House sharing in my 60s
What do I want from life and from my home in my 60’s? This is a question I have been asking myself as I reach that milestone next month, especially as I have just taken my dementia-suffering mother to a residential care home last week.
The care home is small, family-run and has very experienced staff. It’s in Norfolk in a small town and the company running the home has been in business for some years. Not glamorous, but homely and friendly, I was impressed by the care taken to welcome and settle-in my mum. I joked to one of my children ‘You can take me there in 20 years. It would be great’, and I meant it.
As an alternative to sitting on her own, with steadily advancing dementia and having lost the ability to safely fend for herself, the alternative of a residential home is a no-brainer. Yes, there is the cost, but there are all sorts of care, nursing and specialist dementia homes to choose from; and yes, her house will have to go.
But the thought that she is getting three square meals a day, being monitored at night, has help getting washed, dressed and fed, is comforting not only to me but also to her. More than that is a type of shared living. The living space is shared with other residents as well as with her carers, so there is some social interaction, whereas before there was little; I lived 3 hours away and neighbours and friends have not been able to visit.
How do I want to share my living space?
But what about house sharing in my 60’s? I think at this age I am starting to think about what I see as the last quarter of my life. If I make it to 80 and am healthy I will be delighted, but after that I realise it will be a struggle to maintain health and independence. So it will not be a question of if I want to share my life and living space with others, because I’ll need the support, but more a question of how I want to share it.
I already find it becomes increasingly difficult to make new friends and even to maintain old friendships at this stage of life, and of course the pandemic has made that even harder in some ways. A Zoom call or phone call is all well and good and to some extent they can be scheduled more frequently, being easier for all concerned, but they are not a replacement for spending time face-to-face or in doing something together. Shared memories are so valuable and at the moment we are not creating those experiences.
In my 60’s I think I need to start to plan for my 70s and 80s; who I interact with and where I live. I don’t want to spend too much time alone in between, so house sharing seems like a good alternative now, not just in 20 years-time.
What are my needs? Ten years ago I needed to access the job market in London, so that largely determined where I might live and the journey to and from work also provided some social interaction. The whole business of getting to work and back was a social activity in itself, providing opportunities to meet people along the way by pre-arrangement or by chance. But now that has changed as I can work from home, so losing the opportunity for social interaction. Plus, that shared experience of going to work has been lost. There’s less to moan about and no missed trains or buses to comment about to a fellow passenger about; those shared moments of humanity and often humour.
That means spending more time at home. The building I live in therefore needs to have more space than when I was working because I am going to spend longer there. Lockdown has taught me that already.
Then there are the people I share with. It’s one thing to share a home with fellow workers, but if we are working from home more and more, and for that matter following our past-times at home more, we need the space and amenities to do so.
For me this means a larger kitchen, ideally linked to a good-size dining room area. It has been a pleasurable business cooking and feeding flatmates during lockdown and mealtimes have become a really important part of my daily social contact as well as offering some sort of routine.
Bedrooms have also become places where we not only sleep and dress, but also read, watch videos, speak on the phone and have quiet time; I probably need a bigger room.
Excellent wifi and some TV subscriptions are also needed. Not that I watch much TV, but to fill the time and avoid addiction to the day-time schedule – I have got surprisingly attached to Under the Hammer, Cash in the Attic, Escape to the Country and Saturday Kitchen these past months whilst caring at mum’s house.
Watching TV together brings the difficulty of choosing something to watch – as well as dealing with the 3 or 4 different Apps and TV platforms you need to watch the thing you have chosen – but it also gives you something to talk about.
So there needs to be a communal area to watch together. There is a tendency in house share properties to do away with the lounge and to make it into a bedroom, maintaining the kitchen/diner as the only social space. That is fine for Millenials but not mature house sharers who are not locked into Zoom calls all day or back in their office, where they may feel safe.
So in my 60’s, which happen to be now, I will need more space, people to watch TV/movies with, space to maintain some indoor hobbies possibly; to stop me staring at the walls all day. I’ll busy myself making great food and feeding my housemates and occasional guests (family and friends) so I’ll also need a good kitchen diner where we can feel comfortable for a few hours.
If I can get the next 20 years right then I’ll be well-set for the residential care home where someone else cooks my meals, washes my clothes and organises aspects of my day. Of course by then, I may not know what is going on anyway, but at least I won’t be alone with my dementia and I’ll be well looked after. A sobering thought, but one worth thinking about now whilst there is still time to plan.
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