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Living with Roommates: Lessons Learned

Cheesecake anyone?  It’s still a good idea to have four forks, a bottle of wine, and four mature women up late at night discussing world events, old boyfriends, and the latest gossip. 

Since 2008, I have shared my five-bedroom home in Maryland with four roommates. Living with others at this stage of my life has been more fun and rewarding than I ever imagined. My roommates have become an important part of my life. We throw parties together, meet one another’s friends, go to the gym together, and help each other out.

But there are occasions when living together can prove tricky. Here are some situations I’ve faced over the past few years and the lessons I’ve learned.

Trust Your Instincts, but Put it in Writing

Interviewing a potential roommate is a lot like a job interview. He or she will tell you what you want to hear. It is your job to listen below the surface and hear danger signals.

Not long ago, I interviewed a recently retired woman who was very positive and cheerful and talked about all of her activities and interests. We accepted her, and within a week we knew we were wrong. She had nothing to do with her time except complain, and complain, and complain. We were all too busy to pay attention to her.  Within three months, she complained about us, and moved.

This experience taught me to trust my intuition. Selecting a good roommate takes patience, but it can be done.

Regardless of whom you select, it’s important to have a written house agreement and lease to fall back on. (See examples in my book.) Even if you decide to rent on a month-to-month basis, you need it in writing. Don’t take anything for granted. Be positive and forthright in writing it, but…put…those…details…in… writing!

Differences Are Worth Discussing

Sometimes there are there significant differences in religious practices, eating habits, hobbies, or political interests that cannot be reconciled. For example. I love holiday decorations. My house is filled with stuff for every holiday.  I once had a great housemate—sweet, easy to get along with—but she belonged to a religion that didn’t celebrate the same holidays that I do.

One day, I said something about getting out the Halloween decorations, and her face went ashen.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it takes me two days to put up the Christmas decorations!  Within two weeks, she had given notice, and it was based totally on her discomfort with decorations.

I learned something important from this.  As the homeowner, you have to know what is important to you, and talk about it at the outset.  No one is ever right or wrong; there are just differences that need to be discussed.

Help Your Roommate(s) Settle in and Feel Comfortable

Sharing a space for the first time is hard. Each roommate has his or her own personal items and routines. As a homeowner, do your best to make sure your new housemate feel at home.

I get lots of questions every time I do a presentation or teach a class.  For instance, someone once said that she didn’t want her roommate receiving mail at her home. What?  It’s her home too!  Make her feel that way, and she will be a great person to live with!

I’ve learned that doing something special as a welcome for a new roommate works wonders. Start your relationship off right by planning a dinner together, going to a movie, or inviting him/her watch a movie together in the living room. Over time, your good will pay dividends!

Excerpted from How to Start a Golden Girls Home, available on Amazon.com for $14.99 in paperback or $9.99 in Kindle format.

Bonnie Moore is the founder of Golden Girls Network, the only nationwide network that helps adults’ ages 50+ find roommates and access the resources they need to make shared living work.  She teaches classes about shared living.


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