There are real barriers to shared housing. Very few people want to move. It takes energy, and change is disruptive. You need to follow a good selection process to do it well. It is much easier to stay in the home you already know and love. In fact, moving is considered one of life’s stressors, right up there with dying. Of course, people say that they want to age-in-place. Who wouldn’t?
The human being is quite amazing. We are so capable of ignoring or denying our reality. I remember a conversation with a 92-year-old woman who “wasn’t ready yet” to live in shared housing. What she really meant is that she didn’t want to share her housing. She had an entire second floor that was unoccupied.
But what about the 70-something friend who lives alone who fell down her staircase and was found by a friend she had a date to walk with? Right now, (Jan. 16. 2020) the friend is in an induced coma because she has brain bleeding. We don’t know how long it was before she was found, we don’t know how she will be when she comes out of the coma. She is another friend who isn’t interested in shared housing.
We deny our age and all the losses that come with it: mobility, balance, eyesight, hearing, stamina. We pretend that our bodies are as they used to be, contrary to the evidence. We deny that living alone creates problems for us. In fact we may not even be conscious of all the little ways that our lives become constrained and limited.
Another barrier is a fear of loss of privacy. It is true that with home-mates one can’t close the front door of one’s home and be completely alone. But you can close the door of your bedroom (and sitting room if there is one) and be alone. A closed door on a bedroom indicates “leave me alone.” It is also true that in a cooperative and comfortable household what was once “my” privacy can become “our” privacy. In other words, what happens at home, stays at home.
Fear of the Stranger
Why do we live in a society that is more afraid of the stranger than welcoming that same person? This is not the way it was in ancient cultures. Christianity, Judaism and Islam all have bedrock tenets about the importance of welcoming the stranger.
This is a serious question.
We have been conditioned to fear. Our media diet feeds us continual stories of the meanness of the world. What researchers in the 1990’s found is that those who watch more than four hours a day of television expect the world to be a mean and dangerous place (Here’s a youtube video on the “Mean World Syndrome”). Since most televisions are on for more than seven hours a day, we are teaching people to fear.
The truth is that there are lots of nice people in the world. You are one of the nice ones, right? There are a lot of people who through no fault of their own do not have enough money to make ends meet. Currently in the United States, a full forty-four percent of those who are fully employed earn less than $18,000 a year. The average Social Security payment is $1,470 a month, $17,640 a year. Lots of people have less than that.
The best response to this barrier is to simply not let a stranger move in. Get to know a potential home-mate so that person is no longer a stranger and have discussions about how it would work before making any decisions. Use our interviewing guide. Check references.
Evicting a Bad Choice
Getting rid of a horrible housemate is not fun. But why is there a horrible housemate? Every story I’ve heard about a bad situation comes about through an incomplete, ineffective or non-existent selection process. Every. Single. One. This is why we teach how to do the selection process and to trust your own intuition when something doesn’t feel right. You should read Sharing Housing: A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates or take our courses.
Maybe the biggest barrier of all is resistance to change. “I like living alone” is a very common statement. We need to recognize that what might have worked well in younger years with a work schedule is very different once retired. In our culture, living alone has been the default when a long-time spouse dies.
Change can also be invigorating and offer perspectives we didn’t know before. Joann’s story of living with her son and friends fundamentally changed her life and made her healthier. Kathleen and Janet fell into living with one another. Their story is a sweet surprise. There are many stories of people who living in shared housing on this website.
These barriers—denial, privacy, fear of the stranger, fear of needing to evict a bad choice, and inertia—keep people from pursuing shared housing. But learning how to select a good housemate and getting clear about what is real for you can make all the difference. If you’ve read this far, please take advantage of the resources we have for you. We can help you create for yourself a strong and clear vision of how the change you are considering will improve your life.
Photo by Luis Machado on Unsplash
Do you agree that these are the barriers? Did we miss any?
As a successful partner in a home sharing situation I’ve encountered each of the objections when talking about it with others. Get over it! Sharon and I are both better off financially and emotionally since sharing a home for 3.5 years.
I have to admit that I can identify with each of those barriers. Every. Single. One. So I appreciate the post very much. You’re helping me see myself more clearly, as I gradually – ever so slowly – face the fact that I’d be better off in shared housing.
Oddly, this post helps me imagine that it would feel better living in shared housing, as much as I really love my nest and often hear myself say, “I love living alone.” Thank you, Annamarie, for your clarity and your enduring voice for shared housing. You’re making it possible for me to move toward a very significant change.
I have been developing a “Golden Girls” home for the last three years (out of necessity, but now fun). It takes work, but it is a much better way of living. We each have friends to come home to, and we are able to be supportive to each other in our daily lives. I also think it keeps us young in spirit.
This post touches upon the reality that seniors are often their own worst enemies
when it comes to allowing others close to them (such as a potential roommate or housemate) in order to improve their situations. You explain why this is the case quite clearly.
The phenomenon is an unusual one in that an elderly person living alone is far more vulnerable to negative experiences (such as home falls & accidents, burglary, theft, etc…) than two or three elderly persons living together. There indeed is safety in numbers; for seniors this is especially true. Their fear, however, perpetuates problems of lonliness, safety, finance, and more. It’s similar/analogous to smokers refusing to quit for fear of becoming obese.
Perhaps even worse is the tendency for corporations and financial institutions to capitalize on this fear as opposed to help correct it, as you are doing with this blog and your upcoming book. Take “reverse mortgages” for example. How necessary would these high-cost loans be if seniors were more apt to share a home and expenses? I look forward to reading more!