How to Survive Living Off-Campus (Plus Pandemic Tips)

View of downtown London, Ontario, Canada and Thames River in AutumnWritten by: Aranyah Shanker, Western Sciences Student

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash 

It’s your first year living off-campus and suddenly the reality sets in: you’re an adult now. Not only do you have to stay on top of your school work, but now you have house chores to manage, roommate relationships to maintain, and bills to pay (unless you are fortunate to have your parents / guardians pitch in). Since we’re in a pandemic, you’ll have plenty of time to improve that work-life balance and this guide can help you make that transition.


Working from home gets challenging when your fridge and bed are just a few steps away. Here’s how to stop procrastinating:

1. Set up a schedule. Everyone promotes this and it’s super hard to stay motivated and committed, but you have to do it. Whether this means waking up at the same time every day, or eating at the same times - start a routine that incorporates lazy periods (for social media distractions) to keep your body in sync.

2. There’s no such thing as sleep banking. You can’t sleep for 2 hours, 3 days in a row and hope that sleeping 18 hours straight on the weekend will fix everything for you. Even though you believe you’re doing it out of necessity (read: you left all your studying to the last minute and have no other choice), take naps when possible and cut off access to devices at least an hour before bed. Some people like to read before bed, but if you haven’t touched a book since high school, practice a new skill that doesn’t involve a computer/ phone. Try: solving a Rubik’s cube, stitching a new embroidery pattern, playing the ukulele, making cue cards for your class notes, planning your next day’s routine.

3. Keep a clean work space. Since you’ll be participating in more Zoom calls for the year, find a spot with a non-distracting background with ample light exposure. Give your roommates a heads up (or put a sign on your door) before a call so you don’t get unexpected distractions. Some people prefer a minimalistic workspace, with almost nothing on the table, whereas others create a space with lots of personality. The key here is to find what works best for you and remove anything that can distract you from your work (sticky notes are great for reminders, but having 70 of them on your wall might not be helpful). Last key thing here is to avoid using your bed as a workspace because chances are – you’re going to fall asleep / go on your phone during a study session. Just don’t do it.

4. Stay active! If you prefer to avoid the gym to keep yourself extra safe during the pandemic, don’t use it as an excuse to not keep yourself active anymore! Choose what your end goal is. Become a consistent runner – invest in a good pair of shoes and maintain a good distance from others. Use the weights laying in your room – follow YouTube workout videos and have a roommate join so you stay accountable (you can use household items instead of weights – no excuses!). Want more structure? Free apps are available with catered workouts and incentive programs / reminders to keep you on track – make sure you keep good form however! I love doing group Zoom workouts with friends because watching others motivates you to try harder too (don’t over-exert yourself though!).

Ugh, Chores

Now that your parents / guardians aren’t close by anymore, you need to learn how to take care of yourself and your house.

1. Vacuum regularly. Set up a schedule with your roommates to make sure your house stays clean (everyone pitch in to mop / sweep or whichever). This makes sure that everyone is pitching in and that you’re not making vacuum noises when someone is taking an online test. This also includes vacuuming your room consistently! Too much dust build-up makes it very irritating, so open those windows and get started! (Note: this also includes clearing your room of plates and cups at least every other day)

2. Do your laundry promptly. Whether you separate your coloured clothing from the whites, or stick everything together and hope for the best – make sure to do it regularly! Don’t wait to do 3 consecutive loads and hog up the laundry machines, or at least plan laundry days with your roommates so you don’t overlap, since most likely everyone’s going to do it over the weekend. (Hot tip: bring 2 sets of bedsheets and body towels, so while you’re waiting for the dirty laundry to fill up, use your second set in the meantime – wash them often!)

3. Wash your dishes. Don’t let your dishes sit in the sink for too long! They grow moldy, it smells bad, your roommates will complain and it just gets gross. I guarantee you, it’s a lot easier to wash your dishes / cutlery right after eating than to wait for a full sink before cleaning. If you use a dishwasher, make sure to point the sharp utensils downwards so your roommates don’t get cut. Also, don’t load it with normal dish soap, because that becomes a leaking bubble mess – just buy the pods in bulk. If you are busy with assignments and can’t wash your stuff right away, message your roommates to let them know when you will wash them – it’s always good to be courteous especially when you share plates and pots! (Hot tip: buy sponges with handles at your local grocery store/ dollar store to make washing easier!).

4. Make sure to split the costs. If someone offers to buy the garbage bags, either e-transfer the difference or offer to buy other communal products (dish soap, toilet paper, kitchen towels, food seasonings…etc.) to make up for it! This is where making a group chat is really useful, especially if one person is the internet account holder. 

5. Who takes out the garbage? Some roommates decide to have 1 person as the cook, 1 person as the dish cleaner, and 1 person as the garbage disposer…etc. If not, sharing the garbage tasks is important! Use this garbage schedule to figure out what zone you’re in and use the given calendar (hot tip: print it and stick over the garbage can / on fridge) to write who disposes of the garbage each week. It’s everyone’s responsibility to check when it’s their turn, or ask another roommate to do it if they’re not home, especially because you can opt for phone reminders if you’re a forgetful person. Reminder that you can freeze certain foods to prevent throwing them out unnecessarily. Spend time going over the sorting rules; you should have 3 containers – garbage container, paper products recycling, and container recycling. PRINT THIS FLYER so you don’t dispose of your things improperly – remember, we’re adults now! 

Roomies VS Doomies

Now that you’ve already made a group chat, your roommates don’t have to be people you see once a week in the kitchen (unless you prefer that of course). While no one wants to share a house with that roommate, sometimes life just gets in the way – it is what it is! Here’s how to hopefully prevent conflictive roommates, or worse, prevent yourself from becoming one.

1. Respect their boundaries. If they prefer to use their own utensils, then kindly refrain from using their things, or at least ask before you desperately need to use them. Establish these habits early (when to group-clean the house, garbage rules, internet payments, noise control…etc.) by politely letting them know what your personal boundaries are. It's your responsibility to treat your roommates with respect and to have open communication. You can’t complain about your roommates if you never make the effort to let them know what you’re frustrated about (which you can do in an non-aggressive way)! I’ve heard many stories of friends having roommates they hate, but they never personally addressed the problem, and usually just hoped the roommate would figure it out themselves. We all hope people can read our minds, but sometimes people need a gentle push, then they’re happy to comply. THAT BEING SAID, if your roommate is clearly not listening, disrespecting your boundaries, or being rude in general, bring it up with your landlord and discuss what the next steps should be. You have every right to feel safe in your own home so don’t feel like you need to suffer in silence; check out Western’s Mediation Services to find out what you can do!

2. Let your roommates know if you’re having guests over, post-pandemic. There’s nothing worse than walking around your house in a towel, only to find a stranger in your kitchen - yikes. This goes for future get togethers or having someone sleep over - let your roommates know well in advance (Key: group chat)! It sucks having to study for a 9am exam, when there’s people downstairs and you have no way to get to a library. (Hot tip: follow the safety protocol for COVID-19 and do not host parties in your house - wait for the limits to be lifted before inviting your S/O over, and confirm with your roommates first, especially if they’re immunocompromised). If your friend or partner comes over often, ask your roommates if they’re okay with that and discuss a compromise so both sides are accommodated. (Note: discuss this early on!) **This advice is for when it is safer to do so, in the future, so please follow all safety regulations**

3. Communicating appropriately. Along bringing problems up early on, let them know if something they do is bothering you! Whether that’s leaving their gym bag at the front entrance, or not cleaning the dishes. On the flip side, if you notice a roommate doing something for you, like turning off the lights after you or washing your dishes, thank them so they know you noticed and try not to do it again! Everyone has a busy schedule so the closer you become with your roommates, the easier it is to share responsibilities and tell each other when there’s a problem.

Bills, Bills, Bills 

1. Stay on top of your rent. Don’t procrastinate on rent or utilities. Setting up reminders or having your parents / guardians remind you should be a priority. It’s also important to know your rights as a tenant, so read up on the Residential Tenancies Act. If you have any questions, connect with an Off-Campus Advisor at UWO for direction. (Hot tip: Ask whose responsibility it is for snow removal, yard management, light bulbs going out…etc. so you’re not paying for things that aren’t your responsibility).

2. Buy in bulk ONLY if you will eat it all. Having a roommate with a Costco membership card or a car is a heaven-sent privilege (read: pay gas money!). However, the bulk costs can be too tempting for your own good. Don’t buy large containers of yogurt, meat, or fruits for cheap prices and then end up throwing it away because take-out was more satisfying. As an adult, you need to be more sustainable with your food consumption and smarter with your spending habits (Hot tip: make a budgeting chart to track what you buy). You have options: buy your food with roommates to split the food, or section the food as soon as you get home and freeze what you won’t eat right away. I freeze my fruits to use for future smoothies and portion the meat to freeze if I know I’m going to use it a week later. Once again, reminder to practice safe social distancing at the grocery store, go only when necessary, always wear a mask and if you wear gloves, don’t cross contaminate with your phone and wallet. (Hot tip: buy reusable freezer bags from your local grocery store / dollar store)

3. Internet payments. Always ask for student discounts before choosing a product and see if you can negotiate different perks with company reps. Similar to paying your credit card bill (Key: pay the minimum amount as much as possible), and set a reminder and pay on time so you avoid late fees.

In conclusion, living on your own can be tough but super rewarding with the freedom and ability to make adult choices. Treat your roommates the way you want to be treated, be as environmentally sustainable as possible (swap the above tips for eco-friendly ones) and be smart about your spending habits. You’re inevitably going to encounter bumps in the road, especially with a new style of online learning, but do your best! Whether my advice applies to you or not, hopefully it encourages you to try new things and make awesome friendships with your roommates. Have fun living off-campus!


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