How many friends do you have who rattle around in a house too big, or feel cramped in an apartment too small, or consider their housing costs too high, or feel hounded by household chores? How about you?
Thanks to modern medicine, we can anticipate long lives after the kids are launched, the marriage is over, or our spouse has passed away. If you’ve the money and inclination to spend this time cruising the world constantly, read no further: This article is not for you.
If, however, you love your home but…but…it’s SO much work for one person, or so big, or upkeep is so expensive, or it seems too silent, or you’re “done” with home ownership and are looking for a congenial living situation—if any or all of these things are true, it may be time to look into house sharing. Many tools are becoming available to help you identify a housemate and forge gratifying, long-term relationships with her or him or them.
Does the idea shock you or scare you? It’s certainly different from what we grew up with or envisioned for ourselves! Many of us remember when, among women, only “Wonder Women,” spinsters, widows, and heiresses had responsibility for their own finances—and for everyone, homosexuality was a scandal. These are some of the attitudes we have had to overcome.
But that was then and now is now. Thank goodness it’s a different world, and we have so many more options! Give yourself credit for more flexibility and openness to new experiences that you may have invited into your life recently. And know that you can take advantage of other people’s courage, experimentation, and mistakes to forge a sturdy path toward your own shared-housing adventure.
Here are some steps you can take to explore and get used to the idea:
- Start looking around. A friend once remarked that she’d never noticed brown Volvos until she bought one, then she suddenly saw them everywhere. House sharing is very common in expensive metro regions like ours, and not just among young adults. Ask around in groups to which you belong, whether at work, church, clubs, or at your favorite coffeeshop or wine bar. Inquire whether anyone knows people in non-romantic house-sharing situations. Most people like to talk about their experiences, so you can learn a lot this way.
- Explore resources. The AARP website has articles on home sharing, and websites specifically devoted to the idea include seniorhomeshares.com and sharinghousing.com. Both include tools to help you decide whether house-sharing would work for you. Sharing Housing: A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates by Annamarie Pluhar is another resource that can help you not just with housemate selection, but with problem-solving and conflict resolution as well.
- Start visualizing and mentally rehearsing. What would house sharing look like for you? What furniture, artwork, and objects can go to other homes to make space for someone else’s bedroom furniture, toiletries, and pots and pans? If you were to move into someone else’s place, what would you absolutely have to take with you? What would it be like to eat breakfast with someone else, and tell one another about your day?
If you’re still intrigued, you might take some small, reversible steps toward having a long-term housemate:
- If you’re a homeowner, sign up as an Airbnb host. While this is quite different from long-term shared housing, Airbnb provides excellent guidance on how to prepare your home for non-family-and-friend guests. They verify identity on everyone who rents and/or hosts through their platform, and you can usually see reviews of the users, too. If you’re not yet comfortable with hosting through Airbnb, try staying in one of their listings first. Short-term stays like this will quickly let you know whether you’re comfortable with the whole concept. Many communities have regulations about Airbnb hosting, so research these before you sign up.
- Seek defined-term housemates. If you live in a town with a university, contact the office of student affairs and see if they have grad students for a summer, semester, or year who are looking for housing. Such students often make ideal “beginner housemates”because they are serious about their work, spend long hours at the university, and bring few possessions with them. They are often great company as well.
So far so good? What have your learned about yourself and your preferences?
One woman liked the short-term tenants so much she’s sticking with them. Another hosted one nurse who kept everything clean and tidy, then another who left stuff everywhere. She likes having someone sharing the space but will only accept long-term, orderly people in the future. One man loved hosting a Chinese student because of the cross-cultural exchange. A hard-of-hearing woman hated her struggle to understand the heavy accent of her Portuguese guest.
Two homeowners, both self-described introverts, needed rental income but didn’t like outsiders living in their space. Each one took out a home equity loan and created apartments in their respective basements. This worked out excellently for both.
If you seek housing rather than offering it, your learnings will of course be different but just as valuable. For instance, a prospective home-share host will be concerned with income, reliability, and how well someone treats their space; a renter will focus more on location and transportation issues, the airiness of the room, and how much cabinet space is available in the bathroom.
Householders will also need to decide whether they prefer an exchange for money, for services, or for a combination. Some older people love inviting younger ones to share their space in exchange for help with house maintenance, cooking, transportation, etc. Companionship and learning new things sweeten the deal for both. Very commonly, the younger person commits to 10 hours of work each week and may or may not pay a token additional rent.
It’s important to note that this arrangement doesn’t work to address serious ongoing medical needs that require more rigorous scheduling and training than is reasonable to expect in exchange for lodging. On the other hand, if you have a heart condition and would simply like someone else to be there at night, sharing your home may be perfect.
After you have experimented with some of these ideas and thought through the questions, it’s time to assess. Will house sharing meet all your expectations? (The answer is no, but nor does your present situation, nor would any other situation. Utopia, alas, is not for this lifetime.)
What will you actually gain, and what will you lose? Will house sharing, on balance, offer an upgrade from your present living situation—enough of an upgrade for you to make the transition? If so, proceed with thought and purpose and bring your sense of humor along with you.
Judy Ruckstuhl Wright has written freelance for four decades, focusing on how to solve problems. Her topics have included creating a great wardrobe on a tight budget, caring for frail elders, and restoring antique cars. She lives in Seattle, near her daughter and grand-twins.