British Columbia

How to measure roommate compatibility using Parmesan cheese

There will always be conflict in shared spaces but how you choose your roommate, how honest you are ahead of time and how much you love Parmesan cheese are all factors that can ruin a roommate relationship.

'They don’t have to be your friend,' and other sage roommate selection tips

Have you worked out a system for sharing housework, or swept the issue under the rug? Being upfront with expectations about chores, sleep times and sharing can help maintain peaceful roommate relationships. (iStock)

The large tubs of Parmesan cheese slowly disappeared from T.J. Dhillon's fridge every time he put them there, despite the fact he didn't ever eat Parmesan cheese.

He purchased the cheese back in law school as an experiment to determine which of his five roommates, also law students, were eating his food.

"They were all eating it," he said.

Now a lawyer in South Surrey, Dhillon said he doesn't talk to any of his ex-roommates.

"You can imagine six law students living together, it was very ugly. All the petty disputes would always spill over into law school," he told Angela Sterritt, guest host of B.C. Almanac.

He tried the experiment again while he was an articling student and discovered his new roommate also felt entitled to free cheese.

"We bought two big tubs. Once his ran out, the rate at which mine was going down significantly increased," recalled Dhillon.

But Dhillon didn't really care about the cheese, he said it helped him learn that setting boundaries with roommates is something that needs to happen early and often.

September rental rush

Right now, thousands of students in British Columbia are looking for accommodation for the school year.

It's a daunting task for anyone at any time of year, but given low vacancy rates and the high cost of living, some students may feel desperate for a roommate and inclined to make rash decisions.

Thankfully, Kelci Lynn Lucier, author of College Stress Solutions stopped by B.C. Almanac to flesh out some strategies for preventing and dealing with disastrous roommate relationships.

Lucier said a good starting point is to accept that you just shouldn't live with your friends.

"A roommate is someone that you need to live with in a peaceful, collaborative way but they don't have to be your friend," she said.

Living with friends not only stunts opportunities for social and personal growth but it can actually be a far worse living situation than an arrangement with a compatible stranger.

Logistical compatibility

Another key point is honest communication. While that sounds obvious, it's still the number one issue people have with each other while sharing spaces, according to Lucier.

"I've never met anyone who solved anything with a passive aggressive post-it note," she said.

An open line of communication needs to be established before choosing a roommate to ensure everyone's values, schedules and priorities are compatible, she said.

Lucier's own experience with her college roommate taught her that early.

"I needed quiet time to do homework. On the weekends I would go out and then come back to our room to rest and sleep and catch up on laundry," recalled Lucier.

"For her, her living space was her social space. So, obviously there's a pretty big tension right there."

Lucier said when things get rough it's important to be compassionate toward housemates who are just as likely as anyone to have had a bad day at school or work or in their personal lives but she said it's equally as important to extend that compassion to yourself by being honest about what you need.

Whether it starts with dishes, smoking, social behavior or stealing cheese, if the tensions in the household can't be worked out, then it is time to move on, Lucier added. 

"Definitely trust your gut, it's there for a reason."

With files from CBC Radio One's B.C. Almanac