[Bella’s intro: I think we all want some combination of time alone and time together, but in vastly different proportions. That’s what I thought going into my research for How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century. I interviewed people and looked for relevant research from all across the spectrum, from people who love lots of time together, which often means that they enjoy living with other people, to those who crave their time alone and a place of their own. One of the experts on house sharing is Annamarie Pluhar. She’s written a book about it, blogged about it, offered wise advice about it, and, of course, practiced it. She has a place in How We Live Now, and I was so delighted when she accepted my offer to write a guest post. Thanks, Annamarie!]
3 Benefits of Having a Home-Mate: Guest Post by Annamarie Pluhar
Connie and Bev are home-mates. One now retired, the other working, they are professional women who are single. They share a roof and a home.
When the arrangement started Bev had just arrived in town for a job. She was actively house hunting. She expected to buy a house and live alone. But then she met Connie through mutual friends. Connie was living alone in the house in which she and her husband had started their family. When they divorced, Connie kept the house. Connie proposed that Bev rent her lower floor that has a walk out to the garden and its own bathroom. Bev agreed. It’s working so well for them that when Bev moved away for a period of time and came back she moved right back in.
A “home-mate” is a different relationship from any other relationship one can have. I’m coining this word because I think that a person of a certain age wants something different from what we usually mean when we say “housemates” or “roommates.” A home-mate is someone you like and respect, whose way of living at home is sufficiently compatible with yours that you are comfortable living together.
There are huge benefits for those who take the plunge and choose to live with a home-mate. These benefits are financial, emotional, and I think, spiritual.
Clearly, sharing the cost of housing means spending less money than when living alone. The difference can add up to thousands of dollars in just one year. Tens of thousands over a span of years. Even for those who can afford to live on their own, the extra money can be put to other uses: retirement savings, going back to school, helping out relatives or social causes, taking vacations or simply being able to afford a few more luxuries on a regular basis. Since Bev has moved in, Connie has been on trips to South Africa, India, Greece and Thailand. Think of the money Bev has saved on buying a house, selling it when she moved away and then coming back to town.
There is comfort in having another person around when that person is someone we like and respect. If there is someone at home, you get to have informal chit-chat. When there is someone to ask, “How was your day?” it gives you a little lift and helps you get out of yourself.
We are wired to be connected. Social connection is a need as real as food and water. Dr. Caciopppo has found that the pain of loneliness is a real pain, one that fires the same parts of the brain as physical pain. When we are hungry, we eat. When we are thirsty, we drink. Where in our society do we go when we want to connect with others? If you live alone, it can be very hard. It takes constant reaching out to have a social life.
Worse, it is not okay to admit that we are lonely, it’s shameful. Drs. Olds and Schwartz describe in their book, The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the 21stCentury, how many of their patients come to them complaining of depression when it fact they are lonely.
Managing the mundane tasks of having a home is simply maintenance. For some it can be drudgery, for others it may be spiritual practice, but in general the tasks just need to be done. When shared this work means a lighter load.
When there is an emergency, there is someone at home aware of it who can help. Sick with the flu? A home-mate already going to the supermarket can bring home tissues and chicken soup. It is much easier to ask for that help than calling a friend who has to drive across town. Lost your keys? A home-mate will have the house key. Car needs to be repaired? A ride to or from the mechanic can be a great help. For older people, the danger of falling down and not being able to get up is mitigated by the presence of a home-mate who will find them.
The practice of kindness and generosity is part of every major religion. It feels good to give and it enlivens our lives. I believe that our souls shrivel when we don’t have opportunity to act with kindness and be generous to others. When there is someone at home, it is possible to be both giver and receiver in little ways.
How to Find a Home-Mate
If you are with me so far you may be saying, “Yes, this sounds good but how do I do it?” I might suggest you start with my book, Sharing Housing: A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates, which takes you through the process of selecting a compatible person with whom to share a home. You might want to read some of the stories I’m collecting of real people sharing housing. You could complete the Housemate Questionnaire to get a sense of what your preferences and habits are. The Sharing Housing website exists to support you and the millions of people living alone who would benefit by having a home-mate. Sign up for our newsletter.
Keep your ears, mind, and heart open. Look around. Pay attention. There are potential home-mates everywhere. It takes being open to the possibility. That’s how Connie and Bev found each other.
About the Author:
Annamarie Pluhar, M.Div., became an expert on sharing housing through twenty or more years of personal experience combined with expertise in group process and interpersonal relations. A facilitator and training professional, she has worked with clients in Fortune 100 firms as well as non-profits. She is a graduate of Vassar College and holds a Masters in Divinity from the Episcopal Divinity School. Annamarie is also the owner of Patient, Sympathetic Coaching, providing remote and in-person coaching for people to get comfortable with their digital devices. She lives in Dummerston, Vermont with one two-legged and two four-legged housemates.
Photo courtesy of Annamarie Pluhar