Ohana, multi-family living, “boomerang children.” No matter what you call it, extended families living under one roof or on one property can be a cultural norm or a way to cope with the financial difficulties that many are facing. Many say it’s “Easier said than done.” They are correct. There are many issues to work out, and compromise is necessary. Stronger personalities and pride will make this even more difficult.
My husband and I are near experts on multi-family living as we lived in the same house as my mother and stepdad for three years. In fact, my husband, dog, business, and I lived in approximately 250 s.f. along with the use of the “guest” bathroom and community areas (laundry, kitchen).
During this time, we were relieved from the pressure of rent and utilities to help my husband to finish school and for us to pay down some debt. In exchange, my husband and I do a significant amount of cleaning, food shopping, and cooking on most nights. We managed to create a genuine symbiotic relationship. I don’t think my family would have ever gotten to know my husband if we hadn’t done this.
Four Tips to Make Living Together Easier
However, it was three long years of discovering and enforcing boundaries, finding additional patience when we were down to our last thread, and learning what real forgiveness means. The following made it easier:
1. Active Listening
Many times I found that I construed my own experience upon what is being told to me. There were times I felt unwelcome when the issue was truly a simple request; there were also times where a small thing was blown out of proportion to the extent that the environment became genuinely unpleasant.
Confirm what you are hearing is correct before you act on it.
2. Beware the Balance of Power
While my folks sincerely enjoyed having us there (so they say, at least) it was difficult to be under a roof that was not our own. We would’ve liked to be in a position to help more, but at least we did contribute our labor if not our dollars. It’s vitally important never to bring up the “help” that is being given in anger, as that can make one side feel like leaches instead of contributors.
It’s vital to have mutual respect for all households, but also acknowledging everyone’s assistance with gratitude.
3. Don’t Be Cumbersome
The key to multiple families living under the same roof is recognizing that they are all individual households. They will each make decisions that you don’t agree with; they will work wonderfully together one day, and not so well the next. At one point we finally agreed to the following: “I will treat you every day as if you are a guest in my house, and you will do the same. This way, we always know we are looking out for the best interest of the other, we will allow each other privacy, and treat each other with care.” It’s easy to over-invest in a life that is not your own, especially if it is under your own roof, but no one likes to live in a soap opera.
4. Private Space
Just like not meddling in each other decisions, it is also vitally important to have your own private physical space. Having well-defined private space vs. shared space makes living together much more comfortable. Private space can be as simple as a room that is yours that no one will enter, or it could be a separate basement apartment or a guest house.
Tricia at Bloggingawaydebt introduced us to the concept of the tiny house, and I swear, there was a shed with a full foundation in our backyard and I thought about knocking it down and creating our own little place.
The benefits far outweighed the negatives for all of us. We had a supportive environment, and we worked together to build our respective businesses. I built a website for my stepdad’s business, and my mom made marketing calls for our wellness business. We took care of each other when we were sick, and there was always someone to pick up the ball if someone drops it.
On a side note, when my folks went on vacation, we realized how little of the house was actually used. If we hadn’t all lived together, about 800 s.f. (out of 1980) would never get used. How wasteful!
Alicia Black was the owner of Modern Tightwad where she wrote about graciously building wealth through thrift and putting the stereotypical notion of a “tightwad” on its tush. On her blog, she shared frugal tips and money management solutions with a tightwad twist.