Rental Rookie

Rental Rookie: Basic steps in the roommating dance

By Michelle Castillo  | March 16, 2011 - 9:45AM

I recently reminisced with Mike, my first roommate in New York, about the good times we had in our small railroad apartment. Now a Las Vegas resident, he agreed that despite our past experiences with roommates (I had shared space back in Los Angeles), when we moved to this city, where apartments are more cramped, we discovered both how lucky we were and that we had a lot to learn.

Part of what made living with Mike so fun was that we were compatible. We had met through a mutual friend a few years back, before I had even decided to move. We knew early on that we were both night people, and that negotiating things like who got which room and who would buy the furniture would be fairly easy. By contrast, some of my friends chose low rent over someone they got along with. Bad idea. One broke her lease, rather than pay for an apartment in which she could no longer comfortably live.

That didn’t mean Mike and I didn’t have our problems. We quickly discovered that part of the challenge of living in a railroad apartment was giving each other space. For Mike, privacy was almost nonexistent, since to get to the bathroom or the living room, I had to walk through his bedroom. A simple knock or advance-warning yell that I was coming through went a long way. So did my limiting walking around at night, when I knew he had to sleep.

Then there was our small (5 feet-by-7 feet), cozy living room/dining room, into which we managed to fit a television, futon and coffee table. Now, I’m a couch potato, while Mike loves playing video games. In a concession to peace and tranquility, I learned to watch some favorite programs on the computer in my room, so Mike could use the TV.

Our kitchen could have become a major battlefield, because I love to cook elaborate meals and Mike, who always came home late, simply needed to make something to eat. Worse, I’m guilty of leaving dishes in the sink until I have time to do them, which meant leaving Mike with no pots or plates unless he cleaned up my mess.  Our solution: I changed my do-the-dishes-whenever-ways, and we agreed to better divide our apartment chores, so no one felt like they were playing fulltime housekeeper.

Managing bumps in the roommate relationship is hard enough when it’s just the two (or three) of you. Throw in guests and you have a volatile mix. Mike and I agreed to check with each other before bringing people home, and I always tried to usher my friends into my room, so Mike could comfortably roam. Since his room was a lot smaller than mine, when he had friends over I gave him the full use of the living room, too. With space—and good roommates—at a premium, we wanted our apartment to be a refuge, not a place to avoid.

Next Up: I manage spring cleaning, and survive.

Michelle Castillo moved from Los Angeles to Manhattan to attend Columbia University's Journalism School. She has covered arts and entertainment for The Los Angeles Times,, Hollywood Reporter, and, and she currently writes about geek culture for's Techland. Rental Rookie is a twice-monthly column chronicling her first year as a renter in NYC.




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