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sharing a home, finding a roomate at midlifeImagine coming home from a winter vacation, maybe from some sunny, warm locale, maybe from some snowy mountains. The light is on, the house is warm, the mail has been picked up, there’s cream in the fridge for your coffee in the morning and your home-mate is eager to hear about your adventures.  Maybe even your home-mate has been kind enough to pick you up at the airport saving you the cost of parking.

This is a vacation you couldn’t have taken before you had a home-mate. Not only do you have someone to take care of your cat, you have the moolah because you are saving so much on housing.

This is not a pie-in-the-sky fantasy or idea. It is realistic.

The key, of course, is finding the right home-mate. How do you do that? With care, smarts, and by being open to possibilities.

I’ve lived in shared housing for over twenty years of my adult life. I’ve always liked sharing the costs and tasks of maintaining a home, and the spontaneous sociability.  In that time I’ve fine-tuned a selection process that has saved me time, effort and felt pretty safe. My book, Sharing Housing, A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates describes it thoroughly.  Of course I’ve made some mistakes, from which I’ve learned a great deal. I’ve also made great friends.

I’ve learned that the home-mate relationship is different from a friend or family member. You choose to live together for the mutual benefits for as long as it works. Choosing your home-mate with care and deliberation is the key to a successful relationship. Almost every nightmare story I’ve heard comes about because care was not taken in making sure that there was a good match.

Here are the three tips to being careful and smart in the selection process.

#1:  Figure out what you “must-have” and what you “can’t-live-with” at home.

Once articulated, the must-haves and can’t-live-withs provide clear requirements and attract similarly-minded people. I learned this one because I really, really don’t like television or the sound of TV.  My ad always said, “no TV.”  When Karen saw the ad, she told me later, she immediately said, “Oh, I can live there!”  We were great housemates.  Getting clear also prevents mistakes.  When Lisa interviewed to live in a group house, she immediately fell in love with the house and the location. She noticed dirty dishes in the sink, something she hates, and thought “I can handle it.”  Turned out she couldn’t and she moved out six months later, but not without some angry exchanges first.

#2: Don’t assume that because someone is a friend, or seems “nice,” or is the relative of a friend you are going to get along as home-mates.

Sharing a home with someone is very different from going out to dinner with them or even going on a vacation together.  Compatibility around how you live in the home is important. Neatniks should not live with people who don’t notice clutter. People who like to retreat from the world and have home be their silent haven should not live with social butterflies who love to invite people over spontaneously. At home, we have to be able to be ourselves, or it isn’t home.

#3: Check references.

The reference process I recommend involves calling and speaking with two people who know the person. References give you a reality check. They are also a litmus test. Be wary of the future home-mate for whom references seem to be a problem.

When you are careful and smart in the process, you can be open to all possibilities. You can use craigslist. I usually did. However, you might find your home-mate through your social networks, by talking about this idea and showing up in various places where you would find similarly-minded people. One person I know found her home-mate by printing a social card with her contact information with the line, “I’m looking for intentional community.”

She’s about to go for a five-week vacation to Costa Rica.  Where would you go?

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