The following story is what happens when people stop being polite…. and start getting real.
Just kidding, it’s the story of when four good people who are really good friends decide to live together for awhile.
When my best friend Kristin told me she and her husband Matt were moving in with their good friends Ted and Melinda, I admit, I was skeptical. So, naturally, when I started this blog I knew I wanted to talk to Kristin about her living situation.
It’s a fascinating arrangement and one that is clearly working well for everyone involved. Check it out!
Caitlin: So, tell me about your living situation.
Kristin: Right now, my husband and I live with our two best friends and their 2 ½ year old. We have lived there for 3 ½ years now. We moved in to their house when Matt was changing jobs.
We had moved to Huntingdon, PA after college. After a couple of years, we realized that we had left behind a fairly exceptional group of friends and a church we loved in that move. Friends like these are very hard to come by, so we decided to move back to Shippensburg, and it felt like home.
Melinda was my roommate in college and she and her husband, Ted, had stayed really great friends with us. They had just built a house and it had plenty of room to accommodate all of us.
Matt was thinking about starting a business so we knew it would be impossible for us to purchase a home, but it might even be hard to rent somewhere. So Melinda and Ted offered to let us live with them.
Caitlin: And so when they made that offer, did you have to think about it for a while, or did it immediately feel like the right thing to do?
Kristin: It’s really funny because reflecting back on it, Melinda and I have said we were both really hesitant at first. I mean, they were really open to doing it and they were the ones who made the offer, but we were all thinking it would be short term and we were all a little afraid it was going to cause tension in our relationships. But, it ended up being awesome.
Caitlin: So you’ve been there now for 3 ½ years. What’s been the most surprising aspect of your arrangement?
Kristin: I think how easy it is. To be honest, there have never been any actual fights. There have been times of tension just because people are people, but it’s just been really easy. We’ve been really honest with each other and I think really gracious in times where there might be a point of tension and we’ve really worked through it. I don’t know that this would work with just anyone for us. It happens to be a really perfect combining of personalities.
Caitlin: When you moved in you were both newly wedded couples. I do remember you telling me that when Melinda was pregnant you thought maybe you would move out when the baby was born. But, then it seemed as though you didn’t want to and they didn’t want you to.
Kristin: Yeah, in my mind, it was like, of course we’ll move out when the baby comes. But, to be honest, the business was still at a point where we weren’t sure if it would be a smart decision to do so everyone was like, okay, let’s just see how this goes. And if it’s hard for everyone then, you know, Matt and I will figure something out.
But, I can’t even remember what it was like without Caleb. It’s like he was always there. It continued to be easy. Actually now one of the reasons it will be hardest for us to go is that he won’t always be around.
Caitlin: So, how do you do it? How much time do you all spend together? Do you do meals together? How do you split the bills? Are there rules?
Kristin: We spend a lot of time together, probably most of our time together. Melinda and I do the meal planning on Sundays and then we take turns grocery shopping for the week. So, we do cook and clean up our meals together every night. We do determine who is going to cook which meals, but it usually ends up kind of falling together. Whoever gets home first should figure it out and then you know, whoever cooked doesn’t usually clean up. And you should see the meals we have. When you’re only cooking one or two meals a week, you can really make something nice. We have all become amateur foodies.
We do split all of the bills so we keep our receipts and at the end of the month we split up groceries and utilities in half.
Also, living with your college roommate means that you still get to share clothes and jewelry! It’s the best. We have no idea what belongs to who anymore; it will be extremely difficult to separate our wardrobes when the time comes.
Caitlin: Do you pay rent?
We don’t pay rent! Our friends are awesome. In their minds, they would be paying their mortgage anyway, so it has enabled us to save for a house.
Caitlin: Do you have your own living space? Do you get time alone with your husband much?
Kristin: We do. We do a weekly date night. It’s funny because at first we thought it would be really important to do that, and we still do, but on our date nights we usually end up renting a movie and we invite Ted and Melinda to join us anyway.
We each have our our bedrooms and full bathrooms so that’s really nice. There’s a family room and a living room and they each have a tv and a DVD player and so if couples want to do their own thing, they can. And up until Caleb was older, we did do everything together. But, Matt and I watch some shows that are just inappropriate for a child, so that was the point in which we separated because Caleb was awake and he couldn’t watch it.
But, we do watch tv and movies together and we make all of our weekend plans together. We really don’t get tired of each other.
Ted and Melinda went on vacation with their family a few weeks ago so we were alone in the house. We realized that we do kind of forget to keep up with each other on a regular basis. Like, I’ll get home sometimes and Matt will still be at work and I’ll catch up with the first person I see when I get home. It could be Ted, it could be Melinda. And then I never really tell Matt about my day, so sometimes we laugh if Matt hears about my news from someone else.
Caitlin: It’s interesting because you’re like a family, really. What’s that dynamic like?
Kristin: We really are like a family. We affectionately call our house the RamWald’s, a combination of our two last names, Ramsay and DeWald.
Sharing life together is great. It’s the reason that Shippensburg is home for us, because they are there for us when we need them. In four years you see the ups and downs in life. We’ve celebrated and mourned together.
And it’s been fun because when our lives are crazy and we’re too busy to cook and clean and eat, they just pick up the slack. And whenever their lives are crazy busy, Matt and I have been able to pick up the slack for them.
Melinda jokes that for the first two months of Caleb’s life she didn’t cook a meal or do a dish.
People always think that this must be really inconvenient, and that we’d really like to get away from this living situation. We’ve even had people offer their homes to us when they go away as if it would be a favor to us. The reality is we’ve all really benefited from living together and we really enjoy it. We are taking a one-week vacation soon to a beautiful beach house in the Outer Banks. The best part of the vacation is that we’re going with 7 of our best friends, including Ted and Melinda.
Caitlin: So tell me about holidays. I know you guys have a really cool tradition for Christmas.
Kristin: Yeah, this is a Melinda tradition that we took on and will continue to celebrate together even after we move out. Melinda calls it First Christmas. Since we all have family that’s not in the area and we travel to see them on Christmas, we don’t get to wake up on Christmas in our own house and celebrate together.
So, the Saturday before Christmas, we pretend it’s Christmas. We have Christmas eve dinner together the night before and we invite everyone over. And then the next morning we wake up and we pretend it’s Christmas all day. We make a crock pot meal or a tray of lasagna and Melinda will make monkey bread. We sleep in, eat breakfast and open presents together. We celebrate all day.
Caitlin: What’s your best advice for making a living situation like yours work?
Kristin: Step 1. Pick forgiving friends. We really never have fought, but anyone in a close relationship will stir up things on occasion. I think it helps that we are gracious to each other, we give each other the benefit of the doubt, we’re honest when we need to be. And it doesn’t hurt that we were really close friends to begin with.
Ted and Melinda are super Type A. I’m a little Type A and Matt is not at all Type A. So they are really clean. As soon as dinner is over, they do every dish, wipe down the counters, everything. And for me and Matt, that’s not our natural inclination. But, because it’s important to Ted and Melinda, we try to do that now.
It’s just really good to recognize who the other people are, what’s important to them and if you do have an issue, just be open and honest about how you feel. And I think that’s why we haven’t gotten in any fights. It helps that they’re probably nicer than we are.
Caitlin: So you are looking at moving out in the next few months. What is that thought process like?
Kristin: It’s really just because we want to start a family and we couldn’t all fit in the house. Melinda and Ted keep talking about how they could turn the basement into a suite for us and we could live down there with the baby, which is really generous, but I do want my own house. So, it’s happy and sad all at once.
I’m not one of those people who needs alone time. I like being around people 24/7. So it’s really nice for me that when Matt is working late, I can hang out with Ted and Melinda. So, it’ll be hard.
We do plan to live in a community with our group of friends later in life. We plan to all buy land separately, together. So we can have a pool, a huge garden, that kind of stuff. We call it the cul de sac. Matt calls it the Cult-de-sac because he thinks that’s funny.
Our culture continues to move towards more individualistic living. People don’t know their neighbors or borrow sugar or share lives together as much, and something is really lost in that. It’s also much more efficient to buy one lawn mower for five families than to have everyone spend hundreds of dollars on their own lawn mower. Plus, most importantly, we really love our friends and value community.
I think Kristin is right when she says that this arrangement wouldn’t work with just anyone. Just as you need to pick your spouse carefully, I think you’d also really need to be careful of who you decide to live with. I’m so happy to see how well it has worked out for the RamWalds. It will be interesting to talk to Kristin again in a few months when she is living in her own place with her husband. Perhaps we’ll need to do a follow up.
Unlike Kristin, I am a person who needs her own space and time alone, despite having grown up with five siblings. I’m not sure I could make an arrangement like theirs work for myself and my husband. What do you think? Could you live with friends? Family? I know a lot of couples end up living with their parents or adult children. How do you make that situation work for everyone?