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Making Room for Two: How to Adjust to Life with a Roommate
Because downsizing is a fact of life these days, many renters and homeowners can, at a moment's notice, find themselves unable to pay the rent or the mortgage. It suddenly becomes necessary to find a roommate - and fast.
In previous articles, we've discussed the screening process and what kinds of questions you should ask before moving anyone into your home, whether he or she is a close friend or complete stranger.
In the rush to simply find a roommate we can trust, however, we often overlook the other insidious issues. How are you going to make space for a newcomer when you've been living solo for such a long period of time? After all, each one of us is set in our ways. Introduce a new element into the picture, and your routine is interrupted. How will you react? Consider the fact that your furniture is arranged just the way you like it.
Where is your roommate going to place his or her own furnishings? Are you willing to make room for some of those items, possibly rearranging yours or even placing them in storage? What if he/she doesn't own many items and has designs on your plates, your television, your kitchen table? Do you mind? If your new roommate is a family member, the issues become even stickier, and you'll have to tread lightly. A record number of new college graduates are returning to their parents' homes -- at least for the first year, when finances are tight, salaries are low and job stability can be uncertain.
And as a greater percentage of our national population reaches their 60s and above, we've witnessed many of them moving in with family members - even those who remain very active - simply because the cost of living makes a solo lifestyle difficult to maintain.
Regardless of your relationship to your new roommate or the size of your living quarters, both of you must have your own respective spaces in which you may shut the door and maintain a basic level of privacy. This is key to everyone's sanity. If you have to clear out that storage room you've been avoiding, or spend an extended period doubling your kitchen table as an office because you give your spare bedroom to your new roommate, then so be it. The importance - and, ultimately, the benefits -- of a good relationship with your roommate far outweigh any temporary inconveniences you'll face.
If you suddenly find that the combination of your own belongings and your roommate's is causing excessive clutter in your home, you may want to consider either hosting a garage sale (after all, the need for a little extra money is what prompts many of us to search for a roommate in the first place) or placing your belongings in a climate-controlled storage facility, many of which are cheaper than you might expect.
Some roommates opt for an existence in which they're two ships passing in the night; and so they shop for groceries and cook for themselves. If you want to save money as well as time, however, you'll consider splitting the shopping and cooking responsibilities with your roommate. Plan your menus weekly. Place a magnetic memo board on the refrigerator, on which each roommate may write his/her personal weekly shopping list (for snacks, breakfast items or other groceries you don't share). Roommates should alternate weeks making the trip to the grocery store. And plan to allocate a particular number of nights each week on which each roommate is responsible for preparing dinner. Be clear about your food preferences (obviously, a steak dinner won't sit well with a strict vegetarian).
Ultimately, meal-sharing will save you money and time. Be smart in your approach; prepare larger portions, and freeze the remainders for another night. In addition, you're less likely to rely on convenience foods, many of which have little nutritional value and tend to be significantly more expensive.
Household chores are a major point of contention among roommates. So set the record straight from day one. Create a list of who will perform what.
And be realistic. If your roommate would rather have a root canal than mow the lawn, how easy it going to be to coax him into this chore on a regular basis? If you feel the same way about lawn care, you might consider hiring a neighborhood teen to handle the job. You're paying for the preservation of your relationship, so it's a worthwhile investment.
If your roommate is a family member and isn't paying rent, determine immediately upon their arrival how they'll compensate you for the convenience of living under your roof.
If it's a parent, perhaps he or she can chip in weekly grocery money, pay for a meal in a restaurant once a week or assume an extra chore or two. If it's an employed child returning to the nest after college graduation, you may consider asking them for a small amount in monthly rent and/or to assume responsibility for weekly tasks - the grocery shopping, yard maintenance, taking the family out once a month for dinner, etc. Of course, these extras aren't a substitution for the expected tasks of doing his/her own laundry, dishes and bedroom and bathroom maintenance.
Introducing a roommate into a previously solo or empty-nester existence is never an easy proposition. But when you approach the transition with careful planning and open communication, you'll find yourself pleasantly surprised at the results: a closer relationship with your family members or a trusted new friend and confidante.
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