Your Roommate May Not Be as Lazy as You Think

April 21st 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

Most people are, at some point, forced to share their living space with a roommate. And with that, comes drama.

Whether you're living with someone you just met, a friend, or an intimate partner, conflicts about chores and household (or dorm room) responsibilities often arise. 

Do you feel like you're carrying more weight and your roommate is taking advantage of you?

Although it's possible your roommate is simply lazy or messy, it's also possible that your perception of them is inaccurate.


Behavioral economist Dan Ariely recently responded to a question about roommate conflict in The Wall Street Journal.

"I’ve been living with a roommate for six months, and we divide up the household responsibilities pretty evenly, from paying the bills to grocery shopping," the questioner wrote. "He says, however, that he feels taken for granted — that I don’t acknowledge his hard work. How can I fix this?" 

Ariely said that it's common for roommates and married people to overestimate their own contribution while underestimating other people's work.

Ariely said this happens because we know the details of our work, but we don't know the specific efforts of other people, so we tend to overestimate our own share. 

"The particulars of our own chores are clear to us, but we tend to view our partners’ labors only in terms of the outcomes," Ariely wrote. "We discount their contributions because we understand them only superficially."

Ariely recommended switching chores regularly so that everyone understands the true effort put into each task. Alternatively, roommates could describe in detail what they do in the house. 

If coordinating role switches sounds complicated, or describing chores sounds boring, there are other options. 

A chore wheel for eight people.

The Apartment Guide Blog's Courtney Craig recommends a chore wheel, and offers free downloadable versions for various living situations. "Before you and your roommate resort to fisticuffs over who will take out the trash, consider an easier, more peaceful solution: A chore wheel," wrote Craig. 

The wheel has spaces for each chore and each week the wheel spins and assigns a new chore to each roommate. 

"You and your roommate(s) will trade off tasks so everyone does their part and no one is stuck with the chore they hate for very long," she wrote.

RELATED: Here Are the Cities Where Having a Roommate Actually Pays Off