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Retirement Roomies

Boomers are sticking together in retirement

Remember the 80’s sitcom, The Golden Girls? Blanche, Dorothy and Rose were three women of a certain age living together in one home. There was always something about the scenes of the “girls” eating cheesecake in their kitchen at 2 a.m.

More and more baby boomers are discovering the benefits of shared housing in their golden years. After all, more than a third of baby boomers - the generation moving into retirement age - are unmarried. Single boomers are also overwhelmingly female - just like Blanche, Dorothy and Rose, and just like three real world women from Pennsylvania.

Karen Bush, Louise Machinist and Jean McQuillin met in early adulthood. Their lives followed the usual trajectories: marriages, children, careers and houses.

“All of us owned our own houses. We each lived independently-comfortably, modestly, but securely,” Louise says.

However, children grew up and moved away, marriages ended, and soon the friends found themselves in their 50s, living alone, and facing retirement. That’s when Karen had an idea.

“I was happy living the way I was,” Karen recalls. “But I thought when I did retire, I could see myself becoming isolated.”

Retirement comes with risks, and adjusting to life without a paycheck can be challenging. It can also be lonely. “Many retirees face a lack of community, a lack of people around during the day or evenings,” Karen points out.

Early in 2004, Karen turned to Louise and asked if she would go in on a major investment with her: a house. But not just a house, a home they would live in together.

Louise was game and pulled Jean into the conversation. “We identified what we’d want, in terms of geography, culture, educational opportunities, hobbies - all sorts of things,” Karen says. “We had remarkably similar lists.”

“The punch line,” Louise says, “was ‘Why wait?’” Three months later, they closed on a new, co-owned house.

“It was ridiculously fast,” Jean agrees, “but we laid lots of groundwork. We consulted a financial planner and a lawyer. Here we are - nine years later!”

Louise ticks off the many benefits, expected and unexpected, of living with housemates:

“The environment: We feel good we use fewer utilities. The social support system and community. And definitely the money - I’ve saved more for retirement, which is paradoxical because this was supposed to be retirement!”

The three women share their experience and advice in a collaboratively written book: My House Our House: Living Far Better for Far Less in a Cooperative Household.

They all agree collaboration is what makes a shared housing arrangement succeed. “It’s imperative for people sharing a home to make sure they respect healthy boundaries that ensure everyone’s wellbeing. You need to be on the same page about lifestyle,” says Louise.

There’s something about their age group that helps too. “It seems to be the boomers that drive shared housing,” Louise says. “It’s something we did when we were young, and we just don’t have the barriers other generations have.”

Paki Wieland, another boomer, met her housemate, Francis Crowe, as their generation was driving the counterculture of the 1960s.

“When I first visited western Massachusetts in 1968, Frances was one of the first people I met,” recalls Paki, now in her early 70s. It was the height of the Vietnam War, and Paki and Frances, were passionate activists, working together at demonstrations and peace committees.

When the war ended, Paki went to college and became a professional. Frances continued working at a peace center, supported by her husband, a radiologist. The women lost touch. Neither had any idea their lives would once again converge.

But Paki’s marriage ended and Frances’ husband died. Paki was preparing to retire from a teaching position at Antioch New England Graduate School but had not thought about what retirement would look like. Frances started renting out the downstairs of her house. Just as Paki put out the word she needed a place to live, Frances’ tenant moved out.

Frances suggested that her long-ago acquaintance move in. When Paki showed up with her bags in the fall of 2002, both women considered it a tenant/landlord relationship. It hasn’t stayed that way.

“We became more and more involved in our lives together. It was very gradual,” Frances says. We each have our own living space, but we share the house, and she’s good company,” Frances says of Paki. “We read the same books. I pass the paper on to her.” Paki agrees. “If we go somewhere together to a film, I’ll organize us to do that,” she says.

Considering Paki is younger than Frances, you might guess she’s Frances’ caretaker - but you’d be mistaken.

“My physical abilities have diminished in the last 10 years,” Frances concedes, “and Paki is mindful of that. She checks in on me.” Still, Paki isn’t Frances’ nurse.

“Increasingly I became aware of the way our lives overlapped,” Paki explains. “When I first moved in I didn’t imagine living here this long. But it’s worked very nicely. Frances certainly doesn’t plan to go into any retirement - age place, so as long as we can both stay here, we’ll do that.”

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