Practical Suggestions That Can Help to Maintain Harmony with Long-Term House Guests
Copyright © September 4, 2012 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.
Two or more families are now sharing the same home. For example, parents may now be living with one of their children. Or grown children may now be living with their parents. Or an entire family may now be living with the family of a brother or sister.
If the economy gradually continues to decline, then other family members may lose their jobs, or have their home foreclosed on, or have their car repossessed. If this happens then it may not be too long before these unfortunate people will be sharing the same living space that two or more families are already sharing.
When we were young and we lived with our parents we generally lived in harmony because we listened to our parents and most of the time we did what they asked us to do. But after we grew up and moved into our own place, then our life style changed to match our individual whims and desires. After five or more years of doing things exactly the way we want to do them, and doing things when we want to do them, then it becomes very difficult for two families to share the same living space. The reason is because each person in each family is pretty much set in his or her ways and he or she does not want to change his or her behavior. This results in a continuous stream of clashes, conflicts, and hurt feelings when two or more families try to share the same living space.
The purpose of this article is to provide a few suggestions that may help to minimize the number of disagreements when two or more families share the same home.
If you should lose your job, or your home, or your car, then please do not blame yourself.
On the other hand, some of your friends and family may think that the bad things that are happening to you are somehow related to one or more poor decisions that you made sometime in the past. And there may be a small degree of truth in this. But it is not the whole truth.
The truth is that bad things sometimes happen to good people. For example, a good, soft-spoken, kind-hearted, church-going couple may lose a child. The couple didn't do anything wrong and they should not bear the guilt of their child's untimely death for the rest of their lives.
Another truth is that good things sometimes happen to bad people. For example, a bad person may break into a home and kill all the people in the home and then escape with several thousand dollars worth of jewelry, sterling silver tableware, and expensive laptop computers. The bad person may never be caught and the bad person may enjoy life to its fullest until the stolen money runs out.
Life is not always fair. Life is a continual flow of ups and downs. If you can accept this simple statement of fact then it may help you to put things into perspective and not blame yourself or your spouse for the hard times you are now experiencing.
Instead of feeling sorry for yourself a better strategy would be to simply accept the fact that your family is now going to have to survive some really hard times and it is nobody's fault. It is not your fault. It is not your spouse's fault. Instead of wasting your time trying to figure out what went wrong you should invest your time trying minimize the hardships that lay ahead for your family.
However, you should be prepared for some members of your extended family, and some of your close friends, to look down on you because they still have a job and you don't. Don't be offended by their attitude. It is a natural human tendency to think that only bad things happen to bad people, which somehow must include you, and only good things happen to good people, which obviously must include anyone who still has a job. This is a silly philosophy that cannot be supported by real world events, but it is the way that some people think.
The rest of this article will offer some suggestions for you to consider that might help you improve the living conditions for your family and minimize the negative impact of the hard times that lay ahead of you.
What to Do Before You Are Evicted
Before you are evicted from your current residence you should try to sell almost everything you don't desperately need to your neighbors, or sell your things at a yard sale or a garage sale, or donate them to a charitable organization. The small amount of cash you receive could prove to be extremely valuable a few months from now if you don't spend it immediately.
If some of your things are in excellent condition and you know you could not sell them for more than 1/10 or 1/20 of what they are currently worth then you should consider giving them to other members of your family or to some of your close friends. Make sure the person understands that this is a permanent gift and that you will not be asking them to return the item to you at some future date. They can keep the item or sell the item as they see fit. If you will give some of your nice things away without crying about it then this will leave a very favorable impression about you in the minds of the recipients of your "gifts."
In my opinion you should try to keep most of your:
In my opinion you should try to sell most of the following:
- personal hygiene items, first aid items, and medicines,
- shoes and clothing,
- favorite towels, pillow and bed sheets (assuming they are in good condition and they are worth keeping),
- cookware, dishes, and tableware (assuming they are in useable condition),
- portable computers, and your collection of music and DVD movies after you have removed the CDs and DVDs from their original cases and stored them in bulk storage cases,
- small toys, games, musical instruments, and other small entertainment items,
- firearms, ammunition, knives, and any other weapons you may have,
- practical camping gear such as a solar shower bag and flashlights but sell things such as a propane gas grill.
Your objective should be to try to sell everything except the things that you really, really need and which could fit into your vehicle, or vehicles. This will allow you to travel to another location at the lowest possible cost. If this is not possible then try to keep the amount of stuff you are taking with you to what you can put into a very small trailer that can be pulled behind your vehicle.
- furniture unless it is a cherished family heirloom,
- large appliances that belong to you and that are not part of the home (exceptions might be a small microwave oven, waffle iron, coffee pot, or toaster oven),
- televisions (an exception would be one that is relatively compact),
- exercise equipment,
- books except for ones that are practical reference books such as a medical reference book,
- large toys that take up a lot of space and that are not used very often (children toys and adult toys such as a kayak or canoe).
The reasons you should get rid of most of the things you don't really need are as follows:
- The sale of those items will put some cash into your pocket. That cash may be very useful in the weeks or months ahead.
- There may not be any unused storage space in the home of the family or friend that you will be staying with.
- You will not have to rent a storage unit to store your stuff. This will eliminate an ongoing monthly expense that you will soon discover that you cannot afford to pay.
- If the family you are moving in with should eventually lose their home then you will already be prepared to move again.
A Rental Storage Unit
If you currently have a rented storage locker then you should consider selling all the stuff you really don't need at a yard sale. Or give the stuff away to charity. It may be several years before you will have your own place and the storage locker fees over that period of time will usually exceed the value of the stuff you have stored. And you will be eliminating a monthly expense. For example, if you are paying $75 a month for a storage unit then in one year you will have paid $900 and in three years you will have paid $2,700.
If the hard times continue to get worse for you and you can no longer afford to pay your monthly storage unit rental fee then the Rental Manager will put his own lock on your storage unit and you will not be able to get to your stuff. When you have failed to pay the monthly fee for the number of months specified in the rental agreement that you signed, then the Rental Company will own everything in your storage unit and they may sell it at anytime and for any price they wish.
During hard times a rental storage unit gradually becomes a burden to most families. In my opinion it is similar to a title pawn which most people wish they had never gotten into after they are caught in the title pawn trap. Therefore my advice is to avoid a rental storage unit if you are being evicted from your home or apartment.
The First Step
Before you move in with your relatives or friends, have your entire family spend two consecutive nights sleeping on the ground under a bridge (unless the health of someone in your family would make this impossible). Someone will need to remain awake, and armed, and on guard duty all night to protect the family from harm. This can be done in shifts if you have enough qualified people. After the second night everyone in your family will have a totally new perspective on the value of the tiny bedroom that you will all share at your relative's or friend's home.
If you skip this step then you will have reduced the chance of your family successfully blending in by at least 50 percent. If you skip this step and you are evicted from the home of the family that was your first choice, then sleep under a bridge for two nights before you approach another relative or friend.
There is a tremendous difference between textbook knowledge and real world experience. Actually sleeping on the ground under a bridge for two nights is a real world experience. Simply thinking about what it would be like to sleep under a bridge for two nights is nothing more than an intellectual exercise.
Basic Do's and Don'ts
Hard Luck Story:
It is okay to tell the story of how your life has been turned upside down one time. But only once. Don't keep repeating the sad events of your past. There is nothing anyone can do to change your past.
If you keep telling your sad story over and over and over then you will gradually wear your hosts out and they will ask you to leave just so they won't have to listen to your sad story any more.
Therefore talk about something else. Preferably some good news or some good information that might be of use to the other family.
If almost everything you say is of a positive nature then other people will enjoy listening to you.
But if too much of what you say is of a negative nature then other people will begin to avoid you, and eventually you will probably be asked to leave and find someplace else to live.
A Regular Job:
Keep looking for a full-time or a part-time job.
Accept the first honest job offer you receive even if the pay is far below what you believe you are worth. Any wage is better than no wage.
The only type of honest job that I would suggest you avoid is a sales job where you get paid a commission on what you sell. These jobs are easy to find almost anywhere but you will quickly discover that you invest more of your time, money, and limited resources trying to make a sale than you receive back as a commission on that sale.
Your family is very, very important.
But you are not special. Another person should not have to suffer to make your family happy.
The rest of the world does not owe you anything. Your family or friends do not owe you anything.
Your Second Eviction:
If you find a place to live with a friend or family member then you should consider yourself blessed, even if it is a very, very small space.
If you do not appreciate what you have and your attitude reflects your lack of gratitude, then you will probably be asked to leave and find someplace else to live.
If you are asked to leave then the next family or friend that you ask may decide that there is no room for you because you were not successful at blending in with the first family you lived with. Therefore you probably won't blend in at their home either.
Therefore every member of your family should put forth their very best effort to blend in and not get your family evicted because the only other option may be living under a bridge.
Do not waste your time trying to decide whose rules are best: your rules or the rules of the family you are living with. You are prejudiced and you will decide that your rules are better than anyone else's rules.
If there are four families sharing the same living space then all four families will probably have different rules that they prefer when they are paying for their own living space. But that does not make any of those rules better than the rules of the other families. It just makes the rules different.
Therefore follow all the rules of the family you are staying with. It is their home and they have the sole right to make the rules in their home. Their rules are not negotiable. Their rules are not subject to a majority vote. Their rules are final.
Do not complain about anything. If there is something you don't like and you cannot tolerate it, then leave. Don't expect your host to change their ways to match yours.
If your host asks you to stop doing something, or to start doing something, then comply immediately. Do not ask for an explanation. Do not try to change your host's mind. Simply do whatever it is that you have been asked to do, assuming it is legal and moral.
Do not expect your host to entertain you or to talk with you for long periods of time each day. They are busy earning money to pay the bills. When they get home they will want to relax. They will not be looking forward to having to entertain you because you are bored.
Become almost invisible. Make almost no noise. You will sometimes need to go outdoors and take a long walk to relieve the cabin fever of your bedroom.
(Note: When you go walking during hard times I suggest that you consider carrying a folding pocket knife with a blade that is just a little shorter than the legal maximum blade length in your area. Do a simple internet search to determine the applicable knife laws in your area and then abide by them.)
Strategies to Make Your Family Indispensable
If you or anyone in your family accidentally breaks something or damages something then show it to your hosts immediately and apologize sincerely. Accept whatever rebuke they administer to you in a humble manner with your head bowed as you look at the floor. Do not try to explain the circumstances of the accident. Do not answer the rebuke with a rebuke of your own. Accept their rebuke in a meek manner and return to your bedroom in complete silence. When you get to your bedroom do not complain to your family members about the rebuke you just received.
If your family is given the exclusive use of your own bathroom then consider yourself blessed. Only use that one bathroom and do not intrude into the other bathroom(s) of your host family.
If your family will be sharing a bathroom with the host family then everyone in your family should make every effort to spend the least amount of time in the bathroom as possible. If your host needs the bathroom in the morning to get ready to go to work then be considerate and either use the bathroom before or after the normal morning bathroom schedule of your host family.
Children sometimes wait to the last possible second to tell you that they need to use the bathroom now. If the bathroom is occupied by a member of the host family then you have a problem. If you have anticipated this type of problem in advance then you should have already obtained an emergency toilet bucket that is in the corner of your bedroom and your child can sit on the toilet lid on that bucket and do whatever is necessary. As soon as the bathroom becomes available then you should immediately empty the contents of your emergency toilet bucket into the toilet bowl. Then rinse out your emergency toilet bucket and pour that water into the toilet bowl. Then flush the toilet bowl and put your emergency toilet bucket in the corner of your room until the next time it is needed.
If your family will be eating at the same time as your host family then make sure that everyone in your family practices good table manners. Do not complain about any food that is put before you. If it is free then be thankful for it regardless of what it might be. Do not be a pig at the dining table. Do not ask for seconds. It is okay for the adults in your family to lose a little weight each month. Politely and sincerely thank your host for each meal that your host provides for your family.
If your family will be eating the food that you purchase then plan your meals either before or after the normal meal schedule of your host family. When you are finished in the kitchen be sure to wash and dry all your dishes, tableware, and pots and pans and put them back where they belong. Do a good job washing the dishes because nobody likes to pick up a fork or a plate and discover that it has tiny bits of dried food particles on it that were not properly washed off. Also make sure the kitchen table and the counter tops are clean.
Do not take over the family room of your host family. If the family room is large enough to accommodate both families then make sure that your family members share the family room with preference being given to the host family.
Do not allow your children to bully or take advantage of the children of the host family. Promptly correct and discipline your children if this happens. If you do not provide the proper guidance for your children then it may not be very long before you will be asked to find someplace else to live.
If the children of the host family bully or take advantage of your children and your hosts are present and they do nothing, then simply ask your children to please follow you into your bedroom, close your door, and all of you should remain in your bedroom. If the children of your host family attempt to follow you into your bedroom then politely tell those children that your family is going to have some private time to yourselves.
Nothing in the home is free. Your host has to pay the water bill, the electric bill, the gas bill, and the other bills. Therefore everyone in your family should try to conserve water and electricity and laundry detergent and bath soap and toothpaste and toilet tissue. If your family increases the monthly expenses of your host family beyond what their budget will allow then you will be asked to find another place to live.
Don't make a nuisance of yourself. If you are bored then it is because you haven't found enough chores to keep you busy.
The adults in your family should volunteer to do all the chores around the residence.
Sweep the floors. Wipe the dust off the furniture. Clean the bathrooms. Cook the meals, assuming you are a decent cook. Make all the beds every morning. Mow the yard. Hand wash your host's car.
Baby-sit the children but do not discipline the host's children except according to the rules and methods employed by your host.
Do not ask to be paid to do these chores. Voluntarily doing these chores for free will be your way of paying for your family's room and board. And you will be perceived as being a valuable addition to the household instead of a burden.
Dirty Dishes, Pots, and Pans:
Wash the dishes regardless of who cooks the meals. Wash the dishes the way your host wants them washed. Do not assume your host will appreciate the way you wash the dishes. Ask your host how they like to have their dishes washed and then do it their way.
Volunteer to wash your host's laundry. Ask them how they like it done and do it their way. Carefully and neatly fold all their laundry the exact way they prefer having their laundry folded.
Do not enter the bedrooms of your host family. Allow your host to put their clean folded laundry where they want it.
Do not monopolize the television.
Watch whatever the owners of the home wish to watch. Do not complain. If you do not wish to watch the program they are watching then go to your room or go outside for a walk.
If your hosts are gone during the day then before they return home you should change the television channel to the channel they usually watch and then turn off the television.
Under no circumstances should you make your hosts feel guilty for wanting to watch the programs they want to watch on their own television set.
Do not allow anyone in your family to select a seat in front of the television until everyone in the other family has chosen their favorite spots. Then your family can sit in the leftover spaces or on the floor.
If someone in your family complains about their television rights then ask that person to stop and think about the television reception you received when your family was living under the bridge.
Radios, Music, and Noise:
If you have your own noise making equipment then listen to those sounds with earphones plugged into the unit.
Do not make the assumption that everyone else enjoys the noise that you prefer.
Do not use the phone of your host family.
You should have your own cell phone.
You will need your own phone number so that prospective employers can call you and offer you a job.
During hard times you may discover that a TracFone is your best option.
Limit the number of phone calls of each family member each day and insist that those calls be text messages unless they are job or work related.
This may be a very difficult adjustment for some members of your family.
But during hard times you must make a decision on how to spend what money you do have in order to maximize the survival and the living conditions for your entire family.
Organization and Location:
Before you touch something, look at it carefully. Remember where it was when you first saw it and how it was arranged. When you finish using the item return it to its original location in the same orientation in which you originally found it.
Your host has things arranged in a way that makes perfect sense to them. Don't move things around and force your hosts to come to you and ask you where you put one of their things.
This includes scissors, the phone book, screwdrivers, dishes, forks, cups, dish soap, and everything else in the home in which you are sharing.
Tableware: Look at how the tableware is arranged in the kitchen drawer. Remember the location of the knives, dinner forks, salad forks, soup spoons, and small spoons. Return everything to its original location.
Towels: Look at how the towels are folded and which shelf they are placed on. Fold the towels the same way and put them in the same exact spot on the shelf.
Refrigerator: Look at where everything is stored in the refrigerator. When you are finished with the mustard then put it back in the refrigerator in the same exact place from which you removed it.
Kitchen Pantry: Look at where all the different food items are currently stored on the shelves in the pantry. Always return food items to those exact locations.
Toilet Tissue: If your host family puts a fresh roll of toilet tissue on the rack with the tail of the tissue hanging down in the rear next to the wall then remember that and do it the same way if you replace a roll of toilet tissue. If your host family prefers for the tail of the tissue to hang down in the front then remember it and install future toilet tissue rolls that way.
Other Items: If you borrow the broom then when you are finished with it put it back where you found it. Don't lean the broom against the wall in your room because you think you might need it again in a day or two. Put everything back where it belongs immediately.
Are You Still Bored? Are you one of those people who used to say that if you could just find the time then you would read the entire Bible from cover to cover? Well, the good news is that you now have the time. Perhaps today would be a good day to start reading on page one.
Your entire family's primary objective should be to minimize the inconveniences you are causing the other family. You will need to adjust to their way of doing things. You do not need to tell them how you like to do things and that they should change and become like you. Everyone in your family should cooperate and all of you should try to not upset the members of the other family, to the extent possible.
You should strive to make your family indispensable. You should be doing so many chores, and helping in so many different ways, and avoiding any negative comments, that the other family will seriously miss you when the economy does turn around and you can once again afford a place of your own in which to live.
At some time in the near future a family may contact you and ask you for your permission to let them live with you for an unspecified period of time. Before you respond you should ask a few questions to determine what their current situation is. In general, most families will fall into one of the following two categories:
The Family Has No Regular Income and They Will Need You to Pay for Everything They Need: In this situation you will need to determine how much extra it is going to cost you each month to 100% support the other family and pay for all their needs. If you don't have this much "extra" money each month then you should explain this to the other family and apologize for not being able to help them at this time.
The Family Still Has Some Regular Income But Not Enough to Pay a Mortgage or a Rent Payment: In this situation one or more of the adults may have lost their jobs, or one of the adults may now be working at a new job that pays a lot less than their previous job. In this situation the family may have enough monthly income to make their car payment, their auto insurance payment, and to pay their medical expenses and buy their food. But they have nothing left over for a rent payment plus utilities. In this situation it might be prudent to ask the family how much they are paying on their monthly car payment and insurance payment. If the car payment is $250 and the insurance payment is $45 then the family can probably continue to pay these monthly expenses themselves. But if the car payment is $940 and the insurance payment is $180 then the family may be trying to keep a vehicle that is too expensive for their current situation. If this is the case then you should suggest that they consider downgrading their vehicle and use the money they save each month to rent a small apartment of their own.
If you are seriously considering allowing the other family to share your home, then I suggest that you send a link to this article to the head of the other family and have their family read this article. After they have read it then you can discuss it with them and see if there will be any potential problems that you did not originally anticipate. You can clarify that they will be responsible for paying their car payment, their insurance payment, all their medical expenses, and they will need to buy all their food and personal hygiene items. What you absolutely want to avoid are some long-term house guests who intend to take over your kitchen, your bathrooms, and your family room and who believe that your family should wait on them and supply their every whim and desire.
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