Published on November 1, 2019

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Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

“What’s yours is mine” doesn’t just apply to married couples—it’s practically written in the “roommate 101” handbook. Sharing is an inevitable part of living with others, and we aren’t just talking about divvying up the rent. After being respectful, responsible, and honest, it turns out people prioritize neatness when searching for a potential roommate, according to a SpareRoom study that surveyed over 6,000 respondents. Being organized on your own is one thing. Achieving tidiness as a group is a separate, much more difficult feat. Surface cleaners, drawer dividers, and label-makers will only get you so far. 

In an effort to keep the peace, we asked real people with roommates to share their solutions for keeping their apartments squeaky clean. Whatever it was that went wrong—moldy takeout in the fridge, a chaotic coat closet—they managed to fix it with a little creativity. Five of them share their stories, below. 

We carved up our storage space evenly, rather than group everyone’s food together. That way, no one accidentally uses anyone else’s last box of pasta or empties their supply of Everything But the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend. It’s also worth it, in my experience, to invest in some extra storage for shared essentials. I got this narrow shelving unit so that our espresso machine, cleaning supplies, assorted oil and vinegars, and extensive tea collection could be used by everyone. And, if anyone ends up overflowing their cabinet space, there’s room on the shelf too.” — Rebecca 

“I am personally a neat-freak when it comes to living spaces, whereas my roommates are more laissez-faire, so time and time again, I would be left to tidy up everyone’s belongings. It’s easy to come home after a long workday and throw your shoes randomly to the side of the entryway and your bags on the floor or counter. When you live alone, that’s A-OK, but when you have two other roommates, it ends up becoming one big mess. I decided the best solution was to order this coat rack so that everyone had a designated place for their belongings. It has easily become one of our best shared purchases to date.” — Erica 

“My roommates and I constantly tackle big-batch, one-pot recipes together. It not only makes for the loveliest Sunday evening wind-down activity, but it also sets us up for a healthy week—we don’t end up skipping dinner! Nothing makes that easier than ordering chicken stock, cans of chickpeas, diced tomatoes, coconut milk—you name it—on Amazon. While we’re at it, we’ll throw in some dishwasher pods, sponges, and paper towels. This way, we never have to think about it again for months and we’re not constantly nickel-and-diming each other through Venmo requests.” — Julia

“I used to live in a fairly decrepit frat house with 10 other people, so to say that shared spaces were a struggle may be the understatement of the century. The biggest problem was the kitchen: Everyone’s items were mixed in together, no one knew whose turn it was to clean, and because there was basically zero cabinet real estate, our Trader Joe’s hauls ended up unceremoniously stashed on top of the nearby washing machine. After two months of this, I went on an organizing rampage and started labeling all foods and cookware with the buyer’s name so that there was no confusion. I also picked up a couple of wire racks to double our cupboard storage. As for the chore problem, we started a dedicated WhatsApp to keep track of everything. Was it micromanaging? Yes. Did it work? Absolutely.” — Elly 

“I live with two other people and our bedrooms are all different sizes (mine is the smallest at a mere 7×7 feet). While we each pay different rent to account for the discrepancies in square footage, it didn’t change the fact that I had way less space to store stuff (I can only fit a 15-inch-wide dresser and my everyday staples soak up most of my teeny closet). So I made sure the TV stand I bought for the living room had concealed storage. My roommates both agreed that I could use three out of four drawers for my clothes, which is pretty generous of them. I mostly use it for out-of-season items so I’m not constantly getting dressed in front of everyone.” — Jackie 

How do you and your roommates deal? Drop us a line in the comment section below and share your cohabitating secrets.

See more stories like this: 
99% of People Say This Is the First Thing They Look for in a Roommate
How to Create the Dorm of Your Dreams—With Your Roommate
Why More Adults Are Choosing to Live With Roommates

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