Is the Golden Girls lifestyle here to stay?
AARP would say yes. According to a recent report, sixteen percent of people aged 50 and older say that they live in a shared household. And, according to the Census data analyzed by Veritas Urbis Economics LLC, nearly 2 million US households headed by a person 50 or older include a housemate, a roommate, or a boarder.
There are several demographic and economic trends that might be behind this. Lack of retirement savings. Ever-high housing costs. Divorce, especially late in life. Women seem to make up the majority of the house-sharing crowd. This could be due their relative longevity and the infamous savings gap.
So, maybe you’ve lost your spouse, or you’ve been through a divorce. You don’t want to sell your home and move. But, taking care of a big house and covering maintenance expenses is becoming a stress point. Perhaps you are thinking about your housing options in retirement and sharing living quarters with a like-minded person looks like an interesting idea. Here are some best practices that will help you think it through and make the best choice.
Let’s be honest. Bringing new people into your home is guaranteed to upset your normal routines. Even if you find a perfectly unobtrusive and thoughtful housemate, he or she will have become accustomed to doing things a certain way.
So, think about the rules you would need to set in order for the two of you to live side by side without getting on each other’s nerves.
Remember that a few big rules work better than a thousand little ones. Pick your battles wisely. Good clarity of expectations upfront will save you a lot of frustration down the line. If you dislike cats, don’t want any new paintings on your walls, or hate dishes left in the sink overnight, the best time to get honest about it is before someone moves in.
Expect some disagreements
Human beings bump into each other all the time, both literally and figuratively. No matter how well you’ve brainstormed your boundaries and “house rules”, new things will come up. For example, what happens if your housemate buys a coffee table for the living room that she adores – and you can’t stand? Or what if she brings in flowers that set off your seasonal allergies? How about romantic friends visiting overnight, or a stray cat that she can’t bear to leave in the street?
You may chuckle now, but the truth is that you can’t possibly solve all those conflicts preventively. So, you need a plan for handling them as you go. Many housemates find that they like weekly chats as a regular space to clear up misunderstandings and keep the living arrangement comfortable for everyone.
Finally, know when to call it quits
Not every housemate relationship is going to work out. Someone might tell you that she has one small dog, then show up on moving day with two Saint Bernard puppies. Surprise!
In all seriousness, it helps to draw the lines ahead of time. What would it take for you to ask someone to move out? Your first answers will probably be too broad. Continue to dig deeper until you get to the heart of the matter. Here are some examples.
- “Housemate not taking good care of the house.” How would you know that’s a problem? Would someone have to willfully destroy furniture or punch a hole through drywall? Or does leaving a water puddle on the hardwood floor set off the trigger?
- “Housemate being inconsiderate.” What might that look like? Leaving the hallway lights on overnight? Running a small load of laundry on the largest setting? Wearing perfume when they know it gives you a headache?
- “Not following the rules.” Here, too, it helps to know which rules you will uphold no matter what, and where you might show some flexibility.
- “Falling behind on the rent.” How many months? Would other compensation arrangements, such as helping with cooking or housework, be acceptable?
Resources for Boomers who want to share living space
If you are curious about a housemate arrangement and don’t know where to start, you’re in luck! There are many resources that can provide information and even connect you with others who may be looking to rent a room for financial reasons or companionship.
As always, the best place to begin is the people you already know. From friends to acquaintances in your choir or gardening club, someone may know someone who’s looking.