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AARP Bulletin

House Sharing for Boomer Women Who Would Rather Not Live Alone

Having roommates saves money and provides valuable companionship

The women have a meal together at least once a week as well as a weekly meeting. There are rules, such as hours when they can't do laundry or must be quiet in the halls. Everyone must be notified before guests, such as boyfriends or children, visit.

Lorraine Chambers, 69, is one of Kilkenny's housemates. Chambers' son, Jason, is a college dean and father to young children, and he lives more than two hours away. "It's comforting to know Mom is in a safe neighborhood with people who genuinely care about one another," he says. "And it's the leveraging of each other's financial resources that makes it possible for her to share such a nice place."

When Kilkenny first moved in at night two years ago, someone left the light on for her. "I was so moved," she says. "It's the little things that mean so much." On her 62nd birthday, her housemates left cards outside her door. "Feeling cared about is worth going through some of the conflict that will occur," she says.

The Drawbacks of Home Sharing

Not having your own place can also involve compromise. Sharing means less privacy and dealing with someone else's habits.

Experts say problems usually occur when areas of conflict — household chores, communal property, pets, cleanliness, temperature of the house, noise, guests — haven't been addressed before the move in or within the first week or two. They also happen when expectations are unclear or there is no home-share agreement (see sidebar).

Zoe Morrison, 55, of Portland, Ore., who runs the house-sharing service Let's Share Housing, is divorced and has grown children. She has lived in cooperative households six times. One time she called it quits when her new housemate's lover moved in unannounced. Another time the bills turned out to be higher than she had been told.

McQuillin, Machinist and Bush say that if they lived alone, they'd have their parents, children and grandchildren over more often. "Living with anyone has trade-offs," says Machinist, "but I'm willing to make little trade-offs and have a little less freedom."

But as they get older, the three women realize that what they used to call the "old biddies commune" can't be their home forever. When they bought the house, they were in their 50s and weren't thinking about health issues. Now McQuillin has a knee problem and lives up two flights of winding stairs. Machinist says her next place will be more accessible for older people. Bush thinks she'd prefer to live in a warmer climate.

They'll worry about that later, say these converts, and remain right where they are. Says Machinist, "This is the best way I've ever lived."

Sally Abrahms writes about boomers and aging. She is based in Boston.

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