Mi Casa Es Tu Casa — 10 Essential Rules for Living with Family, Friends, or Absolute Strangers
When my daughter told me she was finally making the move from the east coast to the west and would be living with me in my 3 bedroom condo, I was ecstatic. Immediately, I started bustling around, shifting furniture, purging from overloaded closets and drawers and prepping for the new arrivals. Yes, plural, because along with my daughter came my darling, cherished then four-year-old grandchild. I pictured a house bursting with fun, love, purpose and companionship. Oh, and I had a 27 year-old Korean housemate in one of those bedrooms. No problem!
In the last year plus, I’ve learned a lot about successful co-habitation — the non-romantic blending of a bunch of people of different generations and life experience living in a limited space. Just to illustrate, the relevant ages in the house are now 73, 40ish, 27, and 5. Couldn’t get much more disparate. When you then add the isolation demanded by Covid-19, the square footage of this formerly spacious condo seemed to shrink.
Overtime, we’ve come up with a few strategies that offer balance, order, and space for all concerned, with one major caveat: the child.
- Children, particularly young children, should not be subjected to a laundry list of rules and expectations. Stick to the basics and hope for compliance. a) Knock on bathroom and bedroom doors and wait for a response before entering. b) No felt tip pens in bed or on the comfy chairs. c) Remember the neighbors downstairs and keep jumping to a minimum. d) Don’t jump on grandma. (If you have other suggestions, let me know.)
- Food — Divide up the refrigerator and respect the boundaries. No one wants to discover that a planned-for breakfast of scrambled eggs and cheese is out because someone ate both the eggs and cheese.
- Mealtimes — Stagger the cooking and prep times unless the kitchen is huge. I get my breakfast around 8:30, my daughter at 9:30, and Sanghoon has a brunchy meal at 11. Fortunately, my granddaughter’s preschool feeds her two meals and two snacks five days a week. Other meals have slightly different patterns but the result is one person is in the kitchen at a time.
- Space — We want everyone to feel like he or she is welcome so each of us has a seat that is unofficially designated. Grandma’s chair is in the corner (no disrespect intended) and on the table next to it are her reading glasses, ear buds for the tabletop computer, and pens. Mom’s chair is the white upholstered chair with good back supporter. She puts her coffee on the nesting table adjacent and uses the nearby socket to charge her laptop. Sunghoon usually sits on the couch, as does Sarah, my granddaughter. If she’s is a “spreading out mode”, he may have to squeeze his 6' frame into the left quadrant while she has all the rest.
- Cars — Cars are used by the owner except in agreed upon circumstances. Of course, there is overlap when several of us are traveling to the same place, like the nearby beach or my sister’s home downtown, but the formality of ownership has helped avoid problems like, “I don’t have any gas. Can I use your car?”
- Visitors — I confess, with the pandemic, this issue has not come up. We are the four Musketeers in our bubble and rarely does one of us venture out. I would be interested to know how others in a similar situation deal with friends, lovers, and guests. Please write to let me know.
- Money — Yes, money is tricky. In this house, each adults monetary responsibilities are clear and pretty much inviolate. Out of an abundance of caring, we do not ask each other for money or to be released from financial responsibilities. That is the culture of this house and it works as a deterrent in creating additional tensions. Naturally, this is not the only way to deal with money, but it is our way.
- Laundry — This is easy. Each adult does his or her own, immediately clearing the washer and dryer so that someone else can use the machines.
9. Adult habits — We have a non-smoking (cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and marijuana) and mostly non-drinking household, which is rather unusual. However, in other multi-generational homes, issues have come up when children find a half-empty glass of beer and decide to have a sip or two. Monitoring substances is the job of adults. Again with regard to alcohol, how should overindulgence be handled? All of this can be negotiated before someone moves in or in family meetings.
10. Quiet hours — I might be ready to rock the night away after work, but that choice doesn’t bode well for getting my granddaughter to bed and asleep. Those of us still awake and active after 8:30pm shuffle around in slippers and start to wear ear buds and headphones in order to minimize the noise. Hint — Earbuds also mean that no one knows I am indulging in yet another marathon of K-Dramas or Italian soaps.
Individuals who have lived with a large family or in a group situation are vocal about the positive effects of communal living - the sense of companionship, the opportunity to form close relationships, and the ease of shared duties to name a few. They are equally forthcoming about the downsides, crowding, lack of privacy, and favoritism. Having a set of rational and minimalist parameters and rules drawn up will definitely smooth daily life. Living alone, I never laughed so hard that my sides hurt; nor did I awake to a tiny warm body crawling into my bed for a morning cuddle. I have felt an expansive gratitude that, during this time of universal struggle and anxiety, my house is full, full of smiles, and full of people who care about each other.