How To Keep Your Roommate Out Of Your Closet

Illustration by Sydney Hass.
Living with someone else has its perks and its drawbacks, but you've got to know how to iron out tricky situations as soon as the latter starts to outweigh the former — or know when it's time to pull the plug.

My own roommate scenario started off wonderfully. It was fun three months in — and then, it wasn't. The straw that broke this camel's back had to do with clothes. I've had jackets, hats, and coats ruined in more ways than any simple stain remover could solve. Doubling your wardrobe sounds like a brilliant idea at first, but sharing is caring, and sensitivity is key. 

For all of you out there who are currently at your wit's end with a flatmate who just can't seem to keep their hands off your stuff, read Lizzie Post's advice, ahead. The etiquette coach spills on how to reinforce (or set up) boundaries without ruining chill vibes, and a few ways to tell if you might actually be the annoying roommate.
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Illustration by Sydney Hass.
The Boundary Breaker

Q: I was excited to share clothes with my roommate, but then she started borrowing/taking my beauty products and food, as well. How do I establish boundaries without offending her?

A: "You have the ability to say, 'I love living with you, but there are a couple of boundaries we need to recreate with one another. I’m noticing some changes in the precedent we set and I wanna talk about it to feel good about the things we share and how we share them."
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Illustration by Sydney Hass.
The Clothes Ruiner

Q:
My roommate once took something of mine before I had the chance to wear it, and then returned it in terrible condition. How do I bring up the fact that I’d like it replaced?

A:
"Be totally honest about this. When it comes to borrowing between two people, you have to have rules in place in case things get spilled on, dirty, ruined, or lost. Otherwise, you'd each be losing things you care about. Whether it’s a sneaker or a jacket, that’s something you really care about, and it’s a lot harder when someone else loses it and ruins it and doesn’t replace it. Have closet rules: Certain items are on permanent loan, certain are off-limits, etc. You can say: 'It's okay, because these are a bit big on me, but if you’re going to wear them this much, I’d like them to be returned in the same condition they left.'"
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Illustration by Sydney Hass.
The Silent Copycat

Q:
I’ve noticed that my roommate, who I’m not that close with, has started buying the same exact clothes that I have and copying my style without acknowledging it. I don’t want to make a fuss about it, because it’s not that big of a deal, but it is annoying. Should I bring up the fact that she’s being a silent copycat?

A:
"She gets to buy whatever she wants, unfortunately; you can’t call poser once you’re in your 20s and 30s... If you notice your roommate buying the same things as you, it's not worth bringing up, as it's an example of a natural occurrence of living with someone whose style you admire. But remember: If there’s something you...haven’t worn yet — that's off-limits [for her to borrow]."
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Illustration by Sydney Hass.
The Halfsie

Q:
My roommate wants to go in on buying an expensive item together and split the cost 50/50. I wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise, but I know that she doesn’t take good care of clothes. Is it a good idea to just go for it? How can I make sure neither of us ends up with the short end of the deal?

A:
"Be true to your own budget. Start giving yourself those extra moments to think it over for a day and say, 'I’m really not gonna wear this that much.' Don’t impulse decide like you'd impulse shop."
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Illustration by Sydney Hass.
The Carrie

Q:
My roommate loves to shop and is constantly buying things, but she always complains about not being able to afford rent. I manage our bills and constantly have to tell the landlord why our check is late. Lately, I’ve found myself saying incredibly passive-aggressive things to her when she gets packages delivered to the apartment or she comes home with lots of shopping bags. How do I stop, and what can I do?

A:
"It’s possible that her parents pay her credit card bill or something, and therefore she can shop a lot on credit, but having cash to pay the landlord or bills may be harder for her to pull together. Before you go into a conversation about finances, remind yourself that you don’t know what her situation is. Be frank and direct, but respectful. That’s the key."
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Illustration by Sydney Hass.
The Insincere Volunteer

Q:
I just moved in with a roommate who has the most amazing clothes. I complimented her on her style when I first moved in, and she offered to lend some to me! I really want to borrow something for an upcoming work party, but we’re not very close. She’s generally a very private person and hasn’t brought up the clothes-sharing since I moved in. How do I broach the subject?

A:
"You can always ask, but when you JUST moved in, it’s important to be proactive when setting up boundaries. If you like a certain item of theirs and want to borrow it for a work event, assure them you'll dry clean it upon return — but you actually have to do it. Though, if they say it's their favorite piece, do not borrow it under any circumstance."
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Illustration by Sydney Hass.
The Creepy Klepto

Q:
I’m pretty sure my roommate is wearing my clothes, but denying it. Is it too much to get a lock on my door?

A:
"Never a good idea. Putting a lock can definitely be a physical barrier that can make people feel like you don’t trust them anymore. That’s too far. But, if you start noticing after you’ve had the conversation about restructuring the boundaries [that] stuff is still missing or being borrowed without asking, [then] you might start thinking about a lock on your bedroom door."
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Illustration by Sydney Hass.
The Freeloader

Q:
I work at a fashion label, and my roommate is always asking me if I can get her a discount. She knows that I’ve bought my family things before on the rare occasion, but I don’t want to get in trouble at work. What do I do?

A:
"Decide if that’s something you’re gonna let her have access to or not. It’ll get really awkward if you sometimes let her have it and sometimes don’t, so keep it consistent — and moderated. It'll get suspicious if she uses it more than you."
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