Setting Boundaries with Your Roommate(s)


As part-two of our “Back to School” series, Ascend wanted to focus on the important aspect of thinking and talking with you roommates in this new school year.  Open and thoughtful conversation can really help alleviate stress and the dynamics that can arise with many people living in the same space.  Whether you are just beginning college and living with a randomly assigned roommate or in your last year and looking forward to living with a close friend, setting boundaries is important.

Below are tips from Ascend staff to help with setting boundaries with your roommate:

Shared Living Spaces:

  • Discuss a “lights out” time if you have roommates sleeping in the same room.

  • Establish rules/guidelines about visitors (for example, if you don’t want visitors after a certain time or around the time you have an exam).

  • Talk about how you will split the cleaning responsibilities. Consider setting up a cleaning schedule.


  • Use colored stickers to label items: Each roommate gets their own color sticker. There can also be a color designated for “food I want to share”, otherwise food is not for sharing without asking.

  • Set up a cooking/shopping schedule, if you will be having meals together.


  • Consider having a large whiteboard calendar to write important dates such as tests, projects, birthdays, sporting events, travel, etc.


  • Discuss if there is a time which you do not want visitors.

  • If you have a particularly busy week, would you prefer no visitors? How would you communicate this? The shared calendar might be a useful tool for this.


  • Face-to-face communication is always best. Set up a time to meet early in the year to discuss these boundaries and plans.

  • As stated above, avoid this communication via text.

  • Remember to use “I” statements when discussing these boundaries.

  • Come to the conversation with some solutions in mind.

  • Be honest in the beginning about your expectations and your preferences for communication.

  • Know what your needs are and be open to hearing others.

  • Be patient and know this an ongoing process.


  • Establish time for yourself and your self-care (and don’t forget to communicate this to your roommate).

  • Find places where you feel safe and happy outside of your apartment or dorm room.

Remember that navigating living and roommates can be tricky!  Try to be as thoughtful and direct as you can while also trying to consider all points of view.  If you feel unsafe, or do not know what to do in a particular situation, reach out to a RA, dean, counselor, or someone you trust to get support and guidance.  We at Ascend share these thoughts in the hope of a productive and fun school year.  We know many dynamics in college overlap, and if there is a way we can assist in lessening stress and opening up communication, we hope to do so!

We are launching a new online support group for parents of loved ones in recovery in college, slated to start Tuesday, September 12th in the evening.  This group will meet via a secure, private online platform for an hour each Tuesday for six weeks.   For more information, please contact Katherine McClayton ( 

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