Zen and the Art of Dealing with Dorm Room Distractions

pretty_dorm_roomIt all started three years ago when I first entered college as a freshman. I lived in a small, 11 x 13 ft dorm room with an awkward roommate. My sophomore year, I moved into an on-campus apartment and lived with five other girls. Let’s just say that was more estrogen than Mother Nature would allow for in a cramped three-bedroom apartment. Last year, I moved off-campus into my own apartment without roommates and I still face similar dorm distractions. After one more move, I finally found harmony. But it wasn’t easy. So learn from my mistakes and consider these tips to learning how to live with other people.

1. Talk to your roommate.

Seriously the best advice I can give. It’ll pay off if you put all your thoughts and preferences on the table from the start. And this doesn’t close the door for future conversations. Don’t be afraid to share your concerns with your roommate or to say no. There’s an appropriate way to say no without being rude. So don’t hesitate because you’re the one who’s going to suffer otherwise for the next 9 months.

2. Talk to your RA, other friends, and older students.

Everyone goes through the hardships of dorm life. I’m 100% positive your RA and older friends can give you advice as to how to approach a dorm room problem and how to solve it. Reach out to them and don’t be afraid of them either. They are there to help and will completely understand what you are going through. Not taking advantage of your resources only puts the fault in your hands and you do not want to be in that situation.

3. Best Friends v. Enemies

There is no need to be your roommate’s best friend or enemy. You may end up being close friends and that’s great. But by no means feel pressured to do so. Accept the fact that dorm life is not going to be the same as living at home. You are no longer going to have a normal life or a normal day. It’s almost impossible when you have another person trying to live a life three feet from you. Accept the fact that everything won’t go perfectly or as planned. Accept that you have to alter your usual schedule in order to make things work. If you accept all this and have an open mind, things will work out. Once you’ve mastered tips #1-3, you are ready to tackle the problems themselves. So let’s get started with the most common, annoying dorm distractions.

4. Noise

Try asking your roommate to turn down the music or TV. If that does not work, it may be in your best interest to go study in the library, at a friend’s place, or at Starbucks. If you are trying to sleep and don’t mind constant sound then try an air purifier, a fan, your iPod with headphones, or turn the TV on. Having constant sound to distract you from the on and off noises from your roommate can help allow you to rest and not silently vent. The best combination for me is earplugs from CVS and an air purifier. It worked like a charm living in a dorm and on-campus apartment. (I also got those eye cover-ups from Target to block out light).

5. The Room

There is always one person who is more clean and neat than the other. Talk with your roommate and compromise on guidelines. It helps to make maintaining the room a fun event. For example, my roommate and I had Sunday afternoon cleaning days and we would blast our house music and dance around the room while cleaning. It was productive and fun, and it was a good workout. It’s also really helpful to agree on daily/weekly tasks. For instance, someone has to take out the trash before it starts overflowing. Make sure you each have a hamper and that dirty clothes stay there and not on the floor. Lastly, split purchasing handy cleaning supplies such as Febreeze fabric and air cleaner, anti-bacterial wipes, and a hand-held vacuum.

6. Visitors

This includes expected and unexpected visitors, family members, friends, boyfriends, and boy toys. This is a must to discuss with your roommate. It can be annoying, awkward and uncomfortable, especially being in such an enclosed area. Discuss which visitors you can expect on a weekly basis, such as a family member stopping by or maybe a classmate to study with. Keep a calendar on the wall in your room with each of your schedules on it so you are aware of when the other has early classes, tests, or any important event. Finally, when it comes to boyfriends and boy toys, make sure you each have a list of reliable places to stay for the night.

All of these tips will help enhance your experience and help you tackle those dorm life problems you will encounter with your roommate. Just remember that you are not the only one living in the room and that everything goes both ways. There are things you do that will annoy your roommate just as much as she annoys you. Be understanding, accepting, respectful, open-minded, and nice. But remember to stay grounded and hold your own. Your roommate may not be willing to work with you. Don’t settle for less. Seek help from you RA, friends, and older classmates. Final tip: Shyness doesn’t work. Speak up or live with the consequences.

— By Erin McClary, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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