What makes shared space comfortable for everyone? After living in shared housing for more than 25 years, I’ve developed some principles for shared housing that you might find useful, especially if you are considering having a housemate and you are in a home with multiple rooms.
Many years ago, I lived in a ranch house with a single mom and her four-year-old son. It worked for me because my space was on a different floor than the other bedrooms. I was in the finished basement and I had my own bathroom. Outside my suite was a large room that functioned as an office and playroom for the household. I was able to put a large counter with drawers that my father had made for me just outside my suite. It felt like an extension of my space. Since these rooms were below ground there were windows up high, large enough that a person could crawl through in an emergency. There wasn’t much light but I could live with that. There was also an exit on that floor which, although I didn’t use it, gave me a comfortable feeling. All these elements made me comfortable in shared housing.
The most essential room is the bedroom, which will be the housemate’s personal space. For shared housing to feel comfortable, each inhabitant must feel that they have privacy when in their own space. It is good when housemates have bedrooms on separate floors. The separate floors provide a feeling of distance and separation. We’ve seen attics and finished basements converted to housemate rooms. Or more simply, one person on the first floor and another on the second floor. Many homes are built with master bedroom suites which are often separate from the rest of the bedrooms.
What’s problematic are bedrooms that share a wall. These bedrooms don’t offer much privacy, because when bedrooms share a wall, you usually can hear what is happening in the other room. That’s uncomfortable. There are ways to make walls more soundproof, which although requiring some effort might be worth it if the layout of your dwelling requires a common wall between bedrooms.
In middle-class America, everyone wants to have their own bathroom. That’s just true. If you have more than one bathroom, consider how each inhabitant would access their own bathroom from their bedroom. Think about getting up in the middle of the night to pee! Some homeowners opt to rent their master bedroom suite with a private bathroom to a housemate, choosing for themselves a different room that has access to a different bathroom. Sometimes a room with access to a half-bath can be converted into a bedroom for the purposes of shared housing.
Of course, it is possible to share bathrooms! I lived for six years with two housemates and one bathroom. It just requires coordinating a bit for showers and making space for each person’s toiletries. It helps to have the same standards of cleanliness!
Two Rooms and a Bathroom
Many people can see themselves living in shared housing if they have two rooms and a bathroom—one a bedroom and the other a sitting room/office. This idea of two rooms is, I think, more important for older people who are considering living in shared housing. After all, the person moving in is likely to have stuff—furniture, books, mementos—and needs a place for it all to go. They might be downsizing to live in shared housing. Rare is the person who doesn’t have stuff, unless they are moving from far away and/or have already dealt with their stuff like John and purposefully got rid of everything! Two rooms also give the person moving in confidence that they have personal space for activities beyond sleeping and dressing.
Of course, not all homes offer this type of space but maybe you can get creative. I knew a home sharer who basically had the entire second floor of a home, while the homeowner had a large master bedroom suite on the first floor. The kitchen, dining room, living room and family rooms on the first floor were all common spaces. Take a look at your home. Is there a way you can offer two rooms and a bathroom?
Can a housemate, can you, come and go without being observed by the other? Many homes have two or more entrances. In the aforementioned split-level ranch, there was a door into the kitchen and a front door that opened into the living room. If I just wanted to go to my room, I could come in through the kitchen and go down the stairs without disturbing what is happening in the living room. This helps with one’s sense of privacy.
The kitchen is often the center of shared housing. It needs to work well for everyone! This means that there needs to be space for the housemate in the fridge, on shelves, in cabinets and in drawers for their own food and kitchen stuff that they are wanting to bring into the house.
It is nice, but not necessary, if the housemate adds to the common areas something of their own. It’s a symbol of being a member of the household and not just renting a room.
Bedrooms, bathrooms, and entrances are all part of the physical realities of living in shared housing. You want to manage the space so that everyone has a balance of privacy and community. This is what makes everyone feel comfortable. This may suggest that you physically alter your space to accommodate home sharing. It takes work and thought and maybe some money. However, it’s an investment in having a home share that is comfortable for you and for your future housemates. Consider it an adventure into a new way of living!
For some more thoughts about transitions check out, Resistance to Change It’s So Human!
Check out our article on creating your own space.