A full-term psychological research study conducted at Rollins attempted to get at the issue of housekeeping. What is it about tidiness preferences that makes a shared living situation so difficult? What we found is that when two students differ in their preferences, disagreements tend to arise about these housekeeping issues.
And we can all assume that if you are busy always disagreeing with your roommate, you are probably not going to like each other much. This can be a tough situation for anyone, especially first year students experiencing their first time living on a college campus. This tough situation is not just created by the strained roommate relationship; what we found was a strong link between social relationships, specifically roommate relationships, and place attachment.
A quick crash course on the term “place attachment”—place attachment can be understood as your emotional bond to an area such as Rollins or your family home. We used the PPP framework created by Scannell and Gifford (2010), which stands for person, process, and place. In this framework, it is understood that a person has had a personal connection to the specific place, they experience or the place comes to represent emotional states, and the person has maintained residency in this area.
So how are roommate relationships and place attachment related? Well, it was found that roommate relationships could facilitate or hinder the development of place attachment.
The way we measured this connection was through roommate housekeeping. As explained above, roommates with different housekeeping styles tend to disagree more often about housekeeping issues and these disagreements cause roommates to not like each other as much. And not liking your roommate leads roommates to connect less with their living space. All these variables may make these findings seem a bit confusing, but all you really need to get from this is that housekeeping disputes directly affect roommate relationships and indirectly affects place attachment.
Now that we understand the problem, the question is how do we make these situations less stressful? One way is through the way we communicate to one another about the things that are bothering us.
We found a few simple communication strategies that could relieve a lot of tension caused by the clash of tidiness ideals.
One way to improve it is by being direct. We found that roommates who perceived their roommate as engaging in direct communication about the issue liked their roommate more.
Find the humor in the situation. We found that roommates who both engaged in humor when relaying a housekeeping issue were more satisfied with their roommate relationship. Use notes to communicate a housekeeping issue. We found that roommates who used notes had greater place attachment to their dormitory room. I like to think of this advice as like writing the rules of the room. If you can set some ground rules, you may feel a little more in control and at home in your room. And the two big don’ts: don’t ignore the problem and don’t let your feelings build up and then explode on your roommate with your frustration.
When you or your roommate actively ignore the problem it really puts a strain on your relationship. The problem does not go away and will just get bigger and bigger until there is no way for you to continue to ignore it. Just be direct, talk it out, and get it solved. Letting your feelings build up and losing it at your roommate is not only unhealthy, it is awkward. The awkward tension in the room between your roommate and you after one of you scolds the other is hard to shake.
We may not be able to make our roommate change their housekeeping style completely to match our own, but we can discuss the issues. And during these discussions we can keep in mind that shared living spaces means that both parties are going to have to learn to compromise.
The best compromises are made when both parties can be direct and open about their issues. And most importantly, keep it light. Using humor is a great way to accomplish this and lets you say what you need to say without offending your roommate. The information supporting these findings came from analysis of 44 participants’ surveys.
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