I have friend who owns a fourth-floor apartment in New York City. It’s a walk up. She lives alone. She’s been there for thirty years and is now in her seventies. It’s a great apartment, with access to the roof and a view of the New York City skyline. As I’ve worked on shared housing and become more aware of the aging process, I realized that she is in a precarious situation. What if she should have an injury or surgery that would make it impossible for her climb those stairs and be home? Worse yet, what if she simply isn’t able to go home and other people will have to pack up her things and do it for her because she can’t? I raised the topic once. She replied that the flights keep her in shape.
Resistance to Change
Resistance to change, denial that one needs to change, is such a common human experience. We don’t like to change – and as we get older it gets harder. As the wag once said, “The only person who likes a change is a wet baby.” We are creatures of habits and of routines. We put up with what isn’t completely great in our lives because making a change takes effort, time, money, and, most likely, some not so pleasant emotions. How much easier it is to continue as we are…until it isn’t.
One change model I learned years ago says that change starts with pain. We have to get unhappy enough with our current situation that we are willing to risk a change. For instance, in this interview it was the silence of her home that bothered her. Or in this story – her discovery that she didn’t feel safe living alone. For many, it’s the painful realization that they simply don’t have enough money on their own to pay for housing. (So true for so many in America these days.) After this Covid year of social distancing, more people seem to be open to shared housing, perhaps because the loneliness is/was painful. It’s hard to change when in the grip of pain. The sufferer may feel powerless to change their situation. They may feel themselves to be weighed down and trapped rather than an active agent who can do something different.
Pain is the starting point of change. Next is awareness: where is the pain, what is it, and what options exist for creating change? Our work at Sharing Housing helps to create the awareness that that shared housing can be a solution. But awareness alone does not change make. An individual has to choose to make a change, to choose differently from what was before. From choice flows action, and from action, steps.
It is well known that moving is one of life’s stressors. It’s right up there with death, divorce, and job loss. Though there are a few people who enjoy moving, most of us drag our heels. And as we get older it gets harder. We have more stuff—more mementos of our life, more clothes, more of those things we collect that end up in closets and on shelves. Moving requires going through them all and deciding what to keep and what to pass on, whether to a yard sale, a family member, or the trash can. It takes energy and work. Making space for someone to move into one’s house also takes work – though not as much. It’s not too surprising that people who think shared housing is a great idea never actually do it.
Ten years ago another friend claimed she wanted to live in shared housing. Her home had the space once she cleared out a room in which were a many boxes and other things. She kept postponing the task and never actually made room for a housemate. She died this February of a cancer for which she went through two series of treatment over the past two years. The last time I spoke to her she said with relief in her voice, “I have 24/7 help now.” How much of the last two years would have been easier and better for her with someone else living at home? Not as a caretaker, but simply another person around? Eight, ten years ago she missed the opportunity to create a shared housing arrangement. I always thought the boxes were her excuse – she didn’t want shared housing enough to make it happen, but oh how I wish she’d had the comfort of companionship, especially through the Covid isolation.
Moving or making space for another (others) is a barrier to shared housing. Denying that you need to make a change is another. Getting past that barrier, finding the energy for the work requires a vision that pulls you towards your better future.* Having help, whether paid or volunteer, a friend or a professional organizer, motivates and creates a schedule for doing the work. And of course a deadline forces the issue!
Have you experienced a reluctance to move? Denied that you needed a change? Found a way to break out of what wasn’t working for you? Let us know what worked for you in the comments.
*Check out our mini-course 5 Key Benefits of Shared Housing for reasons why shared housing can be a better future.