Help! My Roommate Eats All My Leftovers. What Do I Do?

roommate eating leftovers
(Source: Christopher Penn via Flickr Creative Commons)

You’re on the train home after a long day at work and you’re starving. All you can think about are the leftovers from last night’s takeout that are waiting for you in the fridge. How good it will feel to crack open that cardboard takeout box, settle into the couch, and dig in. Mmmm. The excitement builds as you key into your apartment, drop your bag and head to the kitchen… until you notice that the box laying at the top of the trash bin looks an awful lot like the box your leftovers were in when you departed in the morning. Dread fills you as you tentatively open the fridge and your worst nightmare is confirmed: Your roommate ate your leftovers… again!

Few things in daily life are worse than spending a whole day looking forward to an easy, delicious and most importantly FREE dinner only to find that your roommate took the liberty of enjoying your leftovers in your stead. If this scenario sounds familiar, never fear, you are not alone. This is actually a very common issue among roommates renting in NYC. As frustrating as it may seem, there are ways you can manage the issue without burning bridges between you and your roomie.

Set Some Ground Rules

The best way to deal with a problem like this is to head it off before it even happens. This approach can happen casually as you two are discussing plans for your shared living space. Perhaps say, “As for kitchen ground rules, can we agree not to touch one another’s leftovers?” This rule can be set even if you two are sharing other food in the fridge, just make sure you’re both on the same page about what is considered communal. Clarity is key.

Talk to Your Roommate

If you didn’t have a chance to establish a rule about leftovers before the first incident, addressing the issue right away is essential to setting expectations for the future. If you keep your mouth shut and silently fume, your roommate is not going to know how much they angered you. Not eating someone else’s leftovers may seem like common sense to you, but everyone grows up differently and such behavior may have been acceptable in your roommate’s childhood home. A simple, “Hey, in the future, would you mind not eating my leftovers? I was looking forward to that Thai food all day and it was a bummer to come home and find it gone,” may be enough to nip the situation in the bud.

Be Clear About What is Yours

It may feel a bit aggressive, but there is nothing wrong with being overly cautious and quickly labeling your leftovers before you pop them into the fridge. Not only will this serve as a reminder to your roommate about past conversations regarding expectations, but it will also eliminate the opportunity for your roommate to make excuses about “not knowing the food wasn’t theirs” should they choose to dig in any way.

Set Up Consequences

If you’ve already tried talking to your roommate and you find yourself labeling your food without much success, it may be time to utilize some behavior management tools. I recommend having another conversation with your roommate, explaining your request to refrain from eating your leftovers has not been respected. You could propose that the next time the situation happens, you expect them to pay for the loss of a meal. You could even go so far as to directly charge them for this cost on whatever funds transfer app you use. It may seem witchy, but affecting someone’s wallet can be a great motivator for change.

Get Your Own Fridge

If communication and fiscal consequences aren’t getting the job done, get your own mini fridge and set it up in your bedroom. Although it may make your room feel like the college dorm you thought you’d finally escaped, the peace of mind might be worth it. If your roommate violates your private space in order to commandeer your beloved leftovers, this leaves no gray area. Plus, maybe the arrival of a mini fridge will finally get the point across to your roommate that you are taking their poor behavior very seriously.

Move

If nothing seems to solve the problem and it’s a real deal breaker for you, you’re well within your rights to find someone new to take over your lease and move out. Or, simply do not renew your lease with the roommate at the end of its term. You do you, friend!

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