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Why I Decided to Live With Roomates at Age 37: How Living With Others Is Good for My Wallet, Health and Happiness

Sharing resources and respecting individual needs is the new paradigm — the true sign of being a real grown-up.

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But what we might not realize is how living with others is beneficial to not only finances, but also to physical well-being. Little did I know that the loneliness I was experiencing on a daily basis in my tucked-away studio was actually bad for my health. University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo has spent many years tracking the effects of loneliness, according to a 2003 article in Psychology Today. Cacioppo found that loneliness leads to higher rates of depression, alcoholism and even suicide. Most dramatically, diminished interaction with others can raise levels of circulating stress hormones and levels of blood pressure, a condition that can lead to heart disease and strokes.

Annamarie Pluhar, author of Sharing Housing: A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates writes that sharing housing is a growing trend amongst people beyond college age. She says that some of the reasons for sharing housing are additional income, social connection, extra hands, and living light on the earth. “The myth of a self-reliant, independent person is a pervasive America story,” writes Pluhar. In a recent interview with the Boston Phoenix, Pluhar claimed that the American consciousness is shifting when it comes to ownership and “recognizing that if we do something together it works out better.”

From my own experience, this is most definitely true. I felt an instant sense of relief when the decision to rent with others was solidified. Within two months, my future housemates and I found a house just up the street from my studio and before I knew it, I was trucking my belongings into our new shared space. Within a couple of weeks of moving in, my roommate Alex had put in garden beds in the backyard and planted squash, tomatoes, basil, lettuce and chard. A hammock was strung between a backyard pole and a tree for all of us to enjoy. He rebuilt the deck with the help of his dad, making it more user-friendly for the household.

Alex and Christie are married, in their mid-twenties, both instructors at a local martial arts school. They brim with enthusiasm and ideas and they have a large community to draw on, and that community came through in the setting up of our house. Within a month, we had furniture, a home-brew station set up in the garage, and a kitchen that was constantly being used for shared and individual meals and chats over wine. My roommate Heather is my age and we have a lot kitchen conversations about what it means to be in our late thirties and not be on the “normal track.” She also has a dog, so we share dog-walking responsibilities and care (and dog food), which has been incredibly helpful.

The four of us have made sure to have house meetings once a month where we talk about shared cleaning duties, bills, the proper ways to wash and dry the knives, and how to keep the compost and garden in bloom. These help us maintain clear and open communications and allow us to bring up any issues before they turn into resentment fests. I’ve never lived in a roommate situation where we actually communicate in such a pro-active manner before, but I knew from conversations with my housemates, before we moved in together, that these were people who were capable and willing to have these types of discussions—without getting defensive. And that made living with them very appealing. Granted, the house isn’t spic and span, or perfectly organized by any means, but the fact that we all have a zone to take care of (this month mine is dusting and picking up the common areas) means that everyone makes a specific contribution to the house, which helps to keep the urge to just “let things go” in check.

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