“I don’t want to give up my privacy.” I hear this a lot when I’m talking to people about shared housing. It is often the first reaction a person has to the idea. It’s an honest reaction and one well worth digging into. Is it one you have? Each of these privacy objections to sharing housing can be addressed in the selection and interview process.
What does it mean?
When someone says, “I don’t want to give up my privacy,” it could mean a number of different things. Perhaps it means, “I like my routines and I don’t want them interrupted,” or it could mean, “I don’t want anyone to know that I _______(fill in a habit),” or maybe it simply means, “I don’t like the idea of someone observing me, knowing when I come and go, how I spend my time.” All of these are understandable. As immediate objections to the idea of shared housing, I do understand them. But I’d like to explore them a bit so that they aren’t definitive and maybe more limiting than is necessary.
Let’s start with the person who wants her home routines. What home routines are important? Which of them make her home comfortable for her? It might be having dinner at 5pm or being able to sleep in until noon. It could have to do with playing loud music at night or using the living room for meditation at particular times of the day. People have all kinds of different ways of living at home. A worksheet (we have one on this site) for tracking one’s routines can help articulate what is important.
Discussing your routines in an interview process allows both people the opportunity to figure out if their routines are going to be in conflict or complementary. A morning person who likes his solitude can very comfortably live with someone who sleeps late. But a person who goes to bed early probably shouldn’t live with the one who likes to play loud music at night. This may be obvious – but it’s amazing how many people don’t really consider their routines and how they’ll fit with another person. Perhaps the most extreme stipulation I’ve heard of is the women who in inviting a colleague to come and live with her said, “Stay out of my kitchen and my garden.” What she meant is “I like my kitchen to myself and I’ll do the cooking.” The person she said it to never much cared for cooking, anyway. The two women lived together for thirty years, with the one cooking for the other. That stipulation wouldn’t have worked for me, but that’s my point. We’re all different.
I don’t want anyone to know…
What about the “I don’t want anyone to know that I ______.”? This one is tougher. It implies hiding something from others. I also wonder how much of this comes from doing things at home that actually grow out being alone too much of the time. We know that people living alone drink twice as much alcohol as those who live with others. Rather than hiding an activity, how much better to find company or at least someone who doesn’t mind. Be honest in a selection process. If you want to walk around naked, find a home-mate who’s cool with it. If you enjoy an evening drink say so. If you don’t care about dirty dishes piling up, that’s real for you. The key here is speaking up about what you need to have in your home to make it comfortable for you.
Your room is your own
A core principle of shared housing is, “Your room is your own.” [See the chapter “Guidelines for Happy Households” in the book Sharing Housing] Home-mates respect each other’s boundaries and never enter another’s room without permission. In one shared housing situation of three women living together, they had a clear understanding. If your door was closed, you were not to be bothered. Period. If, on the other hand, you left your door ajar, you were open to visiting.
You can have privacy in your room. Is this enough? For many people it is. This is especially true if each person has a sitting room in addition to a bedroom. No one should ever be in your space without an invitation. This is a basic principle of living well with others.
What about that feeling of “I don’t want to be observed all the time.” You won’t be. When you live with others, it doesn’t mean you are together all the time. Two or more adults sharing a home have independent lives, which means there will be times when a home-mate is alone in the home. For instance, works schedules can mean that home-mates are out of the house on a regular schedule. Or one travels often and is gone for chunks of time. Or a home-mate has a significant other elsewhere and goes there for some periods of time. How often a home-mate is home has lots of variation. If having time alone is important to you, then make sure your future home-mate has reasons to leave the house.
But here’s the most important part. If you have a good home-mate, if you’ve done a good job of selecting each other (or others) what was once “my privacy” becomes “our privacy.” What happens at home stays at home.
Does this ring true? Have you had your own inner dialogue about giving up “your privacy”? Are you living in shared housing and have you own perspective on this privacy question?