Back in January our friends moved into our basement and we officially became ‘house-sharers’. A couple months ago, they decided to move into their in-laws which is closer to the house they are renovating and their work, church, school and life. This past week, they officially moved their things out of the basement and now we get to move all our junk back into it 🙂
The last nine months were definitely an adventure and I wanted to talk about the things we learned along the way that may or may not help you if you find yourself in a similar situation. People house-share all the time (friends, in-laws, family members, etc.) and I wish I had more info going into our adventure so in the spirit of objective-ness and helpfulness, we looked back at the situation with a critical eye and came up with these tips.
Here are the top things I learned from sharing a home with friends…
1. Verbalize boundaries and expectations early
Boundaries are really healthy in any relationship and should be set up as soon as possible especially when you house-share. In our situation, Jeremy and I were very verbal with one another about our personal boundaries. We felt like living in the same house as another couple meant that we would treat the entire basement as their home. A separate and distinct home. We literally locked the basement door to the first floor and if we wanted to talk them, we would walk around to the exterior basement door and chat. The kids had to treat it that way also. Since we are really conservative (as our friends are too), we also did not ever want to have the appearance that something damaging to our marriages was going on. Jeremy and I discussed what we felt comfortable with and decided that since it was their home, we as individuals would never be in their space with only the opposite spouse. That is something we wouldn’t do with someone else anyway so it felt like the most logical way to avoid “the appearance of evil”. That is how rumors start and so we never wanted to even flirt with damaging gossip. Obviously other people are going to have different personal boundaries so you have to decide for yourself your level of comfortableness.
Expectations are the same way….we are good friends with Brook and Kent and probably would have hung out more with them but we also realized that we had connected very little in the last year….so we didn’t know what our social interactions together would include. I think this is an area that we failed at! We as the ‘host family’ wanted to respect their privacy so much that we probably neglected to invite them to things. We chalked it up to “oh they probably want their own space” when really we should have talked about that more with them. Did they want to be included in events and stuff they normally wouldn’t attend? Are they interested in socializing with more movie nights? We really didn’t know! I think looking back that we definitely could have been more social with them.
2. Common areas are best used as tidy-areas
We Bowers tend to be a little messy…ok…a lot messy. But there is one area that we try very hard at keeping tidy….the yard. We have rules about the toys in the yard. We just don’t leave them anywhere and after the kids play with them, we tell them to clean them up before coming inside. Since our yard is so big and we have so many toys, you can imagine that can be a major chore if we just let them stay out. Jeremy calls the yard “His Domain” and he gets a great amount of pride keeping it nice and tidy. Well, if our friends kids had toys outside, it was kinda awkward at first….how do we breach that conversation about our yard rule? It’s kinda weird to tell someone else’s kid to clean up. So for a while Will and Weston cleaned up all the toys that were brought out before we decided to talk to our friends about it. Jeremy talked to Kent about their girls helping out and they understood and talked to their kiddos who did a great job of helping but it definitely was something we could have avoided all together if we had set that earlier. In my personal opinion, if it is a shared space (like a yard or a living space even), both parties should leave it as clean as they found it. That may sound elementary but I think for our situation, it worked the best.
3. Don’t try to DIY in a hurry or after they move in
It’s nearly impossible to do any renovations after another family has moved in. NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE. When we cleaned out the basement, we thought – oh, they will move in, and it will take us one month to finish the kitchen down there. NOPE. It took longer! Again – a major fail on our part but renovations just take SO long! We do a lot at nap-time DIY activity and it throws a wrench in the plans when there is another kid napping in the next room over…or when you are in someone’s space and you have to be anti-social just to finish. I mean…these were our friends….we wanted to talk! We literally squeezed the laundry nook and kitchen (I’ll share this soon) whenever we could and it still felt like it was a weight over our heads. I definitely recommend finishing all DIY before people occupy any space.
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate
When you decide that house-sharing is a possibility, I recommend that you immediately communicate some vital information. First….talk about money. Can you really afford to have someone in your space? You will have increases in water bills, electrical bills, trash collections, gas, and possibly even increased accommodations (Do you have to renovate anything to make the space livable? Do you need a bigger water heater? Will you cover pest control or cleaning services? Are you ready for damages and the cost associated with that?) – all these things cost moolah and you have to decide if you or your house-mates are going to pay for that increase or even rent. We did not charge our friends rent but we did ask that they cover the increase in utilities. It’s also necessary to communicate about move-in dates, move-out dates and contingency plans. I also recommend talking about little things….where to park, what you plan to do about mail (will the host collect and then be responsible for delivering? Will the guests get a PO box? etc.), what the trash/recycling schedule is, what is off-limits (like storage areas or liabilities), will you be changing locks or expect help with keeping up common areas. It’s best to talk about all these things and more up front. Figure out what volume is too loud between floors so that you can respect quiet times (we failed at this! I am sure they heard us yell all the time!), figure out the best way to communicate between the adults (group texts? the guys? the girls?) and talk about rules to limit liability (we strictly enforce the helmet rule when riding bikes and their girls quickly learned that Miss Katie yells and waddle across the yard with a helmet if you forget!). Try to think of every situation and face that in discussions first. Both Jeremy and I learned rather quickly that we are still learning to communicate with one another….and then throw another couple in the mix and it’s definitely a learning experience!
5. Anticipate major and minor life events
When Jeremy invited our friends to use our basement, we obviously had no idea that I was pregnant with Maxi Knight. I didn’t find out until later and let me just tell you….if I had known, they probably would have never moved in. I am like a caged animal when I am pregnant. And don’t get me started about postpartum. Plus, I am constantly sick when I am growing a baby. So basically, that little unknown became a big game-changer. Obviously, we didn’t anticipate that one…but if there is something you can anticipate – try your best to communicate and prepare for those as far in advance as possible….weddings, events, trips, vacations, work events, etc. all can throw a wrench in daily life if done in YOUR shared space or near it. Imagine someone all of a sudden throwing a birthday party in your back yard….it could ruin your Sunday nap routine or could be your ticket to a frosted cupcake….communication, anticipation and planning about those life events is the difference.
6. Realize that House-Sharing is an adventure
Life is a grand adventure and realizing that you are very different people with different plans, hopes, dreams and expectations is very healthy. I never thought about how much Jeremy and I value staying-at-home time until we lived with our friends (who are always on the go). We are basically hermits comparatively! And I also never realized that we ate so many noodles for dinner. I know that seems weird but every time we shared a meal with them, it was another noodle dish 🙂 I think living the shared-lifestyle is full of unexpected turns and kinks in the road but in general, it is what you make it! You can complain that the water heater isn’t big enough or you can try to wash dishes when nobody is showering…the choice is yours…(this actually is a thing we struggled with….a small water heater!). The biggest thing is that you have to be open to learning more about yourself.
7. Remember the ultimate goal
For some people, house-sharing is purely a financial decision. That’s ok! There is no shame in your game! You are basically renting out a space to help cover the overall costs and providing a lifestyle for your family and that other person. For others, the ultimate goal could be to have a more quiet lifestyle or be more social or to downsize or to be closer to work. The ultimate goal could be anything really. For us, our ultimate goal was to maintain our friendship while providing a temporary space. In the end, I learned that we did do that and the bonus is that we have so many wonderful memories of our time here together. We gathered around our dinner table so many times, we watched the world’s worst movie, we did a patriotic parade and went to dinner and commiserated about being outnumbered by the kiddos, we entertained and we threw birthdays, we cried and laughed and celebrated two new baby boys. We are super thankful for our friends and glad that our kids now love their kids as much!
The whole thing boils down to communication, managing expectations and just doing your best. Now that our friends have moved on, we feel like it’s time to start sharing the basement kitchen renovation. It is a fun new space that is a completely different vibe than our upstairs one and we are loving being able to utilize it for Thanksgiving family! Stay tuned for that (be warned that I am pregnant in a lot of the photos so NO I am not pregnant again….it’s just Max in there!) and also if you have any tips for house-sharing, I would love to hear them! I know that we are probably going to do it again in the future so now I understand how important it is to read as much as I can about the topic!