There are two kinds of people in the world—those who live alone and those who don’t. No, the world isn’t solely divided into hermits and social butterflies, but everyone I’ve met usually falls into one of those two categories. Either you live by yourself, or you live with someone else (imaginary friends don’t count).
Up until January of this year, I was in the “live alone” category. I’ve been living alone for seven years. And when I say alone, I mean really alone. In a 3,500-square-foot farmhouse built in 1915 in the middle of 640 acres of wheat and alfalfa, 20 miles away from the nearest Starbucks. Alone.
Now? Well, now, I’m not alone anymore. After seven years of exile in the Big City, my parental units have returned to Safe Haven Farm to enjoy their retirement.
I’m not sure how many others have had to combine households, but I thought I’d pass on a few things we’ve learned (and are still learning) in this transition. Our family dynamic might be a little different from everybody else’s, but I think the important parts are still the same.
1. Be honest about it.
I really think this is the most important thing to remember about combining households. Don’t be Pollyannaish about it. Don’t think sunshine and daisies. Sure, you’ll probably have some great moments, but you need to be aware that you’re going to have bad moments too.
The people you’re sharing your house with are people too, and they’re just as screwed up as you are. So when you take any number of screwed up people and put them in a house together, you’re going to have issues. Just accept it. And start planning how you’re going to respond to those issues now.
If you expect that everything is going to be perfect all the time, you’ll end up disappointed and discouraged, and you’ll give up. And one thing I’ve learned about living with people again after all these years is that—well, it’s nice. It’s really, really nice to have somebody to come home to.
2. If at all possible, give yourself plenty of time to adjust to the idea.
In some cases, people combine households spur of the moment. Sometimes that can be avoided. Sometimes it can’t. But what I’m learning is that the best combined-household transitions happen when you’ve given yourself plenty of time to think about it and prepare for it.
For my parents and me, we have been planning this move for years. Actually, since they moved out seven years ago. They’d always wanted to come back out here for their retirement, and I had no intention of leaving. So over the last seven years, we really worked on making that difficult transition from parent-and-child relationship to a real friendship. Because it’s a lot different when you’re living with your parents than it is when you’re living with your friends.
For the same reasons I listed above, you don’t always want to jump into it, especially if you’re as stubborn and hard-headed as my family is. We all get set in our ways. We all like to do things the way we want to do things. And habits are hard to break. So if you can start getting yourself mentally ready to have someone else living in your space, that’s more than half the battle conquered.
3. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
And last, just remember that there’s nothing so important that it’s worth wrecking a relationship over. So your house is a mess of boxes and dead computers and cables and clothes and furniture. So your dishes aren’t done immediately. So you can’t find your coffee mug… or your oatmeal bowl… or your hairbrush … or your toothpaste… or your shirts—you get the idea.
Come on. Are any of those things really worth getting upset about?
Sure, maybe they stem from a deeper principle you feel needs to be addressed, but does that need to happen right now? Can’t you give each other a little grace for the first few weeks?
Remember that you aren’t the only one in transition. The other people living with you are in transition too, and they’re just as unused to your weird habits as you are to theirs.
So back off. Calm down. Embrace the chaos. And use it as an opportunity to work together, to get to know each other, to spend time together. Or just drink a cup of coffee together in the mornings and shake your heads at the mess in the dining room. That’s what we do.
Eventually, it’ll all even out. And what doesn’t get sorted out will be thrown out, and, really, does it matter anyway?
Stay focused on what matters
Whoever you’ve chosen to live with is probably somebody who means a lot to you. You probably already have a relationship with them, otherwise you wouldn’t be living with them. Obviously, I’m not talking about a college dorm situation, but a lot of this rings true for that situation too.
The point is, part of living together is living life together. And if you’re so caught up in things you think are wrong, you aren’t going to enjoy it. And maybe things are wrong. And if they are, and they’re serious, you should do something about it. But if they’re things that can wait or things that might sort themselves out later, let them go.
Combining households is a logistic and strategic nightmare, but it’s totally worth it. Trust me. If you’ve lived alone for seven years, there’s nothing better than coming home after a long day of work and finding a hot meal and a warm hug waiting for you.