While my father was fighting on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II, my mother and sister shared a home with a young newlywed couple. A few stories of the comfort, companionship and amusement this blissful couple brought to my mom and sister, Bette, have been passed on to me. After all, it was during uncertain wartime and everyone on American soil needed cheering.
It wasn’t until recently my sister, now 80, told me she remembered the day my dad left. I suppose the memory was too painful for her to share before. She said she was a tiny girl of 4, but can still remember the warmth and love of our parents’ hands holding firmly to hers as they walked toward the train. That train would take our dad to parts unknown. She remembers vividly that our dad was dressed in his Navy uniform. Before he boarded the train, and while saying his goodbyes, he stooped down and told her how very much he loved her. Our daddy was never afraid to express his love for us. Perhaps that is what I remember most about him.
My mom, as usual, was stoic, but the weeping of others standing at the station bidding loved ones goodbye still troubles my sister.
My sister said that although there were many times Mom was anxious about the war and the fate of our dad, the newlywed housemates gave my sister much love and needed attention.
Mother and extended family must have made this a happy time for my sister. She talks about our grandmother bringing home bubble gum from Fort Benning, where she worked. The Army base is located near our hometown of Columbus, Georgia. Bubble gum was scarce during war times.
Bette also remembers the flamboyant pink high-heel house shoes the bride wore while living with Mom. Knowing my sister, she just may have slipped her tiny feet in those shoes a time or two.
These memories may sound trivial. But they made what could have been a terribly lonesome time go faster.
House sharing has diminished over the years, but is making its way back into popularity as baby boomers age. Some seniors have lived longer than expected and can no longer afford to live in their homes. They need extra income.
Other seniors yearn for companionship after their spouses die and their own children tend growing families.
According to seniorplanet.org: “There is almost a crisis where women are ending up single over the age of 50 and not expecting it. Middle-age divorce is an epidemic. It’s a statistic that people don’t talk much about, but it’s out there.”
An example given on the site is this. “Bonnie Moore found herself alone at age 63 after she and her husband split. They had just finished remodeling their home and now here she was with a dream house and a mortgage she couldn’t afford. Then the recession hit and Moore was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. She couldn’t sell up and downsize, and she couldn’t risk defaulting. Her solution was home sharing.”
Some widows or widowers don’t plan to remarry but have never lived alone before. They seek comfort in knowing someone is in the house.
When seniors are no longer able to shop, a housemate might be willing to shop for groceries and pick up prescriptions from the drug store.
According to the website, the biggest advantage to house sharing is cost sharing. We all know that Social Security checks don’t go that far. Who would have ever believed retirement can be so expensive? Cable television service, telephone, secondary insurance are but a few monthly bills that eat right into Social Security checks.
Unless you have a personal friend or relative who wants to home share, finding the perfect match might be a little like finding a mate.
Seniorplanet.org gave several websites that match older people who want to share:
This is a national free online matching database. It was launched in 2015 and currently has 600 members.
The newcomer charges a fee to homeowners (renters can use the service too). This service verifies users by checking ID and provides background checks of potential housemates (people looking to rent a room pay a fee for a background check if the homeowner requests one).
A word of caution and advice if you plan to share your home:
It’s true. Not every senior has an advocate or family member to help them with big decisions. However, I would strongly urge anyone looking for a housemate to solicit the help of someone you trust to assist you with the task of selecting someone to live with you and running background checks. If you’ve not done that before, find someone who knows how.
Now, I am a senior, so I speak with authority. We’ve slowed down a bit. Our vision is not as good as it once was. Our hearing is not quite on target. An advocate in the process of selecting who is to be a very important person in your life is critical.
There are online services that run background checks to weed out the bad folks. Don’t be fearful, but be smart if you decide to share your home.
The very best housemate is someone you already know. However, another word of caution: Even friends need to keep the lines of communication open. A good chat is important at the onset (a written agreement is better). At the first sign things are not going well with someone sharing your home, sit down and discuss your differences in a calm manner.
Home sharing is but one way senior adults can stretch their retirement, savings and Social Security dollars. That sounds like a win to me.