as neither guy is impinging on the other’s area (by letting their stuff spill over, or by doing things that would negatively effect the whole room, like leaving out food that would smell and attract bugs), each person can pretty much do what they want in their area. What would it matter if my brother never made his bed, and had books and papers stacked on the floor? Part of the beauty of having college roommates is learning to live with different types of people, and that includes neat people learning to live with the more messy among us.

Realistically, of course, there’s always a give and take with roommates, and in the interest of harmony people adjust their habits in all sorts of ways – and that’s fine. Still, I don’t think there is or should be any expectation that the cleaner of two roommates sets the standard for both people. (If there is, then what next – does the roommate who goes to bed earlier set the bedtime?)

What do you think, Dopers?

I agree with you. I think your mom is pouncing on a rationalization for pushing your brother to change his ways because she’d like him to be more neat.

In reality, it’s either divided by side or a compromise is found. Usually, each person thinks they’ve “given” more than the other and ill feeling abound, but that’s part of learning to live with another human being.

I’ve got a friend right now, post-college, looking for a roommate, and I just sort of sit back and giggle. She says to every potential, “I’m really neat, and I need to live with someone that’s really neat.” So then she feels entirely self-righteous when things don’t work out because roomie leaves a coffee cup in the sink while taking his shower and she goes off on him. Yeah, she’s not “really neat”, she’s “OCD psycho beast cleanfreak dustophobe”. There’s a difference, and I don’t blame a single person for not living up to her standards. IMHO, she’s not going to find a roommate she can be happy with until she can exhale and not go ballistic over a neatly folded newspaper left on the dining room table for 20 minutes.

(All examples real, I am not making this up.)

Yes and no. For anything that’s shared between the two, yes. He shouldn’t be leaving dirty clothes all over the floor, for example. But making his bed? That’s his bed, if he doesn’t want it made, he shouldn’t have to make it.

When I was in high school and applying to colleges, I remember many of my colleagues poring over detailed roommate-compatibility surveys which asked dozens of questions, in the hope that they would match incoming students with the most suitable roommate.

I remember I was rather surprised when I got my survey in the mail. It had exactly three questions:

  1. Are you a morning person or night person?
  2. Are you messy or neat?
  3. What kind of music do you like?

Reportedly, my college had one of the highest rates of roommate satisfaction in the nation. Indeed, my roommate and I were perfectly compatible, although we didn’t end up best friends or anything.

Yes and no.
(Disclosure: I work at a college)

In terms of attitude, I agree with you that college is a good opportunity to learn to live with different kinds of people, and that both students will benefit if they learn to be flexible on this issue. They will be better prepared for living with others in the future.

In terms of skills, I see what your mom is saying (you know, upon second reading, I don’t think she’s saying this, but perhaps if you tipped her off to it, it would support her case :wink: ). College is also a time when people are making a transition from living as a dependent person to an independent one. Keeping a clean room is a skill. Maybe not a skill that you value highly, but it’s probably good to have whether or not you decide to embrace it as a life-style choice. In this sense, I think there’s a slightly higher obligation on the part of the messy person to be more tidy.

One thing I would suggest to your brother (or anyone going to college) about the neat v. messy thing is to talk with the roommate about particular situations where a neat v. messy room is more of an issue. A lot of neat students would be happy with a messy roommate, and not let it bother them too much, provided that the messy roommate was willing to pitch in and clean before a visit from the parents.