5 Tips for Merging Kitchens (from Someone Who’s Had 42 Roommates)

published May 16, 2018
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(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

I’ve moved a lot in my 31 years. Since I left home for college, I’ve had a new apartment approximately every six months — and usually, new roommates, too. In total, I’ve cohabitated with 42 different humans.

Along with those humans came dozens of different kitchens — so as an avid home cook, I quickly learned to streamline the coupling and uncoupling of saucepans, spices, and spoons. Whether your new roomie is only for a few months or for forever, these time-tested tricks should make the kitchen merging (and breakup) process go much more smoothly.

1. Keep only what you need.

Ever been barely able to open a drawer due to the utensils stuffed within it? Or had to push mugs around for 45 seconds before finding an arrangement that allows you to close the door? Yeah, you don’t want that to be your kitchen. So avoid the temptation to stuff your new space with every single piece of cookware you own.

If you’re moving into an already-stocked kitchen, look through and determine what’s missing. If you’re starting a new kitchen with another person, run through a list of must-have kitchen supplies and see what each of you can contribute. Maybe you’ve got a great microwave and your new roommate has a perfect pasta pot. Keep what you need; store, sell, or donate what you don’t.

(Image credit: Nasozi Kakembo)

2. Do NOT split new purchases.

When you decide to shop for those missing items, decide who’s going to pay for what. Although it’s tempting to split the costs, I’ve found it’s easier when stuff is either yours or your roommate’s.

Because, when you move out, are you really going to ask your roommate to buy you out of that toaster? Probably not. It’s easier for you to buy the toaster, and him to buy the blender. Then when you split ways, it’s all good!

And, by the way, I strongly suggest thrift-store shopping or stocking up at the dollar store. There’s no point in buying a fancy new pan when there’s a chance your roomie might scratch it with a fork every morning while making her eggs. (Save that for when you’re living with a partner and it’s way less awkward to chide them.)

3. Make an actual list.

Before bringing any products into your new kitchen, make a list of all the items you’re contributing, including pots, pans, utensils, and spices. Although it might seem tedious, you’ll thank me later.

Right now, you know exactly which items are yours, but you’ll quickly assimilate to everything in your kitchen — especially if you live together for a while. Believe me: When you move out, you’ll be so happy you have a list revealing whether that muffin tin was yours or your housemate’s.

(Image credit: Maria)

4. Carve out your own space.

Whether or not you decide to share some of your food (more on that below), it’s nice to know where to look when you open the fridge. I love having a set space for my own food in a shared kitchen: a shelf or two for dry goods, and a shelf and drawer in the refrigerator.

While you’re laying claim to shelves, don’t be afraid to personalize your new space either: Display a favorite hand towel, prop cookbooks on the counter, spruce up the fridge with your magnets and photos. Even if you’re moving to a space that’s already been decorated, these small touches can make it feel like home.

5. Set some ground rules.

Are you sharing the grocery bill? Or keeping food expenses separate? Can that pan be put in the dishwasher, or does it require special care? When moving in with someone new, it’s essential to establish kitchen ground rules before any tension builds.

As for bills, I’ve found it’s easiest to keep grocery purchases separate. It might seem simpler to share the costs and shopping duties, but differing budgets, tastes, and appetites can quickly lead to resentment. So the only things I split with roommates are condiments, oils, and basic spices.

That doesn’t mean, however, you should be stingy. If your roommate is out of eggs, offer some; if you’ve made a big pot of soup, share a bowl. And if you have any items that require special care — a cast iron skillet, for example — offer detailed explanations.

As with any good relationship, generosity and communication and good food are key. Follow the guidelines above, and you’ll soon be cranking out all three.

Have you had your fair share of roommates? Got any other tips to add?