It can be hard to manage personal items when sharing housing, who gets to decide what goes where? That’s why it’s important to be mindful of your situation and work to be inclusive of your home-mates needs. Here’s an example of a problem arising around a personal item from two real life home-mates.
Deb and Sharon have lived together for four years in an arrangement that both find completely satisfactory. But moving in was not completely smooth. Deb writes, “Deciding whose coffee table would remain in the living room was one of our first challenges. Hers was a mission door that was lovely and old, and she treasured it because of the person who gave it to her; mine was a piece of glass on a piece of dried polished river wood a friend of mine had made. The agreement we had made was that I would have the “front part of the house,”’ which is where the living room is. Therefore, I thought I should automatically have the right to put whatever I wanted in there. She was pretty attached to her table, and since it was her house she could do what she wanted. She realized she could insist that hers stay, but then I might choose not to live with her, and she’d end up in assisted living where the table probably wouldn’t fit anyway. So, she quit – I won, and the homeowner/home seeker balance was restored.”
This is a rich story that shows some of the tradeoffs necessary when choosing to live in shared housing.
Types of Housing
While there are many different ways to share housing, how the personal items of the members of the household are managed can make the difference in how the household feels and how housemates engage with each other.
At one end of the spectrum is the householder (the person who owns or has the lease), who provides furnishings for the room(s) being rented. I once had a class participant announce that she planned on providing all the furnishings and that she didn’t want other people’s stuff in her house. She was planning on offering her home to older men who needed a place to live. Did it work out? I’d love to know. Most people of a certain age do have their own belongings and therefore a fully furnished room would not be attractive. It would be attractive to students or workers who need housing for a limited time period. For instance, this works well when the home-sharer actually has a home elsewhere but just needs a place during
the work week.
In the middle of the spectrum, the most common arrangement is when the householder offers a room or two that has been emptied and the new home-mate moves into those rooms with all their personal items. They might have some space in the kitchen for their own kitchen utensils, a shelf in a pantry, a drawer or cabinet that they can use. I’ve heard of households where each resident was expected to keep their kitchen stuff in their own rooms.
The other end of the spectrum is when homesharers move in together and distribute their belongings throughout the house as fits their taste and needs. But what happens if there is a clash in taste? In what one person wants to see in their living room but another can’t stand?
When Jean, Karen and Louise bought a house together there they were in the midst of happy chaos, amidst boxes lining the living room, and furniture waiting to be placed. Then it happened, out of the boxes came an atrocious lamp, a hideous painting, an ornate but rusted hammered tin mirror. Everyone saw something she absolutely hated, but no one wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings. What to do?
Suddenly someone said out loud, “That lamp is a really fabulous Personal Space Item,” or PSI for short. PSI is the perfect humorous euphemism, a nice way of saying, “No way!” It’s a easy way to tell your home-mate what personal items belong in the shared space, and what personal items belong in their personal space. There are many variations on the theme, like “Oh that will look wonderful in your personal space.” A light touch can diffuse a potentially sensitive situation. For Jean, Karen, and Louise moving day proceeded with no serious hurt feelings and they created a home that worked for three individuals with definite and distinct tastes. “PSI”: we get the message, and smile—usually.
Figuring out how to manage personal items is one of the challenges of living in shared housing. If you want to create a home with others, it’s important that the personal items of all are in some way included. In Deb’s case it turned out to be important to have her coffee table as a way of having her feel at home. For Jean, Karen, and Louise it was being able to say “Nope, I don’t want that in our common space.” It can be a symbolic inclusion of an item into the common space— – a lamp, a picture, a chair. It doesn’t have to be a wholesale rearrangement, but there should be some space. A shared house where the common areas only contain items belonging to the householder will feel like boarding house and not like a shared home. A house where the common areas contain items belonging to everyone in the house will feel like home to all the residents.