OK, I watched a lamestream media news report the other night. I swear I’m not ever going to watch network news again, but then I can’t help myself. Peering at the fuzzy picture brought to us by an antenna fastened to the back fence, I watched a local broadcast during dinner. CBS was attempting to enlighten us about how tough it is for the people on “fixed incomes” now that inflation and the falling dollar has taken about a third of our purchasing power away in the last several years. This old lady only had eight dollars left in her check book.
Oh, gee…. The poor lady and the millions like her who live in their several bedroom homes all alone and have to share the cat food…. WAIT A MINUTE! She’s living in a home with extra bedrooms all alone…. Why isn’t she renting rooms? Why aren’t elderly people ( or single parents, or anyone trying to save money and get out of debt, or pay off the mortgage), encouraged to share their homes with each other?
One little old lady on Social Security might only bring in $700 a month. Trying to live on that is miserable, especially when you figure in medical costs, etc. But, you take four or five little old ladies pooling their $700 checks – that’s $2,800 to $3,500 a month for a household! And, if some of those ladies owned homes of their own that they rented out to others, it could add even more income – a lot more. Add several hundred dollars per month to your social security check from renting your home out, and cut costs by reducing your expenses to a fraction of what they were in rent and utilities.
“Oh, I could never stand to live with other people!” they protest.
Well, why the hell not?
Why live isolated and broke when you could be surrounded by friends, doing things together, helping each other with chores, sitting down to eat together, and having some laughs? It would also take a load off that over-worked grown up kid of yours who is sacrificing her sanity trying to keep you intact all the time.
I was first introduced to communal living in 1968 or so at the SDS commune in
Later, I spent much of my 20’s living in homes shared with friends while we went to school, worked at entry-level jobs, and hoped to meet the loves of our lives.
Once we did, and the nuclear family was established, we no longer “had” to share homes with anyone other than the captive audience of our spouses and children. Unfortunately, for a lot of us, that meant we could be as rude and dysfunctional as we wanted to be until the children grew up and left. For most, it meant that we faced the challenge of raising a family and keeping a roof over our heads on our own, with very little help. We worked our butts off doing the best that we could. It wasn’t easy.
Living those nuclear family centered lives, mostly separated from the greater community, except for associates at work or church members, people may never develop the social skills needed to function well, living with others that they haven’t raised to think like them. When the kids grow up and the spouse dies, there’s nobody left who thinks your way of doing things is “normal” or the way it “ought to be.” They may not fill the toilet paper rack the same way you do. They may eat with less or more utensils. They may watch different T.V. shows. They may prepare unfamiliar food, or keep different hours. They may not be convinced by your vast knowledge of politics or your religious point of view.
All of which may be annoying. Ergo, “I can’t live with anyone else.” But, that can change.
When my husband died in 1999, I had just turned 50. I was working for a newspaper in Tahoe for ten dollars per hour. I had a son who had just started junior college. I had seven thousand dollars in credit card debt, and my husband died with no life insurance. And, I had a mortgage on our home for $149,000, the payments of which equaled my take-home pay. Yikes!
Renting out rooms kept a roof over our heads and led to the life Murph and I live today. I’ve written about it before. So, I won’t go over it again.
But, with that experience, I think both Murph and I would do it again, if and when we lose the other one, or we can’t handle this place by ourselves. We have all these active Senior Centers. Why couldn’t they have programs teaching the in’s and out’s of communal living? Support groups for living with others where you can share strategies and stories of what works and what doesn’t would be great. Group processes like using talking sticks and campfire councils could easily be introduced to help with group dynamics. How to ask for what you need, give feedback or criticism without rancor, or resolve hurt feelings aren’t so hard to do, especially if the people are motivated.
So, just maybe someday the lamestream might be able to offer some better advice than taking out a second reverse mortgage for some lonely, desperate lady trying to make ends meet all by herself.
Here are some pointers that I have found helpful over the years:
If you rent a room to someone, make sure that you have their name, previous address and phone number, nearest relative, doctor’s name and phone number, and driver’s license number in a folder handy in case you need it. This makes life easier if something happens, they move away and you have to forward mail or someone comes along looking for them, or they owe you money.
Put away the silver or any real treasures that you don’t want broken or lost when living with others (including step-children). Anything that would be really hard to forgive if damaged, put away or let go of. Buy your glasses and eating utensils at the Goodwill, so when they break (and, they will) it’s no biggie.
Figure out how people want to do food. Everyone takes one night a week to cook for everyone? One or two people are the cooks and the rest do the dishes? Each person cooks for herself, with one communal meal per week? There are no right answers – adjust as needed for the mix that you have.
How about chores? Everybody keeps up their own room, and common areas are cleaned together on Saturdays? Or, rotating chore lists. Or, individual talents – like John is the Handiman, Gracie is the Driver, Mandy is the Nurse, Sue and Bob keep track of the finances and vacuum. Whatever works.
Rules of engagement need to be spelled out. No wandering into other people’s private spaces unless invited. No nudity in common areas. Keep the bathrooms neat for the next guy. Quiet times and policy on having friends or grandchildren over to visit need to be set. Stuff like that can be decided upon during the weekly house meeting held after eating a meal together on a certain evening or day.
Usually, there are one or two people who are the leaders (or parent figures), and the rest fall in like brothers and sisters. That just seems to be the natural order of things in my experience. The leaders need to set the tone of friendliness, respect, tolerance of differing opinions, good humor, and limit-setting. At the very least, everyone needs to feel safe. Thievery or threats or intimidation must not be tolerated. This is especially true if younger children are involved or there are older ones who may be physically vulnerable.
Once healthy and empowering norms are established, affordable homes can be created that provide safety nets for each other, a tribe of friends, and some peace and dignity in times of the god-knows-what that are to come. Personally, many of the people that I have lived with over the years are friends of mine to this day. We still visit, call or write to each other, even though we may not have lived with each other since we were in our 20’s or since we lived in Tahoe. They were an enrichment to my life, I am grateful for each and every one of them, and I don’t know how I would have gotten along without them.