Have you ever considered how amazing it is that humans come in so many different sizes, styles and shapes? Each one of us is unique. As a Yogi tea bag says, “There is nothing like you, there was nothing like you, and there shall be nothing like you.” (I have this taped to my computer stand.) Our differences are amazing and make the world go around.
When it comes to shared housing, how do we account for those differences? How do we figure out the puzzle of living with others under one roof peacefully and comfortably?
Shared housing is not like a jigsaw puzzle.
By definition, the jigsaw puzzle is a defined, finished product and the pieces fit only in one place. Each puzzle piece is predetermined to fit into the whole. Nor is it like any other puzzle which, again, has one solution when it’s completed. People are different, so it’s not possible to fit them in as if the shared home is a jigsaw puzzle.
Sometimes I worry that householders try to control too much what happens in their homes. I worry that they want their homes to be “just so,” as if the home is a completed jigsaw puzzle. Something happens that they don’t like, and they create a rule to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Then another thing happens, and they create a rule for that. As time goes on, the list gets longer and longer.
When a prospective home sharer is interviewed to move in and is given this long list, how do they feel? Do they really read each rule and make a full internal commitment to follow it? I think it depends on the potential home sharer and their own situation. If they’re desperate for a place to live, they’ll sign anything whether or not they’ve actually taken in what the agreements are. They might look at all the rules and decide they don’t want to live like that and walk away. It’s also true that such a set of rules can make them feel that the householder has standards, and it makes them feel safe. How would you feel?
Nor is shared housing like a sandcastle.
A finished sandcastle may look great (or not😎), but it simply doesn’t matter which grains of sand are used to build it. It’s easy to take out a shovel of sand and replace it with a different shovel of sand. Not so with shared housing. It matters who is in the home. Each person adds their personality to the home. One particular set of people living together will be unlike any other set of people. This is well known in group dynamics. When a person leaves a group, the group is changed. When a new person joins, it’s like starting all over again.
Skilled facilitators/managers/homeowners help groups incorporate new people and develop their new identity. In a housemate situation, this process might include revisiting household agreements made previously with a different group of people, and recommitting to, or adapting, agreements for the new group. It might include welcoming a change that a new member suggests. This can happen formally; having a meeting and being intentional about it. Or it might be organic, as for instance when a new member suggests having a communal meal and the group eats together for the first time.
Shared housing is like a kaleidoscope.
Sticking with images of play, shared housing is more like a kaleidoscope. The kaleidoscope is never finished but always shows a pattern. For a kaleidoscope, elements of different colors and shapes are put in a glass, and prisms reflect them to make unique patterns with each twist of the tube. So it is with shared housing. Each person brings their unique self—tastes, talents, pet peeves, sociability, styles and mannerisms, and so on—into the home.
You can screen for compatibility for how you live in your home (take our course to learn more). But the serendipitous patterns that emerge when people live together can be an ever-changing, lovely kaleidoscope of human connection, whether two people or ten live under one roof. What you want is to have elements that will work well together so that life at home is peaceful and comfortable.